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Where Dylan Thomas 'communed with his legendary creatures'.

Byline: By Robin Turner Western Mail

A new book has lifted the lid on the dominance of the pub in holding communities together in Wales.

It explores the haunts that were frequented by the likes of Dylan Thomas, as well as other colourful characters who all earned their own playful nicknames.

Dick the Fish and 'Mr X' were all regulars at one time at the many pubs which thrived in the Swansea Bay village of Mumbles.

Despite the prominence of the 'Mumbles Mile' pub crawl in popular culture, many of these historic hostelries have since closed down or changed completely.

Now a book containing 180 old photographs, postcards and advertising posters brings back to life the rich, bawdy history of the area's watering holes.

Images of Wales: Mumbles and Gower Pubs by Brian Davies includes images of the Antelope Inn - one of Dylan Thomas's first ports of call when he visited Mumbles in the 1930s.

And it also contains a photograph of the now demolished Mermaid Inn, another favourite seafront stopping-off point for the hard-drinking poet.

Thomas used to say he was 'communing with my legendary creatures' as code for 'drinking in the Mermaid and the Antelope'.

Author Brian Davies, 61, a retired electrical engineer of Newton, Mumbles, has spent more than a year putting the book together, the latest in Tempus Publishing's Images of Wales series.

The grandfather-of-two said, 'Like a lot of people, I have always been interested in the history of pubs.

'I started to write the book when a friend wondered if Mumbles had ever had its own brewery.

'I did some research and found that in the early days virtually every pub and inn had its own small brewery. Then I had the idea for the book.'

But the nature of socialising has changed in Wales, with local pubs in smaller towns giving way to large drinking barns in city centres.

'Around half of the 80 or so pubs featured in the book from Mumbles and Gower are now no longer with us,' said Mr Davies.

'Some have simply been demolished while others have been turned into cottages or other businesses.'

The book contains photographs of the Beaufort Arms in Kittle, the Greyhound Inn at Oldwalls, and the Royal Oak in Penclawdd, as well as snapshots of landlords and pubs along the renowned Mumbles Mile.

Included in the book are characters such as Mr X, who was actually a Mumbles man whose name was mentioned so often in a local newspaper, people decided to give him the ironic nickname.

Dick the Fish was actually Richard Evans who ran the Mermaid Hotel with the title of the business earning him the fishy soubriquet.

Mr Davies is a fan of good pubs and real ale, being the son of the late Gwent publican Ted Davies, who used to run the Waterloo in Cwmbran, and later the Golden Lion in Aberkenfig.

Mr Davies is also the co-founder of the Mumbles Beer Festival, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Also included in the book are pictures of the Beaufort Inn which closed in 1939, and the Ship, whose ale licence expired in 1863. These pubs once dominated the seaside hamlet of Pwll Du.

The book will be launched at Swansea's Dylan Thomas Centre on May 13 with a rendition from the Morriston Orpheus Choir, of which Brian is a member.

Images of Wales: Mumbles and Gower Pubs by Brian Davies, Tempus Publishing, pounds 12.99. The Beaufort Arms, Norton: Pictured when William Williams was licensee (1925-32), the lean-to shop was later incorporated and is now the pub cellar.

The pub probably dates from the 1700s and was originally named The Ship on the Beaufort Estate map of 1802.

It was offered for sale in 1837, becoming the Beaufort Arms soon afterwards.

In 1859, the Oystermouth Castle Lodge of Oddfellows was set up there. Brewers Hancocks leased the house in 1935 and their annual trade in 1937 was 1951/2 barrels of beer and 256 gallons of wine and spirits.

In 1940, ladies' toilets were provided and the bar and rear smoke room were later converted into one large bar.

The Beaufort continues at the centre of village life as it has for more than 200 years. The Mermaid Hotel, Mumbles: At the time of the Napoleonic Wars, the hotel was called the New Mermaid (the Old Mermaid was further along the front). Jane Stephens was the landlady - her husband John was a mariner who drowned in 1791 and her son Benjamin died in captivity in France after eight years' incarceration. In 1821 a visitor wrote in his diary of his railway ride to Mumbles and Mrs Stephens's friendly reception at the New Mermaid Inn - 'a jolly looking woman... extremely fat!'

In 1832, a meeting was held at the Mermaid which led eventually to the establishment of the famous Mumbles Lifeboat. In 1843 the roof was blown off in a gale and Captain Stephens was praised for saving his family and the house from destruction.

The Mermaid was rebuilt in 1898 and the new hotel opened at the same time as the Mumbles Pier and was a magnificent hotel in the Edwardian period. It was demolished in 1996 after a fire. The Beaufort, Pwlldu: Pwlldu was once a thriving port with limestone quarried from the cliffs being transported to Devon. Two pubs at Pwlldu were the Ship and the Beaufort Arms, quarrymen favouring the Ship and mariners the Beaufort.

The Jenkins family ran the Ship (then known as Pooldie House) from the 1700s and licensee John Jenkins was also a quarryman. He is said to have witnessed the wrecking of the Caesar in 1760 when 68 people were drowned at Pwlldu Head. The dead were buried in a mass grave nearby known as Gravesend.

The Beaufort was used by shooting parties visiting Bishopston Valley. The picture shows two of the 'toffs' on a shooting expedition with an old local at the turn of the century. Jane Jones, licensee at that time, was a much-loved character known as Aunt Jane. She died in 1907, falling down an open manhole when visiting a Swansea brewery. The Beaufort closed in 1939 and is now a house. The Ship, Porteynon: This group outside The Ship c.1938 includes, from left, Mr White, Harry Phillips, George Eynon, William Roberts senior and Haydn Jones. The gentleman in the foreground and the others wearing shorts are probably tourists.

Porteynon was once a busy port, with limestone quarrying, oyster fishing and the smuggling fraternity trying to keep a step ahead of the excisemen. Curtis Grove's rhyme sums it up nicely:

'Yesteryear Port Eynon Bay

Saw much of lime and pillage.

Livelihood was of the sea

With five pubs in the village.'

The other pubs in the village were the Britannia, the Hope & Anchor and the Sea Fencible, with Samuel Gibbs' Malthouse on the front. The Sea Fencibles were the Home Guard of Napoleonic times, when there was widespread fear of a French invasion.

The Ship is the only village pub remaining.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 6, 2006
Words:1174
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