Brown's Hotel and the Penderyn Restaurant is one the world's great literary establishments and has 14 luxurious bedrooms. A Georgian building, it opened in 1752 and is a listed building. Unusually the iconic bar is also listed separately due to its association with Dylan Thomas, the Welsh writer and poet who lived in Laugharne from 1938-1940 and 1949-1953. Dylan would often be seen in The Brown's playing cards, betting on horses, playing darts or sitting quietly absorbing the gossip of the day and scribbling notes on the backs of cigarette packets. He was fascinated by the drama of everyday life - the buzz in the banal - and Brown's was a haven for story-telling and gossip. Dylan's daughter Aeronwy later wrote in her fine memoir 'My Father's Places', 'News went round so fast in Laugharne I often thought it a danger to think.'
Much of the material for Dylan's iconic work Under Milk Wood - which inspired ITV's Coronation St, the first TV soap opera - came from Brown's and more specifically landlady Ivy Williams who became Dylan's friend and confidante. When the play was completed Dylan's friend, Glyn Jones, said it, '...saw Laugharne lifted above particulars and raised to universals.' It wasn't long after arriving in Laugharne in 1938 that Dylan wrote to his friend, 'You know how to get to Laugharne don't you? A bus from Carmarthen Guildhall Square. Drop in at Brown's Hotel & buy a Felinfoel and ask where we live: they know.' Whilst much has been written of Dylan's drinking, locals remember a man who was a polite sipper rather than a verbose drunk.
Under Milk Wood
Laugharne has always had a great pub culture: there were 15 pubs in 1844 in a town with a population of around 2000. Indeed, there were 7 pubs when Dylan lived here and he noted that many locals '...seemed to have retired before they'd reached working age.' Despite his showmanship in the bars of London Dylan kept a low profile in Brown's, and recited a poem publicly on only one occasion after being badgered by a persistent admirer. Dylan got unsteadily to his feet, set himself to declaim some greatness before beginning - 'There was a bleeding spider went up the bleeding spout, down came a thunderbolt and washed the bugger out...'
Whilst the dates on the outside celebrate 1752-1938, Brown's Hotel hasn't always been called thus, and wasn't always a hotel. In 1841 it was known as the Commercial Inn and 'Browns' first appears in an advert sandwiched between hostelries in Aberdare and Portishead in the Western Mail on June 6th 1874, run by a farmer, a James Brown of Somerset. The ad claims to offer visitors, '...the conveniences of an (sic) hotel, combined with the comfort and privacy of a gentleman's residence.' After a brief period in receivership a 1900 advert posted by landlord W.H. David, (whose family had the butchers at Ashcombe House) said Brown's was a grand place for, 'Commercials, Cyclists and Visitors at Moderate Charges.'
Following the turn of the 20th century, there seem to have been three golden ages. The Dylan years with landlord and landlady Ebi and Ivy Williams, the Tommy Watts years (1971-2003) and more recently the refurbishment and re-opening of Brown's in July 2012 under the ownership of Nigel Short, whose business interests also include Penderyn Distillery and the Scarlets rugby side in Llanelli. Tommy Watts is a man of legends, not least that he sold dozens of dartboards to US tourists on the understanding that they were the very board Dylan himself had played on. He also had a famed toastie maker and pretended to impressionable teenagers that he'd been a Russian spy, which 'Laugharnie' Richard 'Dougie' Griffiths explains about here.
Richard 'Dougie' Griffiths
11th April 2013
Brown's Hotel bar
In the footsteps of Dylan have followed luminaries
such as Mick Jagger, President Carter, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton,
Sir Anthony Hopkins, Pierce Brosnan, Peter O'Toole and in July 2013,
the Duke & Duchess of Cornwall called in. Brown's is the social
hub for performers at the Laugharne
Weekend, which was established in 2006. The festival has attracted
performers such as Sir Peter Blake, Rhys Ifans, Carol Ann Duffy, Ray
Davies, Patti Smith and John
Cooper-Clarke, Kevin Rowland, Josie Long, Harry Hill and Will
Catch up with Brown's news and events here:
at Laugharne Rugby Club
Laugharne Lines originated in Brown's Hotel bar on the 31st August 2012. Two late evening imbibers - writer Jon Tregenna and artist Craig Woods - were sitting to the left of the fireplace enthusiastically discussing the idea of an underground railway system in Laugharne with each stop having escalators, a Costa Coffee, a newsagent, ticketing machines and buskers. It quickly emerged that there were several important locations where a stop would be necessary, not least Brown's Hotel and The Mariners. Realising that it probably wouldn't be economically viable, especially as some of the key stops were but a few yards apart, it was decided to pursue the idea no further and wander home...
Local support would have been an issue too, for
another Brown's regular, who shall remain nameless, thought the idea
of a Laugharne Underground '...totally ludicrous.'
That's as maybe, but the concept of a Laugharne tube map was born. Tregenna began researching and fashioned a crude sketch before harnessing the map-drawing skills of local architect Carl Thornton, the marketing maestro that is the township's own Roxanne Treacy and the web design of Nigel Thomas. Together they created the wondrous tool you enjoy today. If you are minded to, please go to the Laugharne Lines facebook page and have your say. It'd be good to hear from you.
stencil of Dylan Thomas
at the rear of Brown's
In September 2015 Laugharne and Brown's lost one of its most famous characters. Roy Gill, who sat at the Brown's bar seven days a week, died after a short illness. He once said he was 'famous for not being famous' but in 2014 that changed somewhat. The year of Dylan's centenary brought the world to Laugharne and Roy appeared in a National Theatre Wales play, Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited, as Turkish terrorist Ocolan (Roy was once arrested at gunpoint in Turkey after a strange case of mistaken identity); was photographed for the New York Times; had a drink with actors Elijah Wood & Celyn Jones, and had his caricature painted onto the outside of Brown's by celebrated Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson. Roy was a keen gardener and often brought rhubarb and kidney beans into the bar for the staff. For his funeral his wife, Marion, made a wreath out of vegetables from his garden. His death made the front page of the Carmarthen Journal and Wales Online. We all miss him.
Roy as pictured in
the New York Times
Roy Gill as Ocolan
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