Brown's Hotel

Brown's Hotel is one the world's great literary drinking establishments. It changed hands recently and is now run as Dexter's bar and restaurant, with 14 luxurious bedrooms.

Brown's opened in 1752 and is a listed building. Unusually the iconic bar is also listed separately due to its association with poet, writer and broadcaster Dylan Thomas 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.'

In the above pic he is playing cards with Ebie and Ivy Williams. Much of the material for his iconic work Under Milk Wood came from Brown's and more specifically landlady Ivy Williams who became Dylan's friend and confidante. The pic below is them photoshopped where they sat.

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 moving to 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.

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 London journalist. Dylan got unsteadily to his feet, set himself to declaim some greatness before proclaiming -

There was a f*cking spider
Went up the bleeding spout
Down came a thunderbolt
And washed the f*cker out...

Whilst the dates on the outside celebrate 1752-1938, Brown's Hotel wasn't always named thus. From 1752 to 1841 it was known as the Commercial Inn, and in 1851 it was called The Castle Inn. 'Brown's' 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 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.'

The 1950s drinkers above are Charlie Jones, Cyril Roberts, Trevor John, Willie Jones (undertaker) Tudor Williams. Sitting left to right: Jim Roberts, Tom Price, Hannah Lewis (the only woman), Harold Wright and Sylvin Parsons.

Following the turn of the 20th century there were three golden ages. The Dylan Years with landlord and landlady Ebie and Ivy Williams, the Tommy Watts years (1971-2003 - the pic above is during his reign) 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. The pic below of Mothering Sunday in 1956 shows how it looked in Dylan's day, as it was taken 3 years after he died.

And in 2020 it was sold to the current owners - hopefully the start of another golden era.

Tommy Watts is a man of myth and legend. Dylan played for the Brown's darts team, and any time a tourist asked if that was the original Dylan Thomas dart board, Tommy said it was. His son, Jim Watts, a DJ in Australia reckoned his dad had sold 13 dart boards. Then there was the time when Tommy told Mick Jagger and Pierce Brosnan that he owned a metal bed that Dylan had once slept in, which created a bidding war. History doesn't tell us who won, or if it was even true. Tommy also had a famed toastie maker and pretended to impressionable teenagers that he'd been a Russian spy, which 'Laugharnie' Richard 'Dougie' Griffith explains below in this video.

Richard 'Dougie' Griffiths
Laugharne Tales - Brown's Hotel bar
11th April 2013

In the footsteps of Dylan have followed luminaries such as President Carter, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Rhys Ifans (see above) Peter O'Toole, Jagger and Brosnan as mentioned above, and in July 2013, the Duke & Duchess of Cornwall visited.

Camilla was having lunch in the boardroom with her lady-in-waiting, as Charles performed a royal duty down the Boathouse. When he returned to Brown's he knocked on the door. As he came in, he asked, 'Is my wife here?'

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, John Cooper-Clarke, Kevin Rowland, Josie Long, Harry Hill and Will Self amongst many many others.

The concept for Laugharne Lines originated in Brown's Hotel bar on the 31st August 2012. (There should be a plaque!) 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. And Corran Books across the road. 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, the late actor Mark Montinaro, thought the idea of an Underground system in Laugharne, '...totally ludicrous.'

That's as maybe, but the concept of a Laugharne tube map was born. Tregenna began researching and fashioned a crude sketch (above) before harnessing the map-drawing skills of local architect Carl Thornton (his ingenious map below)...

...and the web design of Nigel Thomas, from Llanelli but now of London. The next thing to do was research it, but beforehand we got in touch with the London Underground Licensing Office, as we didn't want to face any legal action as we'd purloined their design. We emailed the office in Stockport, explained the idea, and within 10 minutes they'd set it as fine to carry on. Quicker than contacting your bank!

In 2020 the Laugharne Community Council received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to make the site smartphone friendly. More information was added with the help of the Laugharne Historical Society, local historian Peter Stopp, John Bradshaw, Chris Delaney, Roxanne Treacy and many other locals.

If you are minded to, please go to the Laugharne Lines facebook page and leave a comment. We're always looking for new and curious details and pictures, and especially corrections. It'd be good to hear from you.

A stencil of Dylan by the side of the old Brown's ballroom. Stewy, who is from Bristol and knows Banksy, did this in less than a minute taping a cardboard stencil to the wall and spraying it in black paint. His style is to create images of people outside buildings associated with them.

Caitlin Thomas inside
and (below) outside Browns

In September 2015 Laugharne and Brown's lost one of its 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 the Turkish terrorist Ocolan. Roy was once arrested at gunpoint in Turkey after a strange case of mistaken identity (see below).

Roy was also photographed (alongside Adrian Deadman) for the New York Times (see below), had a drink with actors Elijah 'Hobbit' Wood & Celyn Jones when they were filming the Dylan biopic Set Fire To The Stars, and had his caricature painted onto the outside of Brown's by celebrated Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson (above).

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.

That's quite famous.

Brown's is the hub of the Laugharne Weekend, and for the 2019 festival, Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson drew the poster below, featuring caricatures of Gruff Rhys, Tracey Thorn, John Cooper-Clarke and Annie Nightingale who appeared that year.

And finally, a personal hero of mine who popped into Brown's for a chat a few years back. The great Welsh writer Byron Rogers, who hails from Bancyfelin and now lives in Northamptonshire.

Byron has written wonderful books about R.S Thomas, himself (an autobiography brilliantly entitled 'Me', and if you can find his collection of Welsh writings for London newspapers called 'The Bank Manager and the Holy Grail', buy it. It's a superbly written and hilarious read.

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