Dylan Thomas in Marshfield

From July to November 1940 Dylan Thomas and his family stayed at ‘The Malting House’ 78 High Street, Marshfield, near Chippenham in Wiltshire, with the critic John Davenport and his American painter wife, Clement, who kept an open house for musicians and writers. The composers Lennox Berkeley and Arnold Cooke, the music critic William Glock and writer Antonia White, joined them.

A stranger has come
To share my room in the house not right in the head,
A girl mad as birds

The house hummed with music, jokes and sexual jealousies. Mrs Davenport was having an affair with Glock, who also attracted the attention of Caitlin. Dylan and John Davenport spent much of their time writing The Death of the King’s Canary (1976), a satire on contemporary painters and writers in the form of a spoof thriller about the murder of the poet laureate.

Here Dylan also started writing his unfinished novel Adventures in the Skin Trade And Other Stories (New Directions, New York, 1955) which, as a work-in-progress, he described in a letter to Vernon Watkins as:

" a mixture of Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, Kafka, Beachcomber, and good old 3-adjectives-a-penny belly-churning Thomas, the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive."

They could hear war planes overhead and the threat of invasion seemed ever closer. Dylan wrote his first major war poem, ‘Deaths and Entrances’, which was published in Cyril Connolly’s Horizon magazine. Meanwhile, Glock, later Sir William, the BBC’s Controller of Music, was having a fling with Caitlin; when Dylan discovered what was going on, the Thomases moved out.

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