On this Day 11th July 1937

Thomas and Macnamara: A Perfect Pairing for Penzance

Sunday – an unusual day for a wedding. And the bride and groom were also a touch unconventional – living unsettled and bohemian lifestyles, untroubled by notions of respectability, and aiming to make their way in the world without recourse to conventional employment.

Dylan  and Caitlin Thomas (open source via Wikipedia)Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara. They’d come to West Cornwall for the summer – Dylan Thomas had been a regular visitor since the autumn of 1935, staying at Polgigga and later at Mousehole, which he once called “the loveliest village in England”. He already had friends locally – notably writer and socialite Wyn Henderson, and artist Veronica Sibthorpe – and had also made new ones. These included sculptor Denis Mitchell and his brother Endell; a vicar with a “moorland parish” and a liking for drink - and a young local journalist called Joe Martin, who worked on the Cornishman and its daily edition, the Evening Tidings .

In an unpublished memoir, Martin tells how he and his colleague Trevor Waters - venturesome young men, eager to know more about the London art and literary world – sought out Dylan Thomas and became first acolytes, and later friends.

Joe Martin later remembered how on July 11th 1937, as he prepared to get off the bus at Mousehole, he met Thomas and Macnamara. The couple were about to get on the bus for the return trip to Penzance. They urged him to stay in his seat and go back to town with them: “Please, please come with us or there won’t be anybody” they allegedly told him. Martin declined the invitation, thinking that the White Lion might be a more likely destination than the Registry Office in Parade Street, opposite a non-conformist chapel (now Phoenix House, opposite the Acorn Theatre)

Penzance Registry Office where Dylan Thomas and Caitlin Macnamara married in 1937. The 18th century building was damaged by fire in the 1990s and refurbished as apartments. ( photo copyright Rod Allday, used under Creative Commons Licence)Caitlin remembered the “stony face” of the registrar. She was dressed in a simple blue dress (allegedly made out of a pair of curtains from the cottage where they were staying in Lamorna) and no hat. Although Thomas - according to Martin - “could be formal on occasion”, he chose for his wedding day a sports jacket, corduroys and an open-necked shirt.

Thomas’ parents had previously tried to prevent the marriage, and it was being performed by special licence at a cost of £3. In the evening there was a party at the Lobster Pot, Mousehole, which featured in village gossip for some time afterwards. And although the couple represented themselves as isolated figures battling a hostile world, this was not entirely fair; Wyn Henderson had paid for the licence, served as a witness and also funded the reception.

And Dylan Thomas’ own take on the day? “My own news”, he would write to a friend, “ is very big and simple. I was married three days ago; to Caitlin Macnamara; in Penzance registry office; with no money, no prospect of money, no attendant friends or relatives, and in complete happiness”.

Most of this account is based on an unpublished manuscript by Joe Martin, which forms the basis of the theatre show Dylan in Cornwall, performed throughout Cornwall in 2016-2017.

See also: The Word Travels (accessed 25 5 2018)

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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Sally Corbet

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