Images of Wales
Llanfynydd and the Mystery of Nant Gwilw
Page 1: Llanfynydd Village Page 2: Parish Church Page 3: Discovering Nant Gwilw
Page 5: Gwilw Brook Updates: Latest findings
Inside Nant Gwilw
The next series of shots show the remaining building on the Nant Gwilw site, which may have been some kind of workshop. The property is about 20 yards from the other three buildings and overlooks them from a higher level.
|Below: The higher building viewed from the lower level. This property, too, was derelict.
|Above and below: The interior of the building had been evacuated many years ago.
The ceiling timbers were rotten and had collapsed
Above: High on the end wall inside the building is this intriguing piece of machinery. It appears to be a drive shaft carrying a system of belt pulleys to transmit power to unknown mechanical devices. The iron shaft projects through the wall of the building where it carries another belt pulley on the outside (see below right). There was no indication of the purpose of this drive system, nor its source of power.
A clue to the more recent function of the property was found on the Infinite Matrix website devoted to Science Fiction literature. The website lists a book called The Distant Suns by Michael Moorcock and Philip James (see cover below). The book was published in 1975 by Unicorn Books, of Nant Gwilw, Llanfynydd, Carmarthen, Dyfed!
Update - April 2006
Pauline Sykes tells me of another work published by Unicorn Books: a string-bound volume called The Tribal Dharma - An Essay on the Work of Gary Snyder, by Kenneth White, printed and published in 1975 by Unicorn Bookshop, Llanfynydd, Carmarthen, Dyfed SA32 7TT (ISBN 0-85659-023-1).
Update - March 2009
In e-mails to me on 25, 26, and 27 March 2009, Tony Bennett of London, UK, wrote:
I just came across your website of Images of Wales when I was looking up Nant Gwilw on the internet. I lived at Nant Gwilw from 1972 to 1975 when I was part of the Unicorn Books publishing co-operative and spent some of the happiest years of my life there. We had a printing press in the barn (not driven by the old belt drive I'm afraid) and kept cows, pigs, chickens and goats and grew all our own food. Unicorn published some 150 books overall.
My daughter was born there in 1975 and Unicorn closed the same year and we all dispersed for other parts. She has never been back and after many years of my promising to show it to her we have decided to make a visit this spring. I was shocked to see its derelict condition in your photographs.
Checking with the Land Registry I have discovered that the farm buildings and yard and land adjoining to the north and east were sold in January 2009 to a property company in Oxfordshire. So it is possible that someone is at this moment working on restoring the property.
I have attached (below) the only old photo of the house that I still have. This must have been our first spring as the vegetable garden to the left appears to have only just been prepared and we are still using the cement mixer. We had run a phone line, going left, up to the barn containing the printing press. On the end wall of the house are four pear trees, from whose fruit we made a passable Calvados type drink in our home-made still. In the middle left of the image, above the vegetable plot, was a small pond, fed by the Nant Gwilw stream, from which we got our water for the first few months. I cannot at this time remember what the other brick building was. I don't think it is the old dairy/cow shed buildings that are by the road, as it appears to be too small and a lot newer.
Above: Tony Bennett's photo of Nant Gwilw c. 1972, and (below) my own photo of 2003.
At least one of Tony's pear trees seems to have survived 30 years of neglect!
And in a lengthy interview on the Forbidden Planet 'Blog Log' in September 2006, Tony Bennett recalled:
I was working with a publisher and distributor called Unicorn Bookshop, originally in Brighton. We moved to a farm [Nant Gwilw] in West Wales where we were growing our own food and had a printing press in the barn. Unicorn, as well as publishing books on self-sufficiency, cannabis and poetry, was importing Underground comics from the USA. This really sparked my interest in comics, partly for the wide and weird content and partly because they were creator owned. It even encouraged me and a friend to draw and print our own self-indulgent heavily derivative comic, Trip Strip, which we distributed at Festivals.
Many thanks to Tony Bennett for providing this first-hand evidence of Nant Gwilw's links with Unicorn Books.
Update - June 2016
Jo Mazelis has drawn my attention to an article entitled Unicorn Extinct published in the 7 October 1976 issue of Time Out magazine. Jo also kindly sent me a photograph of the article (see right), from which I've produced the transcript below:
One of the most lively and imaginative small publishers has just closed down. Peter Inch assesses its achievements.
Bill Butler set up Unicorn Press nine years ago, and was the defendant in one of the most supercilious and savage censorship cases of the last decade. In January 1968 Brighton police raided Unicorn Bookshop on a search and destroy operation against literary subversion; Butler was fined £350 with costs after being arraigned on 39 counts of selling obscene material—copies of Evergreen Review, poems by John Giorno and the like.
Some of the literary world rallied round. People like John Calder, Eric Mottram and the late Tony Godwin spoke in court on Bill's behalf. The magistrate said it was absolutely wrong that they were there and hoped that their employers would take note. The police raided the bookshop again four years later and took away copies of the Little Red Schoolbook. Although the publishers, Stage One, won the case on appeal, Unicorn did not get its copies back.
Unicorn of Llanfynydd near Carmarthen, formerly of Brighton, has now sadly folded after publishing over 30 titles, various pamphlets and broad sheets—and, for a time at Brighton, a weekly alternative paper.
It began in those bomb culture days, balmy as they now seem, when the Arts Lab, Indica and the old ICA in Dover Street were going strong. Butler, originally from Seattle, happened to find himself in Brighton working for a book seller. He got fired pretty quickly; so he set up the Unicorn Bookshop and Press in the town.
'I am a bibliomaniac,' he says now. 'I liked to read books, steal books, write them, sell them, publish them.' The first one under the Unicorn imprint was 'Flight of Quetzalcoatl' by Jerome Rothenberg. More literature followed, including works by Gary Snyder, Jeff Nuttall, Kenneth White and many more. Unicorn also published the well-known 'Survival Scrapbook' series—'Shelter', 'Tools', 'Paper Houses'—and its all-time best seller (12,000 copies), was 'Leaves of Grass', the marijuana book.
Lately the Press printed several esoteric fantastic works, including editions of 'The Book of the Law' and other Aleister Crowley texts, writings by J G Ballard and Michael Moorcock, a book on Tarot cards and Anthony Roberts' 'Atlantean Traditions in Ancient Britain'. Unicorn also did a service by reissuing several curious works long out of print. There was Claude Bragdon's 'Projective Ornament' and James Thomson's epic poem 'The City of Dreadful Night', one of the finest depictions of a fantastic city ever written.
These books are fairly cheap and nicely produced, their eclecticism very much reflecting Bill Butler's own tastes. 'When I liked something I went ahead and published it,' he explains. 'If we received a manuscript we could do a print run in a couple of weeks if we wanted to. That's no good for Arts Council grants. They want nine months notice for everything.'
Despite its quite large turnover, Unicorn could only just break even at the end—but did not fold because of cash problems alone. After Unicorn moved up to Wales in 1974 it was run more as a collective, but this had generated internal dissensions. Bill also got fed up with being out on the road all the time trying to sell the books. 'It wasn't the kind of life I'm interested in,' he says. Unicorn was a going concern, but no one else came forward to carry on running it—so Bill had to close it down.
Despite Unicorn's demise, several titles are still available [in 1976]. Write to: Nant Gwilw, Llanfynydd, Carmarthen, Dyfed SA32 7TT.
Below: Illustration from the Unicorn Extinct article, including Leaves of Grass, the marijuana book.
Many thanks to Jo Mazelis for drawing my attention to the magazine article and providing me with a copy.
It seems the Nant Gwilw property was last used in the 1970s by Unicorn Books as a printing and publishing house, but the drive shaft and belt pulleys date back to an earlier use of Nant Gwilw.
The 1881 census shows that 122 years ago, Nant Gwilw was occupied by 49-year-old William Morgans, his brother John, sister Jane, and servant Elizabeth Griffiths. William is a described as a farmer of 84 acres.
An Ordnance Survey map, published in 1891, shows that Nant Gwilw then consisted of three buildings whose positions and shapes correspond to the three stone buildings which are there to this day. The corrugated-iron barn is clearly a later addition.
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