This was our first visit to Llanelly in 20 years and we visited three historic houses. Our first stop was Llanelly House. It was owned by the Stepney family in the 18th Century. They had moved from London to share in the wealth that Llanelly was creating with its local supplies of lead, tin and coal. The house was extensively renovated in the early 18th century and is seen to be the best example of early Georgian architecture in Wales. At that time the house was home to Sir Thomas Stepney, the 5th Baronet, and his wife Lady Elizabeth. They acted out the acrimonious state of their marriage for us, with Sir Thomas complaining about his lack of funds, and Lady Elizabeth talking about her latest trip to Bath that enabled her to buy all those things that would keep her up with the latest fashions.
The House was later owned by a number of families but as Llanelly’s wealth decreased it deteriorated and it was finally bought by the Town Council for use by local businesses. Its resurrection began in 2003 when it was runner up in the BBC Restoration series. Following a period of fund-raising, renovation commenced in 2011. This work was done with great care so that the House was brought back to its 18th Century design. However as a 21st century addition, it was fitted with splendid Audio Visual displays which included a court action against the Butler for inappropriate behaviour with one of the maids. It also has a very good café.
Our next stop was Parc Howard, a. Victorian stone House built in 1885 by the Buckley family, the local brewers. It was gifted to the town in 1912. It is now a museum and art gallery which shows various facets of Llanelli’s growth through mining and shipbuilding, and becoming the largest tin plate centre of manufacturing in the world, acquiring the nickname of Tinopolis. It also houses the largest public collection of Llanelli pottery. This shows how the manufacturing of pottery progressed and the problem of balancing of quality and cost. Few local potteries survived into the 20th century.
Our final stop was Stradey Castle, built for the Mansel Lewis family around 1850. We were welcomed by the current custodians, Patrick and Claire Mansel Lewis, who have lived there since 2009, who were our guides. The House was built to impress, and has a grand staircase and large rooms. The pictures on display were also impressive. From the tower you have a good view down to the sea, but this was only achieved by moving another large house which blocked the view.
Patrick and Claire were very open about the financial constraints of running the House. When they took it over, the Insurers demanded that the roof had to be made weatherproof and there had to be up to date electrical wiring. This work was costly but has now been done. As with all historic houses, trying to bring them up to modern living standards is not easy.
Our tour finished off with tea and biscuits in the dining room prepared by Claire followed by a short walk in the garden.