Inside Llanelly House

Wednesday 15 September 2010, 09:22

BBC Wales History BBC Wales History

Back in 2003 Llanelly House was one of 10 finalists in the BBC history television series Restoration.

The series highlighted buildings from all Britain that had suffered from years of neglect or under-funding. The building that received the greatest public support by way of a telephone vote won a sum of money towards its restoration costs.

Llanelly House, an 18th century Grade I listed Georgian house, didn't take the crown (Victoria Baths in Manchester won), but the public support it received definitely raised the profile of this ambitious restoration project.

Llanelli House in Llanelli, west Wales

Llanelly House is a Grade I listed house in the centre of Llanelli in west Wales.

The house is the former home of the Stepney family. Built in 1714 by Thomas Stepney, MP for Carmarthenshire, the house was constructed on the site of their previous family home, and at the time was an example of super-fashionable architectural design: a Roman-style dwelling. The obvious grandeur of the house - inside and out - was a nod to the immense wealth and power of the Stepneys.

The Llanelli Historical Society and Llanelli History both have comprehensive histories of the house on their websites.

Until recently most of the work in securing a future for the building has taken place outside of the public gaze. Emergency strengthening work inside the house has ensured the immediate structural survival of the building and in June 2008 the Trustees of the Heritage Lottery Fund approved the joint funding application submitted by the Town Council and the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust, with a grant £3.4 million plus £146,500 towards project development costs.

This year, Llanelly House has been part of the Open Doors initiative, the largest annual free celebration of architecture and heritage to be held in Wales.

Throughout September the house is running a number of escorted tours, and Wales History was lucky enough to have been invited to join a tour of this beguiling building.

Outside Llanelly House in Llanelli, west Wales

Estelle Evans and Lisa Bancroft begin the tour by explaining how much of the original house has been lost.

The house has now been stripped right back to its skeletal state. Each new timber beam or joist revealed by archaeologists is painstakingly recorded and logged with numerous partners including CADW, English Heritage and the National Museum of Wales.

Llanelly House

Upstairs in Llanelly House

Clumsy plyboard panelling and make-do repairs have skilfully been removed and delicate pictures have been sent to the National Museum of Wales for restoration.

Roof rafters in Llanelly house

The roof of Llanelly House

For the majority of the time that Llanelly House has existed, it has been more widely used as a home to the working class of Llanelli than it has been to the gentry.

The remaining building, which is only a part of the original house, been sliced and split into tenements, used as a telegram office, a shop and council buildings.

Each successive generation has left their mark on Llanelly House. On a daily basis, the house reveals a new secret or evidence of past lives.

The room on the right is said to be haunted by the ghost of servant Mira Turner

The restored Llanelly House will have a much wider purpose than to provide a snapshot of the elegant splendour of a Georgian House. At the very core of the development plans are community initiatives and schemes which aim to ensure it is history of the people of Llanelli, and their stories, that are central to the house.

Estelle Evans, the Community Development Officer of Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust (CHRT) has been working closely with local schools and other community groups on a wide number of initiatives. One project is called Move In Here.

"We want to know why people have come to Llanelli," she says. "Why did they move to the area, be it only a few miles into the town centre? Why did they stay and why did they move away? There is always a reason behind that. We can analyse that information."

Llanelly House safe

By 1873 the Post and Telegraph Offices were located in Thomas Stepney's old study in Llanelly House. This is the Post Office safe.

Stepneys' grand panelled office on the ground floor had functioned as a Post Office up to 1896. Two weeks ago an unremarkable panel was pulled back to reveal shelves groaning under a bounty of official paperwork. This is where people from around Llanelli and the surrounding area would come to get their emigration papers for America. It was also the first point of call for people coming to work in Llanelli from other countries.

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Lisa Bancroft, Development Manager for CHRT is tasked with ensuring that Llanelly House balances the demands of restoration and long-term sustainability. She explains:

"The house itself when you walk in will ostensibly be renovated and restored to its pristine condition of the 18th century. It will be very beautiful. It is a very good look, it is very modern, very light but it has to pay its way.

"Downstairs the house will be very much for people to use, to chill out in with a restaurant, shop, workspace area and events. Then upstairs we will be interpreting the house in different ways, using different characters".

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To read more about the developments at Llanelly House visit their website.

Open Doors is organised by the Civic Trust for Wales on behalf of Cadw, the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment service. Find out more the initiative and places to visit on the Civic Trust for Wales website.

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