The Grade I listed Llanelly House, described in The Buildings of Wales as ‘an extraordinary house’, sits in the centre of modern Llanelli town. Today Llanelly House has no gardens, but the town to the south of the House down to the River Lliedi (now under Stepney Street) has been built in what was its gardens. The house was built in 1714 by Sir Thomas Stepney, MP for Carmarthenshire on the site of the previous family home. During recent archaeological investigations foundations were found that indicated a series of builds and demolitions dating back to the 12th century. Evidence was found of monastic buildings explaining why the House and adjacent St Elli’s Church are so close to each other.
Thomas Stepney’s ownership of the estate came through marriage into the Vaughan family. Following the success of the nearby coal mines the Stepney’s did not stay for long and the house was subdivided into shops and tenements from the 1770s. As a result of glass shop fronts replacing walls, without additional support added, the above floors and windows slope. This is particularly obvious when on the first floor landing (see photo gallery). For many years the house was neglected, yet despite this much of the house survived. Llanelly House was a UK finalist in the BBC’s Restoration series some years ago but it was not until the Carmarthenshire Heritage Regeneration Trust secured Heritage Lottery Funding that the £6 million renovation of the house was carried out. The official Royal opening was held at the end of February 2014.
The house is three storey high with large windows, unusual cornices over first floor windows and a parapet with large urns along the front of the house which faces towards St Elli Church. The design is unlike any other and therefore considered to be the work of an inventive craftsman. The date of the houses development is inscribed on the rainwater head, and the Stepney crest can be seen on the downpipes, all of which have been restored during the recent restoration. The house also has a new staircase modeled on that at Great House Laugharne. It is lit by a enormous restored multi-paned window. Other attractions include a landscape overmantel painting showing Llangennech Park, the Stepney seat and a wedding chest into which is carved a mouse. A mouse can be found in different rooms around the house – providing a fun game for children.
On a recent visit we booked the informative ‘tour and (delicious) afternoon tea’, which we highly recommend. Entry is free to the café and the ground floor of the house where you’ll find the Stepney’s armorial dinner service bought back to show in the house as well as the Rubens painting. Access to the rest of the house is only available on a tour (pre-booking is advisable).
References: Guided tour of Llanelly House; guided tour of Llanelli by Lyn John of Llanelli Community Heritage (civic society); Lloyd, Orbach and Scourfield (2006) The Buildings of Wales. Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion Yale University Press; BBC Two (last shown Saturday 15th March 2014 Llanelly House Restored (with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03gtllx)