JON KANEKO-JAMES looks back on his childhood home of Llanelli, in South Wales, and picks some of the spookiest sites in town
I was born in Llanelli, I grew up on Marble Hall Road, just a little way up from Capel Als, an independent chapel with a yard paved by gravestones. It wasn’t as heavily bombed as neighbouring Swansea, but there still weren’t many old buildings in the area where I grew up (the Morfa has as few fantastic Victorian streets and shops).
I grew up on stories about haunted Llanelli: the now-demolished house in Furnace, where a young maid hanged herself in the window of the man who had deflowered her; the ghostly train that made its way down the derelict railway tracks; the pub opposite a brooding church, haunted by the ghost of a man who died there (that one turned out to be a hoax for a Halloween party.)
Park Howard Mansion, Llanelli
Park Howard is a feature of my childhood: a sandstone mansion that sits in the middle of Llanelli’s grandest park. All around are streets full of beautiful houses, including towered follies and some incredibly unique buildings. When my older brother was young, his friends worked as gardeners in the park. I grew up on stories about a white lady who appeared in the tower window.
The house was used as a hospital during the two world wars, and ever since, workers (and residents, since the apartment upstairs used to be accommodation for the grounds keeper) have seen a ghostly nurse and a soldier on the stairs. When my brother’s friends stayed there, they were constantly unnerved by the sound of knocking and scraping that came from the walls at the back of the house.
Some say it’s the body of a young man who died, trapped in the network of chimneys while trying to hide his dalliance with one of the maids.
Stradey Woods, Llanelli
Ghostly ships take up a lot of space on the Llanelli coastline. I remember hearing so many tales of ghostly tall ships that they must have needed their own supernatural version of the shipping forecast.
But just ten minutes back from the beach is Stradey Wood, a deep, still fairly wild forest containing a few houses and the fantastic Llanelli House. The most widely seen ghost associated with the woods is a runner in old fashioned clothes who can be seen on the road between Llanelli and Trimsaran, deep in the middle of the woods. Local papers say that he was said to have been run over by a car one night in 1930, and even Dyfed Powys Police admit to have been called out to the road in connection with him.
Another macabre feature of taking walks through the woods when I was a student at the neighbouring college were the strange lengths of rope seen hanging from various trees around the woods. Perhaps awful foreshadowing of the badly decomposed – many month old – body found hanging in the woods in 2012.
Stradey Castle, Llanelli
Stradey Castle is another of Llanelli’s stately homes, this one deep in the Stradey Woods. The house started it’s life as a collection of farms in the 16th Century. By the 17th Century there was a substantial house, which was replaced by a more modern, but equally grand building, in the 19th century.
Ghost stories are confused, with one 19th century ghost hunter saying that there was said to be a female ghost, but no one was able to explain who she was. I’ve heard another ghost story about the place: that the ghost is a member of the family from the 19th or early 20th Century who went mad at finding out her children had been killed in the Napoleonic/Crimean/First World War. This was one of my favourite ghost stories of Llanelli, but sadly I’ve heard one form or another of it connected with every big house in Llanelli.
Stepney Mansion/Llanelly House, Llanelli
This Jacobean mansion with Georgian features was championed and recently restored thanks to work done by local people (and Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, who threatened to buy it and paint it pink), is said to have two main ghosts. One is the ghost of a woman in a heavy brocaded gown, whose clothes swish noisily as she moves around. Those who have been around the house over night say that she plays ethereal music on a ghostly organ, bricked up within the walls.
The other ghost of the house is said to be Mira Turner, a serving maid who died at the house in 1851, and the subject of Llanelly House’s ghost tour.
St. Elli Parish Church, Llanelli
St. Elli Parish Church is a 12th Century church with 15th Century renovations that sits in the middle of the town centre. A sparse churchyard sprouts up around it, with the crooked graves like broken teeth. When I did a tour of the church in the 90s our guide showed us square windows that look from the tower into the church itself, allegedly viewing holes so that locals struck down with leprosy could still enjoy the presence of God.
However, the ghost of St. Elli Church isn’t within the church, but a ghostly carriage that starts up at Park Howard and careers down the hill at breakneck pace, vanishing as it reaches the tight, treacherous bend at the church wall.
Other Llanelli Ghosts
These are just a few Llanelli ghosts. There are other, less commonly seen (and therefore less verifiable) ones. If you’re in the Furnace Pub at New Year’s Eve you might see the ghostly carriage that hurtles down the same Trimsaran road as the ghostly jogger. If you walk around the Furnace area at night, you might hear the scream of an unidentified thing that lives in the Alexander Raby Furnace at night. If you walk on the beach you might hear the distant bells of long-gone ships. Some are now saying that Llanelli is one of the most haunted towns in Wales…