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Time stands still at castle in the mysterious Guy Fawkes Passage; Geraint Thomas was given rare access to a subterranean passageway beneath Llanelli's famous Victorian Gothic mansion, Stradey Castle...

Byline: Geraint Thomas

WHILE plenty of people enjoy walking around stately homes, not many get the chance to do it underground.

A lucky few, however, can quite literally do just that on a visit to Stradey Castle in Llanelli.

The private Grade II-listed Victorian Gothic building, home to the Mansel Lewis family, has a subterranean passageway that winds around the foundations of the impressive house.

Known by the family as Guy Fawkes' Passage, it is a creepy, bricklined crypt, punctuated with twists and turns, with spiders and moths lining the dripping limestone walls illuminated here and there by the odd grille above.

The house, which has sweeping views across the Bury Inlet towards north Gower, has remained virtually unchanged since it was built around 1850, and extended in the 1870s. The passageway is thought to have been there from the beginning.

The lady of the house, Claire Mansel Lewis, said: "It's known in the family as Guy Fawkes' Passage. There is a story behind the name but it escapes me now; maybe it's because Guy Fawkes used an underground passage when he plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

"It must have been installed when the house was originally built in 1850 because they made an artificial terrace to elevate the house. The ground floor was elevated for a better view. That would have been the obvious time to build it while the house was being built from the foundations up. It also doubles up as a dampproof system.

"It's very dark in patches with bits of ivy coming down, so it is a spooky experience walking through there, there's no doubt.

"Our three boys have always loved it and my parents-in-law had five grandsons and it was always a special place for them.

"There was a television programme made about the house called the Curious House Guest, and during dinner we told the guest about Guy Fawkes' Passage and everyone went down in their dinner jackets, with the camera crew, and walked around the passage. That was quite fun."

Mrs Mansel Lewis and her husband, Patrick, started opening up the house a few years ago to help finance a restoration of the building.

She said: "We have undertaken a very expensive restoration project and we need to find ways of funding it.

"Our heritage tours last about an hour and we show people the outside of the house from the terrace and then bring them in, around the house, and then we offer homemade refreshments at the end of the tour.

"We try to make the family tours more fast-moving and varied, with special interests for children.

"The Guy Fawkes' Passage is only opened up on special occasions. Maybe once or twice a year. It's kept under lock and key as we are very conscious of security and the house and land are private; people can only visit by appointment."

Another way of raising money comes from living in a ready-made film set.

She said: "Maybe twice a year we have a film crew of a kind come and visit.

"Dr Who Christmas Special 2011 was filmed here, they filmed Heidi here, the Friday Download crew came and made a film here, and more recently Dan Stevens, of Beauty and the Beast, and Julian Fellows, of Downton Abbey, came here for a day, and also David Suchet and Jack Whitehall came to film a couple of scenes for Decline and Fall, by Evelyn Waugh."

Confirming that Wales Online was among the first to film in the passageway, she said: "Dr Who used quite a bit of the house but they didn't use the underground passage, but the location scouts in Wales know about the passage, so who knows in the future?"

CAPTION(S):

Patrick and Claire Mansel Lewis, right, have owned Stradey Castle - and its spooky Guy Fawkes' Passage - since 2009

Stradey Castle has remained virtually unchanged since it was built in around 1850, and extended in the 1870s
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Oct 12, 2017
Words:661
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