Sir Edward Stafford Howard, Llanelli’s first mayor and the man after whom ‘Parc Howard’ is named, died in London on 8 April 1916. He was not buried in the town for which he had done so much: his widow, Lady Meriel, and their daughter, lie in Old Road cemetery, but Stafford Howard was buried instead in the grounds of his long-time home, Thornbury Castle, alongside his first wife. Thornbury Castle is now an exclusive hotel. It lies between Bristol and Gloucester, a location that was clearly very convenient for Sir Stafford and Lady Meriel, and explains much about the organisation of their married life together – Thornbury was a natural stopping-off point, roughly half way between Llanelli and London, and relatively easily accessible from both directions. The castle itself was and is grand enough, but it should have been grander still, for when building began it was intended to be one of the largest and most spectacular buildings in the whole of England.
Thornbury Castle was the brainchild of the richest nobleman in the country, Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Work began in 1511, a fact recorded in the elaborate inscription that still survives on the gatehouse. The castle was to be simply vast, on the same scale as another contemporary building project, Hampton Court Palace. By 1519, though, even Buckingham was running short of money. He temporarily suspended the building of the rest of the west front, which was only two stories high, and the buildings of the outer court were also left as shells. The suspension became permanent after 1521, when Buckingham was executed for allegedly plotting to overthrow and replace King Henry VIII. The fact that Buckingham died a traitor’s death meant that his lands were forfeited to the crown. As the centuries passed, Thornbury Castle gradually fell into ruins. In 1824, it came into the hands of Henry Howard, a nephew of the twelfth Duke of Norfolk, who decided to turn it into a proper family residence. Buckingham’s scheme was too costly to complete. Instead, the unfinished towers and wings were roofed as they were, giving the west front in particular a truncated appearance.
The work was completed in 1854, by which time Henry’s second son, Edward Stafford Howard was three years old. Stafford inherited Thornbury on his father’s death in 1875. He was knighted in 1909, two years before he married his second wife, Margaret Cowell Stepney. Their marriage in September 1911 was one of Llanelli’s greatest social occasions, and within two years Sir Stafford had become the town’s first mayor. He clearly drew heavily on his long experience of local government in the Thornbury area when it came time to create all the paraphernalia necessary to transform Llanelli into a borough. Above all, Llanelli’s new mace was virtually a copy of that made for the borough of Thornbury in 1681. However, the state of Stafford Howard’s heart had long been suspect, and perhaps his remarkable work-rate to keep on top of the town’s administration during the First World War finally killed him.
The grave of Sir Stafford Howard lies in the small, peaceful family burial ground in the south-west corner of the Duke of Buckingham’s outer court. The grave slab of Sir Stafford and Lady Rachel lies in the centre, marked by an austere cross. The inscriptions are faded now, and are almost illegible in certain lights; the kerbs are broken, and grass is growing between the slabs. Sir Stafford lies on the north side of the grave, his first wife Lady Rachel on the south. Below his inscription is the motto from Philippians, ‘I thank my God upon every remembrance of you’, that Meriel Howard-Stepney also placed on the memorial plaque to Sir Stafford in Llanelli parish church.