POWER and privilege seep from its very stones. On a moonless April night, with the soft candlelight falling on the ornately laid table and lighting portraits of Lords Tredegar long dead, the imagination can play tricks.

At any moment men in gold-trimmed scarlet mess tunics and women in gowns to the floor will sweep in on a wave of perfumes, rustling silk and cultured conversation to take their place at table.

And always, at the head of the table, is a Morgan, the dynasty under which Tredegar House was built and reached the peak of its splendour, and which haunts the great house to this very day.

Les Knight and Dawn Elliott are two people who have sensed the fleeting images of these ghosts and have become captivated by the magic of the old house they inhabit. Les Knight has for 40 years been a Conservative member on Newport's council, and is chairman of the Friends of Tredegar House. Dawn Elliott, a Corus administrator, is vice-chairman. Behind them stand some 300 Friends, a high proportion of those active and engaged members who are quietly determined that Tredegar House's spell will linger for as many centuries into the future as lie behind it. From his schooldays, ever since an awareness of the history of his native city took hold, Les Knight has been enthralled by Tredegar House. "You can't begin to understand the history of this city unless you understand the power and influence of the Morgans, whose home this was," he says. "Only last week the city acquired a picture of Sir Charles Morgan painted by Henry William Pickersgill in 1844, a portrait of a man at the height of his power. "Claiming descent from the ancient Welsh nobility, the Morgans became prominent first as landowners, and later in the 18th century in coal and ironmaking. By the middle of the 19th century they were reaching the pinnacle of their power under Sir Charles. "The creation of Pill from marshland, the enormous expansion of Newport as a port for the export of coal and iron, and the growth of the population to service these industries which for a time made Newport bigger than Cardiff are all inexplicable unless you look at the Morgans and the house that was the seat of their power." It is not immediately obvious why a city council that has for so long been in Labour hands should cherish such a place as Tredegar House, spending many hundreds of thousands of pounds upon the upkeep and further beautification of a house built through the operation of a rampant capitalist ethic. In fact, with the death of the last of the Morgan line after the last war the house fell upon hard times and was for a time used as a school. When, ultimately, it came into the council's hands there was no agreement as to where its future lay. "In the early days it had the feel of a museum," said Dawn Elliott, a member of FOTH for the past 12 years. "Most of what was in the house was relevant to its history, but there wasn't a lot of it. The place was rather stark, to say the least. "By the careful acquisition of furniture, pictures and fittings a house has been turne into a home." Much credit for Tredegar House's resurrection must go to David Freeman, for many years its keeper, who resisted the temptation to fill the rooms with inferior reproduction furniture and fittings. "It is a policy that has paid off," Mrs Elliott said. "Everything that has been acquired for the house is either of its period, or, if reproduction, is very good reproduction. This has meant that the house is authentic. "I'm a Newportonian who first came to Tredegar House many, many years ago as a schoolgirl and fell in love with it. "I just couldn't believe that right here in Newport we had something so wonderful and such an important key to our past." The Friends of Tredegar House conduct tours, act as stewards and raise money for specific projects connected with Tredegar House. A lively social programme, which includes visits to other historic houses and lectures, keeps interest high. "One of our big things is school visits," Dawn Elliott says. "When I came here as a little girl I was immediately entranced. After one school visit a little girl of five and a half came up to me and said, 'You're a nice lady and you've got a lovely house!' "I felt at that moment a connection had been made between what we do and the future of Tredegar House." There are, says Les Knight, as many different reasons for joining the Friends of Tredegar House as there are avenues of historical interest. "If one place can be said to be the focus of our history, this is it," he said.