Castle Howard is a British Treasure House. It has been the home of the Howard family for ten generations over three centuries. It was begun in 1699 and took 100 years to finish. A former residence on the site, Henderskelfe castle, had been destroyed by fire in 1693. The new mansion house was designed by a playwright who had no experience of building. Sir John Vanbrugh was famous for writing The Relapse and The Provok’d Wife, and a friend of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, who commissioned Vanbrugh to build him a home in Yorkshire. Vanbrugh recruited architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and they designed a baroque palace with two projecting wings and an 80 foot high painted and gilded dome, the first of its kind on a private residence in England. It is the showpiece of Castle Howard.
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The east wing was constructed in 1701-03; the eastern wing of the garden front in 1701-06; the central block in 1703-06; and the western wing of the garden front in 1707-09. When the 3rd Earl died in 1738, the house still lacked its west wing. The Earl’s son-in-law took over the building and constructed the west wing in the Palladian style.
The construction of Castle Howard was completed in 1811 with the decoration of the Long Gallery. The pavilion rooms at either end of the west wing were removed during the chapel’s refurbishment in 1870-75. This was done to bring both wings into greater harmony.
On 9 November 1940, disaster struck Castle Howard when a fire swept through the house destroying 22 rooms. The fire broke out in the south-east wing, and spread through into the great hall, destroying the dome and nearly twenty rooms. The schoolgirls of Queen Margaret’s School, who were evacuated to Castle Howard during the war, helped retrieve precious paintings and antiques from the house.
The return of George Howard from WWII saved Castle Howard. He was determined that it should be lived in once more, and set about rescuing the house and restoring it to its former glory. The work of restoration is carried on today by his son, the Hon. Simon Howard.
The house facades have carved decoration, including coronets, ciphers and coats of arms, a frieze of sea horses and cherubs, and a carving of Diana. There are statues and urns on the north front. The 4th earl collected three shiploads (one ship lost at sea) of statues on his tour of Italy, some of which are in the grand entrance hall. Meissen, Crown Derby, and Chelsea porcelain are displayed on the China Landing. On the walls of the grand staircase are the Soho tapestries dating from 1714.
On a tour visitors also see Lady Georgiana’s bedroom. She was the wife of the 6th earl and daughter of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The room is mostly original to her time (d. 1858). On the walls are prints, drawings, and watercolours of friends and family. The painted four poster bed has yellow hangings and dates from c1770. Other furniture of note in the room includes a Louis XV bureau and a dressing table. Two dressing rooms are open to view. One is an 18th century bed where Queen Victoria slept while visiting. In the adjoining bedroom are several pieces of furniture dating from the late 1700s.
Marble busts and marble top tables are found in the antique passage. The tables dates from 1710-30 and are original to the house. Of note in the music room are the frieze, door surrounds, and fireplace swags. Pictures including one by Gainsborough hang on the walls. Two William and Mary mirrors hang between the windows. The piano dates from 1796, while two large armchairs are Chippendale. An English marquetry chest dates from c1690. A French black lacquer commode is c1765. Meissen china is decorated with peasant costumes of different countries.
The, tapestry room has had its tapestries removed to the grand staircase but has many portraits, Adam furniture, and William and Mary gilt chairs dating from 1695-1700. A silver gilt cup was a gift from George III. In the Orleans room are some of the pictures collected by the Duke of Orleans, a Sheraton rosewood desk, 17th century gilt chairs, and other furniture of interest. Also on the house tour are the museum room and long gallery where many pictures can be seen.
The chapel was much altered in 1870-75 including changing the entrance and lowering the floor. Stained glass windows are from Edward Burne-Jones designs and are by William Morris. Behind the font is a polychrome plaster bas-relief of the Madonna and child by Sansovino (1460-1529).
The house sits in 10,000 acres (6000 in agricultural use and 2000 in forestry) of the Howardian Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There are paths in Ray Wood and walled gardens with roses and an unusual ornamental vegetable garden, designed by head gardener Brian Deighton. In the grounds are lakes, fountains (including the famous Atlas statue fountain), a classical bridge, a mausoleum, and the Temple of the Four Winds, created by Vanbrugh. In the stable courtyard (stables built 1781-84) specialist shops sell estate and regional produce.
Castle Howard starred as Brideshead Castle in Granada TV's 1981 series Brideshead Revisited, starring Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews and Diana Quick. In the summer of 2007 Castle Howard was used again for a new film of Brideshead Revisited. The film featured Michael Gambon, Emma Thompson, Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, and Hayley Atwell. Visitors can see the sets constructed in the shell of the burned out high saloon. The exhibition shows the damage from the 1940 fire, sets constructed for the new film and displays on the new and old productions of Brideshead Revisited filmed at Castle Howard.
Castle Howard estate, near Coneysthorpe village; signposted off the A64
North Yorkshire, North-east Counties
Tel. 0 1653 648 444
Open: house: mid March-end Oct, and first 3 weeks Dec, 10am-5pm; gardens and playground, daily all year except 25 Dec, 10am-5pm (dusk in winter); stable courtyard shops, daily all year, 10am-5pm
Restaurant; shops; farm shop; plant centre; parking; adventure playground; exhibitions; special events; farmers’ market monthly; lakeside holiday park and holiday homes
Web: Castle Howard
Photos © by Barbara Ballard and
dome and passageway by Paul Harrop courtesy Geograph Britain and Ireland