Castle Howard

Castle Howard

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York resident and regular contributor. Fascinated by this historic city and always keen to promote local, independent businesses. The man taking the photographs and tweeting from @Jorvik

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Castle Howard, a Baroque Grade I listed building, is one of the most palatial (having 145 rooms) country houses in England and not a castle at all. It is set amidst the beauty of the Howardian Hills and lies 15 miles north of York. The house is home to the Hon. Simon and Mrs Howard and their two children Merlin and Octavia and has been so for part of the Howard family for over three centuries.

Charles Howard, the third Earl of Carlisle, commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh, who was an amateur architect at the time, to design Castle Howard; Vanbrugh sensibly chose the established and prestigious architect Nicholas Hawksmoor for his clerk of works. Built between 1699 and 1712, though not fully completed till 1811, it is sited near the ruins of Henderskelfe Castle (originally under the ownership of Lord William Howard) which was destroyed by fire in 1693.

Vanbrugh died in 1726; the west wing was not yet started and when the third Earl died twelve years later the house still remained incomplete. Building began under the fourth Earl but Vanbrugh’s design was snubbed in favour of the Palladian style from a design by Sir Thomas Robinson the third Earl’s son-in-law.

In the mid-19th century the house’s large estate covered over 13,000 acres and included several local villages – today it is 1,000 acres. The site on an elevated area enables the formal garden, with its two lakes, to naturally merge with the landscaped parkland. Known as the fictional ‘Brideshead’ in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, being the film location in the 2008 film as well as the TV serial from 1981, Castle Howard has been used as a setting for a number of other film and television productions since 1965.

The Rococo painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini decorated much of its interior; other paintings by such masters as Rubens, Van Dyke, Canaletto, Reynolds and Tintoretto, include Hans Holbein’s Henry VIII. The house has a vast collection of rare porcelain and many sculptures. The magnificent Atlas fountain featured strongly in Brideshead Revisited.

In 1940 a fire destroyed the dome, the central hall, the dining room and the eastern state rooms. Pellegrini’s Fall of Phaeton, on the underside of the dome, and other important paintings including two Tintorettos were damaged; several prized mirrors were lost. Costly restoration has seen the dome rebuilt and Pellegrini’s Fall of Phaeton recreated. However, the East Wing is still a shell though with external restoration work.

The spectacular gardens’ architectural treasures include The Temple of the Four Winds and, in the park, the Mausoleum by Hawksmoor where the third Earl is buried – the first free-standing mausoleum to be built in Western Europe since the decline of the Roman Empire. Hawksmoor’s ruined Pyramid, an Obelisk, intriguing follies and mock fortifications can be found outside the maintained gardens. A 127-acre arboretum for specimen trees, ‘Kew at Castle Howard’, opened in 1999 nearby the house and garden, a joint venture with Castle Howard and Kew Gardens.

The house has been open to the public for many years.

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