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Castle Howard History

 Castle Howard was the brainchild of Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle. It is a baroque masterpiece, designed and built by the renowned Sir John Vanbrugh, who later designed Blenheim Palace. Bizarrely, when designing Castle Howard, Vanbrugh was a playwright, having no architectural experience whatsoever; he was simply a fellow member of the 3rd Earl at London’s famous Kit-Cat Club. To complete the task, Vanbrugh recruited the services of Nicholas Hawksmoor, the former deputy of Sir Christopher Wren. Set in 1,000 acres, Castle Howard is the largest house in Yorkshire with 145 rooms. It is certainly recognised as one of England’s finest. It took more than a century to complete, with most of the building being erected between 1699 and 1712, but it wasn’t completed until 1811.

It has been home to the Howard family for more than 300 years, with a key period in the history of the estate being the great fire of 1940 and the following reconstruction.

It has a towering dome and this feature had never been used in a private residence before. Amazingly, it wasn’t part of the original design, but merely an afterthought. Other features include a grand mausoleum, temples, monuments and lakes as well as, as expected, extensive gardens.


Castle Howard Visit

It may be steeped in history, but it’s probably best known as the setting for ‘Brideshead Revisited’, the iconic film of the eighties – and what a place they chose!

It would have been built in the days when certain landowners owned land as far as the eye could see and had an almost bottomless pit of money to build their main residence. Their imagination would have been their only limiting factor. Helped by the hugely talented Vanbrugh, the result is what we see today. It’s that impressive that a quarter of a million people flock to see it every year, and that doesn’t include the weddings that take place – what special days they must be!

You get an idea of the scale of things when you drive down the approach road. It’s about five miles long and forms a dead straight line between two huge stone pillars, the first a monument to the 7th Earl and the second, the Obelisk. Between the two, the road travels through the Carrmire Gate, which is a wall, arch and two turrets designed by architect John Hawksmoor in the 1720’s, and the Gatehouse which was built in 1719. The avenue is lined with beech and lime trees.

It’s a breathtaking approach and if you get a chance, look back at the monument from a distance, or see it on the way out, and you’ll notice that the trees on the avenue are trimmed back to give a perfect view of the monument through the two tree lines.

Once you get into the grounds, there’s a walk of three or four hundred yards to the main house from the ticket office. This has the walled garden on the right, for which you can stop and walk around, or there’s a shuttle carriage that can transport you to save the walk. As long as the weather’s good, it’s a great, scenic walk.

There’s certainly plenty on offer and at this point it’s a choice of which to do first – the gardens and grounds or the house. I suppose much may depend on the weather or the time of year.

The grounds are fairly extensive and the walled garden is interesting, with all the colours and aromas of the season on display. Nearby is the main garden with extensive lawns and hedges and it also includes the Atlas Fountain. This is a real family area in the summer with picnics and ball games being played. A short distance from the lawns is the large South Lake. This is quite a spectacle and leads to a small pond, a cascade, a small lake and waterfall before the water runs under the bridge in the distance. Also in sight is the great Mausoleum on the hill opposite. With the river and wooded areas around, you get the impression that the whole place is absolutely teeming with wildlife.

You’ll find the Temple of the Four Winds fairly near the South Lake which then leads to Ray Wood, the forest area – this being great for nature lovers and walkers alike. There are maps at the entrance and you could probably walk across it in five or ten minutes, but there are a number of paths within and many staked and labelled trees, shrubs and plants, so great to take time.

Not far from the north entrance to the wood, within a few hundred yards of the house, are the great lakes. Again, plenty of wildlife around and boat trips are available. The boats leave from the lakeside cafe area. Next to this area is a kid’s playground with all manner of swings and climbing equipment. This is obviously a great family area and possibly the highlight of the trip for youngsters.

The house itself is as you’d expect for somewhere chosen as the Brideshead setting. Very grand with plenty of ornaments, furniture, paintings and detail. As with many stately homes, there’s a ‘route’ to be taken, which allows you to presumably see all the best bits of the house. The route is cordoned off to allow people to filter through in one direction and there are plenty of staff on hand to advise and discuss the history surrounding the rooms. There’s no rush and you can take as long as you want.

The Great Hall is quite spectacular and has a domed roof. This was destroyed in the fire of 1948, together with many of the south side rooms. Details of these events are displayed in the upper rooms. They show exhibitions of both the fire and subsequent reconstruction, together with details of the filming of Brideshead Revisited.

A great day out for all the family.