A WRITER'S MASTERPIECE

Castle Howard is one of the UK's most revered Stately Homes, so why has this house, designed by a celebrated writer, become a sonnet of poetic history and heritage?

Meant to depict power and prestige, Castle Howard was born from an idea of stately dreams. To achieve this he hired John Vanbrugh, an eloquent wordsmith, who in the end, through Castle Howard, unknowingly created a poetic masterpiece more enduring and powerful than any of his written work.

By Jonathan Reed

Video supplied by Castle Howard©

Photography supplied by Reed Gallery©


In 1699, Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle; a noble aristocrat with a revered name, decided upon building a house of immense glory. After meeting with prospective architects, none would envisage the opulence and magnificence the Earl sought. Instead, he hired the writer John Vanbrugh, an esteemed scholar who had never built or designed a building before.

Walking past the Rose Gardens, Castle Howard appears from behind the numerous trees and blossoming Daffodils. Upon first-sight it is easily understandable how an architect of words and artful sentences constructed such a glorious house. Each brick, carving and statue expresses a dramatic beauty rarely unrivalled. From the breath-taking domed roof, to the accompanying poetic grounds, Castle Howard is a sonnet of English and Yorkshire heritage.

Upon the appointment of Vanbrugh to design and build The Earl’s ostentatious wishes, it would take more than one hundred years before Castle Howard was to be completed. And although Vanbrugh’s vision was never fully achieved, thankfully, enough of the house’s construction was completed to still garner an impact.

This completion would be overseen by the 5th Earl of Carlisle, Frederick Howard between 1801 - 1811 with the decoration of the Long Gallery. This, however, wouldn’t be the last time Castle Howard would experience alterations. Some were by choice, with the refurbishment of the Chapel between 1870 – 1875, yet tragically another would not.

On the morning of the 9 November 1940, a devastating fire broke out in the South-East Wing. Sweeping through the house into the Great Hall, nearly twenty rooms were damaged along with the iconic dome. For years, Castle Howard was exposed to the elements until George Howard decided the House should be lived in again.

The work was extensive and between 1960 – 1962, Vanbrugh’s dome was rebuilt. From here onwards Castle Howard has maintained the rehabilitation of their Estate, from the lakes and gardens to the statues, paintings and historic books; piece by piece Castle Howard is returning to the splendour it so sumptuously defines.

But within the walls and grounds of the Estate, the life and times of the Howard family are as definitive as brick and mortar. With over 300 years of history, Castle Howard has forever been occupied by the Howard Family. Nine Earls have owned the Estate, but with the death of the 9th Earl of Carlisle, George Howard in 1911, the house and grounds were eventually inherited by his son Geoffrey. Thus, ending the line of Earls which would own Castle Howard.

Whilst the noble notability of Earldoms may have ended, the Estate didn’t suffer the same fate. Around 200,000 visitors pass through the doors of Castle Howard each year and explore the vast gardens and estate it unapologetically boasts. Such is the Estate’s popularity, that more than 10 million people have visited the House during the past half-century, cementing Castle Howard as a one of Britain’s most treasured Stately Homes.

Through this, it has become a staple of Yorkshire’s majestic past and enduring legacy of grandeur and noble prestige. Therefore, it has never been a surprise that Castle Howard is consistently used for film productions, most notably Brideshead Revisited. Filmed across the numerous rooms and grounds, the iconic series showcased Castle Howard like never before, introducing the Estate to a whole new generation.

Stepping inside of the House, the lavishness of the Castle Howard’s exterior is mirrored here too. The Grand Staircase leads onto the China Landing, housing over 300 pieces of china, mostly Meissen, Sèrve and Chelsea, it sets the luxurious tone for the rest of the House. Yet, Castle Howard’s Crown Jewel rests towards the end of the Antique Passage.

The painted decorations of Venetian artist Antonio Pellegrini adorn the domed ceiling of The Great Hall. Arguably Vanbrugh’s architectural masterpiece, the Hall is a breath-taking emblem of Castle Howard’s unique design which soars to 70 feet into the air. Similarly, with Vanbrugh’s writing and Plays, The Great Hall is a spectacular homage to poetic theatre. And with the dome painting depicting Apollo and the Muses, whereby Apollo’s son plunged to earth, there is a beautiful irony. One where ambition and fall are definitive of The Grand Hall itself, which was ambitiously built, yet devastatingly destroyed in the 1940’s fire.

When in 1699 the 3rd Earl of Carlisle hoped to build a house befitting his title, he also planned for magnificent gardens to match. Throughout the years, mostly after the Earl’s death, his dream became a reality. The extensive grounds surrounding Castle Howard consist of 8,800 acres of farmland, woodland and parkland. But the gardens, which have been developed since the house was first built, are sewn with the same splendour as the building’s architecture.

Facing the South-side of Castle Howard stands the Atlas Fountain, designed by William Andrews Nesfield in the 1850s. The stunning water-feature was carved from Portland stone by John Thomas and shows Atlas carrying the Earth on his back. It is the centrepiece for Nefield’s garden designs and perfectly matches the ethereal and sumptuousness of the Estate.

Castle Howard has enamoured visitors from all walks of life for over three centuries. Its unashamed extravagance both in design and scale is a wonder to behold and demonstrates a time in history long gone, though not forgotten. Whether it be the gardens or house, lakes or woodlands, Castle Howard is steeped in history and a celebration of heritage, both nationally and locally.

After visiting Castle Howard, acclaimed Writer, Horace Walpole said: “Nobody… had informed me that I should at one view see a palace, a town, a fortified city, temples on high places, woods worthy of being each a metropolis of the Druids, vales connected to hills by other woods, the noblest lawn in the world fenced by half the horizon, and a mausoleum that would tempt one to be buried alive; in short I have seen gigantic places before, but never a sublime one.”

It isn’t lost on those who visit this most majestic Stately Home that Walpole’s words ring true almost 300 years after they were spoken. Castle Howard is a house definitive of man in charge of their own destiny, moulded from the emblems of passion, ambition and artistry. It stands within the Yorkshire hills, though changed with time, undimmed of beauty.

Castle Howard is a timely reminder of Britain’s on-going love and fascination with heritage and history. Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle envisioned a house that would be unrivalled. Meant to depict power and prestige, Castle Howard was born from an idea of stately dreams. To achieve this he hired John Vanbrugh, an eloquent wordsmith, who in the end, through Castle Howard, unknowingly created a poetic masterpiece more enduring and powerful than any of his written work.

Thanks to Castle Howard and all their wonderful staff for helping organise our visit!


Click on the images below:

Reed Gallery©

Castle Howard, South Side
Castle Howard, South Side, With Atlas Fountain
	Castle Howard, Atlas Fountain
Castle Howard, South Side
Crimson Dining Room
Long Gallery
Turquoise Drawing Room
The Great Hall
Roman Statue, The Great Hall
Atlas Fountain
Castle Howard Gardens
Castle Howard, North Side
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