Friday, June 3, 2011

Castle Howard

Its nigh on a month since I last updated. What with exams, trips, et cetera I haven't found the time or energy to post.

A couple of weeks ago, I went with a few classmates to York, a beautiful Georgian town in Yorkshire. We visited Fairfax House, Castle Howard, the Leeds Art Gallery, York Castle Museum (that pioneered reproduction historical streets within a museum context) and the York Art Gallery.

I gave a presentation on Castle Howard in my undergraduate degree and my familiarity with Brideshead Revisited means that Castle Howard holds a special interest for me.

Castle Howard was designed by the playwright turned architect John Vanburgh (who famously also designed Blenheim Palace) and is remarkable for its central dome that adds majesty and theatrically to what would be otherwise a symmetrical house. Construction began on the house c. 1700, Vanburgh was commissioned to design the house by the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, Charles Howard (1669 - 1738). The House is still occupied Simon Howard who lives there with his wife and two young children. It is also a private enterprise, with garden produce sold and utilizing the house and gardens as a visitor attraction and venue for weddings. Many privately owned country houses operate on the same system, having to make money to keep the estate running in the twenty-first century.

Grand Staircase and China Landing, constructed in the 1870s. This is where (paying) visitors enter the house, this part of the house dates from the nineteenth century, this wing was added as had been intended in Vanburgh's plans. Contains portraits of family members.
The China cabinet houses over 300 pieces of china, mostly Meissen, Sévre and Chelsea.

Lady Georgiana's bedroom. Georgiana was the sixth Countess of Carlisle, born Cavidenish, the 1801 marriage between her and George Howard, the 6th Earl, formed a connection between Castle Howard and Chatsworth House that lasted throughout the nineteenth century.

Furniture and decorative schemes from the dressing room adjacent to Georgiana's bedroom.

Bedroom containing the oldest piece of furniture in the house, a fifteenth century English made cabinet. Is this the bedroom that Laurence Olivier performed the death scene of Lord Flyte? I think the bedroom was called Victoria's Bedroom/The Queen's bedroom but it is not named as such in the guidebook so I'm not sure. Quite exciting to think that Olivier lay in that bed though.

The Antique passage did not assume its original form until the West Wing was built and finally decorated at the beginning of the 19th century. The majority of the busts in this gallery are antique, collected by the 4th Earl during his trips to Italy in 1738-9. It is a marvelous gallery to walk down, preparing you for the drama of the Great Hall and Vanburgh's dome.

The interior of the dome (which rises 70 feet above the house and lends Castle Howard its unique silhouette). Original decoration by Antonio Pellegrini, executed between 1709 and 1712, depicting the four elements and the tale of Phaeton falling from his father's chariot. Sadly destroyed by fire in November 1940. Repainted in 1962, my friends and I were on the shelf about the repainting, sorry that you can't see it very well here.

Casualties of the 1940 fire still remain.

The turquoise drawing room, contains paintings by Gainsborough and Reynolds. Gainsborough's portrait of Isabella Byron (great aunt to the poet) is just cut off at the top of my photo. At the beginning of the nineteenth century this room contained Old Masters paintings and contemporary artwork. John Jackson's 'Lady Mary Howard' (1828) can be seen in the centre.

The Long Gallery is 160 feet in length, it contains a wonderful Rubens painting of Salomé with the head of St. John the Baptist which my camera proved useless to capture.

Morris & Co. screen, in the chapel. 'The Legend of Good Women', derived from Chaucer's poem. Worked by Jane Morris and her sister Bessie Burden. An interesting article here on the commission.

Me sitting at the iconic Atlas fountain, sadly not running at the moment due to plumbing damage caused by three hard, cold winters.

Temple of the Four Winds, a folly in the grounds of Castle Howard.

Unfortunately I didn't get to the Mausoleum, you have to book ahead to get a private tour. It is interesting as its interior is an imitation of the Parthenon ceiling. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, begun in 1731. Generations of the Howard family have been buried in the crypt beneath.

The exhibition taking place when I was visiting is of the paintings and sketchbooks of George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle (1843-1911). I thought it was a nice addition to the house overall. I loved how the sketchbooks were displayed in an unordered haphazard fashion within the cases, no elaborate explanation needed.

This was incredible, George Howard elaborately decorated the envelopes of letters he sent to friends. Imagine this dropping through your letter box! For a stationary fiend like myself I really loved this little exhibit. It added a tangible personal element to the house, reminding you that it was foremost a family home, inhabited by generations of Howards with varying interests.

To conclude then, it was a thrill to finally see the house. The only gripe I have with the experience is that there is too much focus on Brideshead Revisited and Castle Howard's setting in the tv series and (terrible) movie. I understand that some of the rooms damaged in the 1940 fire still have not been restored yet I feel they could be put to better use rather than three rooms dedicated to Brideshead Revisited, especially the one that just details what the story is about. They have one room that was used as a set for the film, Lord Flyte's death scene, still preserved. I thought that was totally irrelevant, surely the tv series if anything is more iconic than the film. I also wish that there had been the option of a house tour by a guide, because I would really loved to have known about the interiors and furnishings.


  1. A house so iconic that I didn't even watch either the series or movies but I knew from the first photo—Brideshead Revisited! I think that George Howard's envelopes are marvelous (my favourite is the Lilliputian fighting the mouse). I clicked on the link and read he was friends with Morris. It seems like 2011 is the year for re-discovering the Pre-Raphaelites what with the exhibits in the V&A and the Musee d'Orsay. Wish I could have added the Castle Howard exhibit to my Seen list.

    Arianne from A + B in the Sea

  2. I looove Castle Howard and would love to see it in the summer when the house is open to visitors. When I went it was the middle of winter, but it was gorgeous with the snow. The inside looks so beautiful!

    It was so fab to meet you last weekend--finally! Hope to see you again some day xx

  3. Wow, what an incredible place! Beautiful blog :)

    The Flower Girl

  4. So pretty! And of course, I love your outfit.

  5. These pictures are SO incredible Zoe! Love them. Really, really want to go to this gorgeous place asap.
    ps. you're a runner up in my giveaway

  6. Super lovely blog!


  7. the Brideshead Revisited movie really is terrible!

    it all looks very gorgeous and British, I'd love to visit it one day!

  8. Gosh, it is beautiful. Love a nice folly! I want to go even more now. Might have to organise a pilgrimage.

  9. OH!

    York is one of my favourite Northern Cities. I need to go to Castle Howard so baaaddd!

    Beautiful. x

  10. Wow it looks fantastic - it's great you can take pictures as a lot of these places are so strict about photography. Loving your blog!