Heritage Highlights: The extraordinary dome is an architectural wonder
One of the premier stately homes of England, Castle Howard is a baroque masterpiece, more palace than house, conceived by Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, and executed by Sir John Vanbrugh from 1699.
A short drive from the city of York brings you to a long avenue leading to the gates of Castle Howard. The house stands within extensive parkland and formal gardens, where peacocks roam. The setting is idyllic, but it is the house itself that draws the eye. Castle Howard is centred on a striking dome, with two wings enclosing a courtyard. To the north, the ground falls away to a large lake, to the south, formal gardens share space with more water features and several glorious follies.
HISTORYThe Building of Castle Howard
That the ambitious 3rd Earl of Carlsle should choose to create so extravagant a showpiece home is not so surprising. More surprising by far was his choice of architect. John Vanbrugh was known in society circles as a young playwrite. He had no previous experience of architecture when Charles Howard handed him the commission for his grand new house. Vanbrugh drew upon the expertise of Nicholas Hawksmoor, former deputy to Sir Christopher Wren, in carying out his design at Castle Howard.
But there was still much to do at Castle Howard; by 1725 Carlisle estimated that he had spent over £78,000 on his house, and it still did not have a west wing to match the east! Part of the delay was due to the Earl's desire to finish the landscaping, a distraction that drew the ire of Vanbrugh, who pleaded with the Earl to complete the west wing. In the end, both men were long dead before the house was complete; Vanbrugh passing in 1726, and the 3rd Earl in 1738.
Thus has Castle Howard remained, despite minor alterations over the past several centuries, essentially two unbalanced wings, designed and executed to divergent visions, ranged about a central dome of striking beauty.
That beauty was marred by a devastating fire in 1940, which destroyed the dome and over 20 rooms. For over twenty years the dome was unroofed, but by 1962 repairs had been completed. In the meantime, Castle Howard was opened to the public (1952). In 1982 the appeal of Castle Howard was further enhanced when it was chosen as the setting for the television production of Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisted. A permanent exhbition relating to the filming of the television series can be seen by visitors to the house.
For a closer look at the interior of Castle Howard, with an overview of the major rooms on display to visitors, please see the House section of our Castle Howard Guide. And for a look at the exraordinarily beautiful grounds, visit the Gardens section of this guide.
Address: Castle Howard,
England, YO60 7DA
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: 15 m NE York, off A64
Website: Castle Howard
Phone: 01653 648 444
Fax: 1653 648 529
Historic Houses Association
OS: SE716 701
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