Castle Howard: The history of North Yorkshire’s 19th century house owned by the Howard family that has its own Channel 4 show

Even though building work on Castle Howard began in 1699, the process took more than 100 years to complete and the estate grounds date back to before the 16th century.

Castle Howard is situated within the Henderskelfe estate which was first bought by Lord William Howard in 1557. Lord William Howard, also known as ‘Belted Will’ was the third son of 4th Duke of Norfolk and married his step-sister Elizabeth Dacre, which eventually led to his execution.

The 100-year long construction of Castle Howard spanned the lives of three Howard Earls. Eight generations of the Howard family have lived in the 19th century house since it was first built; each bringing their own unique style to its design.

The grand house is part of a new Channel 4 show called Castle Howard: Through The Seasons which looks into how the house copes with the ever-changing seasons. The four-part series started on November 12, 2022 and airs on Saturdays at 4pm.

Castle Howard. (Pic credit: James Hardisty)

History of Castle Howard

Castle Howard was commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, who was a descendant of Lord William Howard and the creation and design began in 1699. John Vanbrugh started the design work and it was completed with the Long Gallery decoration in 1811.

The house is surrounded by a large estate near York in Henderskelfe and was first occupied by the 7th Earl of Carlisle and covers more than 13,000 acres, which includes villages of Welburn, Bulmer, Slingsby, Terrington and Coneysthorpe.

From 1845 to the 1950s the estate had its own railway station, Castle Howard station and while attending Girton College during the early Edwardian period, Lady Dorothy Georgiana Howard, the daughter of the 9th Earl of Carlisle, became friends with six of her fellow school peers, including the future archaeologist Gisela Richter.

The Yorkshire Arboretum, Castle Howard. (Pic credit: James Hardisty)

The castle was opened to the public by the owner at the time, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, a younger son of Geoffrey Howard in 1952.

The design by Vanbrugh developed into a Baroque shape with two symmetrical wings on either side of a north-south axis. At the later stages once the building started, the crowning central dome was attached to the design.

The building started at the east end, with the East Wing constructed from 1701 to 1703, the east end of the Garden Front from 1701 to 1706, the Central Block, including the dome, from 1703 to 1706, and the west end of the Garden Front from 1707 to 1709; all are decorated in Baroque style with coronets, cherubs, urns and cyphers, with Roman Donc pilasters on the north front and Corinthian on the south. Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini designed the interiors.

By the year 1725, most of the construction of the outside was completed and its interiors luxuriously finished. However, its architect at the time, Vanbrugh, died in 1726 leaving the house incomplete. It was missing a west wing as landscaping the gardens was given priority and it was still incomplete by the time the 3rd Earl died in 1738, according to the official Castle Howard website.

Dogs and their owners attend on the first day of the Festival of Dogs weekend at Castle Howard. (Pic credit: Ian Forsyth / Getty Images)

The house was completed by Carlisle’s son-in-law Sir Thomas Robinson and through its Palladian wing, Vanbrugh’s Baroque design was revived. The inconsistency in the house’s exterior designs prompted a mixed response from the public.

It was eventually completed between 1801 and 1811 with the decoration of the Long Gallery by Tatham.

Recent history of Castle Howard

In the early hours of November 9, 1940 a fire started in the chimney of the castle in the south-east corner of the South Front and spread through the building.

It caused severe damage to rooms in the basement, principal and upper levels of the house as well as the dome, which fell onto the Great Hall. The fire service managed to subdue the fire before it caused any more extensive damage and thanks to the girls of Queen Margaret’s School, Scarborough, who were evacuated to Castle Howard and were able to save some of the contents.

On January 25, 1954, Castle Howard was listed as a Grade I building.

It took 20 years before restoration began. From 1960 to 1962 George Howard and Lady Cecilia began fixing the dome and rebuilt and redecorated Castle Howard as a family home and historic tourist attraction.

In 1981 the Garden Hall was built alongside Granada Television and the filming of Brideshead Revisited. In 1994 the Central Block’s roof was replaced.

An underwater ground-source heat recovery system was implemented in 2009 under the castle’s lake. More than 269,000 people visited Castle Howard in 2019 according to figures revealed by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

Many films and TV shows have been filmed there including the 1981 TV show and 2008 film adaptations of Evelyn Waugh’s book Brideshead Revisited, ITV series Victoria and Netflix period drama Bridgerton.

It is currently owned by a Howard family company, Castle Howard Estate Limited and managed by the Hon. Nicholas Howard and his wife, Victoria.

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