Far from Neglected (CH3)

The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect

Evelyn WaughBrideshead Revisited

Castle Howard may have struck film and TV production companies as the perfect proxy for Brideshead, but in at least one respect they are very different.

St Andrews, Roker, the church that was at the heart of my childhood and adolescence, is often referred to as “The Cathedral of the Arts & Crafts Movement“.  In a structure designed by Edward Schroeder Prior were tapestries and carpet by William Morris, painted ceilings designed by prior and complete by MacDonald Gill who elder brother Eric Gill carved the foundation stone.  There is woodwork by Ernest Gimson and Mouseman Thompson and the artist Henry Payne designed the stained glass, yet for all of this artistry I always felt the church to have a plain, artisanal aspect, probably resulting from the grey reinforced concrete of its construction.

So if that is the cathedral, how to describe the small chapel within Castle Howard?  How about dining room because that’s what the room was originally, but about 150 years ago the floor was lowered, presumably to create a more impressive space, and the decorators moved in.  Featuring designs from both William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones it has quite an impact with its Pre-Raphaelite styling._pw_9173

The windows are attention grabbers but there’s so much more. The coffered ceiling, the frieze work, the coloured pillars, decorated choir stalls, marble flooring.  I was staggered by the attention to detail (and by the expenditure it must have taken) for what was designed as a place of private family worship (though public services are held there now)

If St Andrew’s is the Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement then this must be the movement’s Sistine Chapel.




“It’s where my family live”* (CH2)

Its perhaps a consequence of the reluctant study of my school years that some of the great authors I read at the time had any future appeal completely extinguished.  The burden of completing Nostromo was sufficient to deter me from reading Conrad ever again.  Eliot’s poetry was another victim, despite the fact that a line from The Waste Land was echoed as the title for another of the books on our reading list; Waugh’s A Handful of Dust.  Waugh fared magically better; his work being an easier read I went as far as reaching for some of his other works but I didn’t make it as far as Brideshead Revisited.  Nor did I watch the TV series.  Or see the film.

The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.*

_pw_9113So there you have it; a self-confessed Philistine!  And one who can walk the corridors of Castle Howard without the moments of recognition that come from entering a film location that he’s familiar with, or equally knowingly spotting where directors have taken liberties in moving seamlessly between locations that are often quite separate in reality.  I’ve done my share of that when skiing on Schilthorn or enjoying the gardens of Villa del Balbianello.  The point is that both the series and the movie were filmed here so that Castle Howard has become synonymous with Brideshead.

The interiors of a stately home can be as much of an attraction as the exterior, and in some cases more so.  Personally I’m less inclined to wonder at the table settings and bed linen than I am at the spaces and the artistry that has been applied to them but each to their own.  Consequently I didn’t linger too much in Lady Georgiana’s Bedroom (that’s how rumours start), the Turquoise Drawing Room (imaginative name) or many places in between other than the Great Hall.

Now you might think that access to these colourful chambers was the reason for the interest of location scouts, but the truth is a little stranger.  The magnificent great hall is mostly a restoration, but the original fresco inside the dome was Fall of Phaeton by Pellegrini.  The irony being that this myth tells of Phaeton losing control of his father’s chariot which carried the sun across the sky and the earth being in danger of incineration as a result and yet the artwork was lost when in November 1940 a chimney fire quickly spread through the property resulting in several rooms being gutted and the dome collapsing into the hall below.

I sought inspiration among gutted places*

Castle Howard Garden Hall complete with screen makeover

It was those rooms where filming took place since they provided a blank canvas for the set designers but in a setting with the high ceilings and grand doorways as standard.

What does it matter when its built if its beautiful?*

For years afterwards Castle Howard has traded on its Brideshead alter ego, though when I visited a new TV series was being aired  which was filmed here and at several other locations in Yorkshire where grand buildings stood in for royal palaces.  The series is an account of the early life of Queen Victoria and Castle Howard represents Kensington Palace.  Had they concentrated on a later period of her rein the house could finally have played itself.  She came here in August 1850.

* Quotations from Brideshead Revisited




Oi Howard! It’s Not A Castle! (CH1)

Of the dozens of noble families that make up the British aristocracy, one stands out from the rest.  John Howard was created Duke of Norfolk by Richard III and the two died together in the Battle of Bosworth Field.  Aside from that title, the family are amongst other titles, the Earl of Arundel, Earl of Surrey, Earl of Norfolk, and Earl Marshal of England.  I don’t even know what that last title pertains to but it’s fair to say these are people of influence.  Despite Howard’s support for the defeated Plantagenet monarch, the Tudors continued to favour the family; Henry VIII even marrying two of them (though they were the pair that faced the executioner’s block).  The family even features a saint!

_pw_9231The main home, or seat, of the family is at Arundel in West Sussex, but 300 years ago the Carlisle branch of the family decided to build a little place of their own, not in Cumbria, as might seem logical, but in Yorkshire, perhaps hinting back to their connections to that “son of York”. Their lands there incorporated a number of villages, covered over 5000 hectares and for over a century were served by their own railway station.  The area is known as the Howardian Hills!  You’re not going to build something subtle in the middle of that, and so Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle (one more title in the collection) engaged the services of Sir John Vanbrugh assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Castle Howard was Vanbrugh’s first great house in the English Baroque style (Seaton Delaval Hall was his last)._pw_9070

Vanbrugh was clearly not a man who lacked confidence (I look at these buildings and find Michael Nyman’s soundtrack from The Draughtsman’s Contract springs to mind).  It’s not really a castle though!  (Technically dear reader, the term can be applied to any great house built on the site of a former military structure, in this case the ruins of Henderskelfe Castle which the family had acquired through marriage in the 16th Century)._pw_9066-edit

One of his other works, Stowe, is renowned for its gardens full of classical temples and landscaping by Capability Brown, but for me Castle Howard outshines it (though that might be a mark of the contrasting weather I experienced there) by being more open, allowing the visitor to take in more of its delights (which are mostly in better repair too).  These include the magnificent Atlas Fountain by John Thomas, the Mausoleum and the Pyramid (both Hawksmoor), and the Temple of the Four Winds (Vanbrugh).

A further bonus is that the majority of the statuary are made of lead, and have therefore weathered better than stone which may become encrusted with lichen or worn smooth by acid rain.

There are walled  gardens, and woodland walks, and just alongside the mansion, bordered by the outside seating of one of the café’s onsite is an area of neatly tended grass with a plinth at its centre on which stands a magnificent wild boar.  Were the dukes great hunters in their time?  Maybe.  Or is it just coincidence that the Plantagenet coat of arms features a pair of white boars holding the shield (or boars argent supporters I suppose you’d say in heraldic terms).  Richard III was known to favour his supporters with boar brooches.  Three hundred years after Richard created the title, perhaps the Howards were repaying the favour?_pw_9205One last point – unlike so many stately homes in England, this one is not owned by the National Trust.  The property is managed by a company whose directors and shareholders include members of the Howard family, which according to press reports led to the remarkable situation where Simon Howard and his family, having lived in the property for 30 years, were asked to leave or face a vote in the boardroom, so that his brother Nicholas and family could move in.  Surely it’s large enough for both?


£13.2m – Roof not included

Despite having declared that its portfolio of stately homes was complete, in 2008 the National Trust was presented with an opportunity too good to miss; to purchase Seaton Delaval Hall.  With half of the funds required available from the trusts reserves, they had just six months to raise the remaining £6.3m, a huge sum of money for a building that was an empty shell, with an interior that had been exposed to the elements for years as a result of a major fire.  Even the wing that had been occupied by Baron Hastings, whose death duties had forced the sale, was empty for 160 years before he moved in.

So why all the fuss?

The radical playwright and architect (strange combination) Sir John Vanbrugh is the answer.  The man designer of Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace was also responsible for Seaton Delaval Hall, and indeed it was his last great project, dying before the building was complete.APW_6435_6_7

Open to the public for nearly four years, the property is rich in photographic possibilities, and whilst I’ve been here before, the Trusts restoration work means that there is always something different to consider.

The main hallway is the most stark, but the exposed brick and plaster work gives it a unique charm, as do the statues that bear the scars of fire, weather and even air rifle target practice.  These are due for examination and restoration this year, but are currently “bandaged” with wire and plastic sheeting to hold them in place.

The Hall is a Smörgåsbord of shadows and textures, with light pouring in from open doorways and windows at several levels.

An extensive cellar has limited appeal, APW_6284 but is reached at either side of the Hall by  magnificent spiral staircases.  I could (and have) spend hours working to capture interesting shots here.  Maybe its just me.

The stable block is just screaming for an interestingly lit fashion shoot,

and there are photogenic details aplenty.

It doesn’t stop with the interior either and though the building lacks the original domed roof APW_6290 it nevertheless retains an imposing grandeur.

There are formal gardens,

but Mother Nature is not to be outdone by Vanbrugh and provides some interesting elements of her own.

It doesn’t matter that the restoration work won’t be completed in my lifetime, it remains an impressive edifice.  A giant laid low that will slowly rise again.


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