Tuesday 15 January 2019

The gardens of Castle Howard by Fay Bound Alberti

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire  

Over the festive period, my friends and I visited Castle Howard, a stately home in North Yorkshire. I am not a fan of country estates as a rule; I prefer finding out about the lives of the ordinary men and women who made aristocratic life possible. But it was a beautiful day and we were keen for some fresh air and green spaces.

Castle Howard fit the bill. A short drive from York, it is set in a thousand acres of parkland, with statues, lakes, temples and fountains. There are numerous artworks and world-renowned collections held at Castle Howard, though the house was unfortunately closed for the winter.

A view of John Vanbrugh's project for Castle Howard (1725)
Work began on the stately home in 1699, though it took over a century to complete. The architect was Sir John Vanbrugh (c. 1664 -1726), who was also responsible for Blenheim Palace, as well as a number of Restoration comedies (such as The Provoked Wife, 1697). Castle Howard was Vanbrugh's first foray into architecture, and he was assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor (c. 1661-1736), a pioneer of the English Baroque style. A Baroque building, Castle Howard has two symmetrical wings that project either side of a North-South axis. The characteristic dome was added to the design at a late stage.

Castle Howard as imagined in Brideshead Revisited (Granada TV)
Castle Howard has been the home of the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for over 300 years. It is perhaps best known for its role in Brideshead Revisited (1981). Castle Howard also featured as the Kremlin in The Spy with a Cold Nose (Galton and Simpson, 1966) and - for inside scenes - in the television series Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)

Castle Howard was opened to the public  in 1952, reflecting a world where stately home upkeep had become impossible for traditional aristocratic families. Many stately homes were demolished or sold off bit by bit, or redesigned as tourist attractions in the post-war era. Castle Howard is now owned by Castle Howard Estate Ltd and run by Nicholas and Victoria Howard. The grounds were excavated by Channel 4's Time Team in 2003, searching for evidence of a local village that had been demolished so that the estate could be landscaped. You can find the episode on YouTube.

The mausoleum 
In addition to the landscaped gardens to the front of the house, the park grounds contain a forested area and two major buildings: the Temple of the Four Winds and the Mausoleum. Built in 1729, the Mausoleum sits on a hill, and is raised on a terrace encircled with a stone wall. It looks rather like an observatory, and is encircled by Doric column and crowned with a dome. The burial vault lies below, and contains sixty three catacombs. The mausoleum was said to have cost over £10,000 when built, and it influenced their fashionable spread. Such a building, announced the English whig Horace Walpole, 'would tempt one to be buried alive'. More recently, the mausoleum and gardens featured in the Artic Monkeys' video Four out of Five

Still from the Artic Monkeys' Four out of Five, showing the mausoleum

The Temple of the Four Winds lies at the eastern end of Temple Terrace. It has four doors and four sets of stairs, each of which faces a cardinal point on the compass. The Temple was designed by Vanbrugh in 1724, and influenced by Andrea Palladio's Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, Italy. Originally named The Temple of Diana, it remained unfinished for ten years after Vanbrugh died in 1726. After it had deteriorated in the 1940s, George Howard restored the Temple in 1955. It was used as a place for refreshment and reading, with a cellar beneath that was used by servants.

The Temple of the Four Winds

We sat on the western side of the Temple to enjoy a packed lunch. From there we had views over the Howardian Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty located between the Yorkshire Wolds, the North York Moors National Park and the Vale of York. The Howardian Hills, as you might expect, take their name from the Howard family.

The walk from the Temple to the house is lined by statues; 18 lead figures can be found throughout the gardens as a whole. Aside from Hercules - who has a rear end that would put Kim Kardashian to shame - our  favourite was Meleager, one of the great heroes of Greek mythology. When his father Oeneus forgot to sacrifice to Artemis, the angry goddess sent a huge wild boar to ravage the country. Meleager gathered a band of heroes to hunt the board, and he finally killed it after a long battle. This lead statue is on the Temple Terrace, with an adoring hound at the hero's feet and a slain boar to the side. We didn't find the statue of the large boar that Meleager defeated, though that is also on the estate.

Meleaguer the hunter with hound, and the head of a newly slain boar.

The spectacular Atlas Fountain and pond crowns the gardens. Dating from 1850, it was exhibited at The Great Exhibition prior to installation at Castle Howard. The Fountain was designed by the English architect and artist, William Andrews Nesfield, and the figures carved in Portland stone by the sculptor John Thomas. who also worked on Buckingham Palace. The figures were transported from London by rail for installation at Castle Howard. 

A large bronze globe dominates the fountain, and is supported on the shoulders of Atlas. In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity. The fountain has four recumbent Tritons blowing water through shells over Atlas, as he kneels in the centre. 

The fountain was empty when we visited, but is beautiful when filled, as you can see by this YouTube clip. The pond alone is vast - 27 metres in diameter. The shell and basin carvings were made by local craftsmen, and the water transported from a stream nearby, and brought up to the estate reservoir by steam engine. The fountain was turned on for the first time in October 1853. 

The Atlas Fountain
You can find out more about Castle Howard from its website, where you can also find videos of the house and gardens. It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. We will be going back in the summer when the house is open. 

A belated happy new year to you all!


Claire said...

It's one of my favourite houses :) A wonderful post, thank you!

michelle lovric said...

thank you for a lovely tour. I've never been there, and now I want to go, mostly for the temple of the four winds, which seems to me a perfect building.

Fay Bound Alberti said...

It is beautiful Michelle. You can't go in, but if you peer through the windows and look up, it has the most gorgeous ceiling. And of course the whole building has a wonderful symmetry and amazing views.