Castle Howard

Castle Howard panorama

History of Castle Howard

Castle Howard is an English country house in North Yorkshire built between 1701 and 1724 by John Vanbrugh for Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle.

Castle Howard detail

The gardens were laid out by George London during the same period. One of the largest, grandest, and, architecturally, most important country houses in England,

Castle Howard was first planned in October 1698, when the 3rd Earl took out a lease for life on the ruinous Henderskelfe Castle and its manor from his grandmother, Anne Howard, Countess of Carlisle.

The following spring he consulted the architect William Talman, Comptroller of Works to William III, on the design for a house to replace the old castle of Henderskelfe, but during the summer Talman was supplanted by the playwright John Vanbrugh. Castle Howard was Vanbrugh’s first important architectural commission.

A model in wood was shown to the King in the summer of 1700, and work on the hilltop site began in the spring of 1701.

Castle Howard consists of a central nine-bay block in the Baroque style; it is surmounted by a domed cupola, and curved wings form a forecourt on the north front. Its magnificent hall and saloon were ready to be painted by the Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini in 1709, one of the most important commissions Pellegrini received in England.

Castle Howard

He painted a fine depiction of the Fall of Phaeton in the ceiling of the dome as well as scenes from the Life of Aeneas in the high saloon (the paintings were destroyed in 1940). Tapestries for the house were supplied by John Vanderbank, and much of the decorative stucco was undertaken by the Italian Giovanni Bagutti (1681–after 1730).

By the autumn of 1713, the 3rd Earl was able to move into the main part of the house.

Castle Howard stairs

Following the completion of the principal rooms, the 3rd Earl lost interest in finishing the west wing, which was intended to contain a chapel, and instead turned his attention to the garden.

Ray Wood, to the west of the house, had already been laid out as an ornamental wilderness with fountains and statues in the first decade of the 18th century by George London. During the second decade, a grand means of approach was provided by avenues, an obelisk (1714) erected to commemorate the victories of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, in the War of the Spanish Succession, and the Pyramid Gatehouse (1719), with its attenuated fortified walls built in the early 1720s.

In 1724 Vanbrugh’s Temple of the Four Winds was built as a belvedere on the edge of Ray Wood, but the greatest of Castle Howard’s landscape buildings is the Mausoleum designed by Hawksmoor in the late 1720s and completed with a dual stairway and supporting walls by Daniel Garrett.

Castle Howard bridge

Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle, was much less energetic than his father had been in making alterations to the physical structure of the house, but he was responsible for accumulating an important collection of Classical statues.

For unknown reasons he commissioned his brother-in-law, Thomas Robinson (i), to design a substantial west wing (built 1753–9) in the Palladian style, one quite out of keeping with the rest of the house.

Castle Howard

During the early 1770s Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, completed the west wing’s interiors and filled them with sarcophagi collected on his Grand Tour. He also commissioned a new stable block, first obtaining designs from William Chambers and then a more economical version from John Carr, which was built in 1774–1782.

The 5th Earl’s trustees took control of his finances in 1775 (owing to his gambling debts) and only in the 1790s was he able to resume plans for developing the house and estate when a great lake was created to the north of the house. In 1801 Charles Heathcote Tatham was employed to redesign the interior of the west wing, and in 1805 his obelisk was erected near the north front to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Castle Howard and courtyard

The most significant subsequent alterations comprised the addition of parterres below the south front of the house by William Andrews Nesfield in the 1850s and the design of the chapel in the house’s west wing during the 1870s, which included stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones. In 1940 the interior of the house was extensively damaged by fire; a program of restoration began in 1960.

The house (with its rich collection of works of art) and grounds, together praised by Horace Walpole in a letter to George Selwyn as a palace, a town, a fortified city, temples on high places, woods worthy of being each a metropolis of the Druids, vales connected to hills by other woods, the noblest lawn in the world fenced by half the horizon, and a mausoleum that would tempt one to be buried alive, remain in family ownership and are open to the public.

Castle Howard Visitor Information

statue Castle Howard

The Castle Howard and its gardens are one of the most beautiful residences in the world and they are open to the public.

You can enjoy its magnificent gardens in the summer as much as in the winter.

For more information about opening times, tickets, and events please visit the official website or contact the visitor service at:

Phone: 01653 648333 (Monday – Friday 9,00 – 17,30)

Castle Howard Location

Castle Howard is located in York, North Yorkshire YO60, UK. Get help with directions:

Castle Howard Map

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