The UK’s Channel 4 has rebroadcast the episode of Phil Spencer’s Stately Homes that covers the visit to Castle Howard. This was first broadcast as the second episode of the program’s first series on 16 August 2016. Spencer makes only a passing reference to the use of the estate as a setting for the film versions of Brideshead Revisited (and in that brief segment refers only to one) but does provide some interesting information about the history of the house.
Spencer interviews the present owner Nick Howard for background and accompanies him on visits to outbuildings, such as the Temple of the Four Winds, the pyramid and the mausoleum, not generally open to the public. He also interviews conservation architect Liz Smith who says that the house was the first baroque structure in England and that one of its innovative features was corridors between the rooms. She also explains that while John Vanbrugh designed the house, architect Nicholas Hawksmoor was brought in to provide professional advice since Vanbrugh lacked architectural training and experience. Christopher Ridgway who is the Curator of the estate points out that Hawksmoor had worked for Christopher Wren and was involved in the construction of the dome of St Paul’s cathedral. The Castle Howard dome which took 3 years to construct is unique among the country houses of England.
Spencer also works in factoids from the estate’s records as he travels around its rooms and grounds. For example, it took over 100 years to design and build and cost over £100,000 (£1.8 billion in today’s money). The frescoes by the Italian artist Pelligrini cost £892 (today £1.7 million). He also provides some interesting insights into the building and working of the Victorian fountain which played a prominent role in the adaptations of the novel, where it is described by Charles Ryder as “baroque” (London, 1960, p. 320). And he explains how the chapel came to have 19th century Arts and Crafts fittings and decorations.
The program is now available on Channel 4’s streaming service 4oD. It can be streamed on the internet at this link with a UK internet connection. The program is well presented, researched and edited and is recommended as a tutorial for anyone planning to attend the Brideshead Festival this summer at Castle Howard.