Many of Yorkshire’s great stately homes were used in filming the British television series Victoria and the most famous of these is Castle Howard.
In North America we have seen the entire third season of Victoria, ending with Prince Albert’s triumph at the Great Exhibition in London’s Hyde Park in 1851. In Britain, the broadcast did not start until mid-March, so I’ll say no more about the story, to avoid spoiling it for UK readers.
It will be some time before the popularity of the third series with viewers is known, so until then the networks say they will not commit to a fourth series. Disappointingly, the second season’s ratings were below the first season. If the series is renewed, and we hope it is, as the third season ends with some intriguing cliff-hangers, there are still 10 years of Prince Albert’s real life to portray, before he dies in 1861. Perhaps a fifth and final season will deal with Queen Victoria’s very long period of mourning, with an actress other than the young–looking Jenna Coleman taking the role, as has happened on that other royal series, The Crown.
For those who can’t get enough of the show, there are several filming locations in Yorkshire, England, which are open to the public and where specific scenes can be identified.
Castle Howard, 15 miles north of the ancient city of York, doubles for Kensington Palace, where Princess Victoria lived before she came to the throne. The extensive grounds and house have just re-opened for the current season. The drive up to the house is dramatic, with a very long drive and dramatic vistas, intersected by monuments and ornate gateways. The house itself looms out of the landscape, golden with daffodils on the day of our visit, with its signature dome rising above the centre block. Inside there is the usual selection of interesting restored rooms, decorated in authentic period style.
Undoubtedly, the Great Hall, with the dome 70 feet above is the feature designed to awe arriving guests, and it awes visitors too. Unfortunately, during WW II a damaging fire destroyed many rooms and the great dome collapsed into the Great Hall. The girls of Queen Margaret’s School, Scarborough, had been evacuated to the property and were able to help save many of the contents. Nearly a third of the building was left open to the elements and remains so today.
Restoration was not tackled until the 1960s, when the dome was rebuilt. Then 51-year-old Canadian artist Scott Ackerman Medd, art director of the British School in Rome, was retained to recreate the Pellegrini masterpiece that had decorated the inside of the dome. Granada Television financed further renovations, including the rebuilding of the Garden Hall, when they filmed the television series Brideshead Revisited at the property in 1981. Some first floor rooms were superficially restored for the 2008 film version of Brideshead Revisited. The South East Wing remains a shell, although it has been restored externally.
Castle Howard isn’t actually a castle, but the name is often given to a really big stately home when it is built on the site of a former castle. When the land came into the Howard family through marriage in 1566, the ruined Henderskelfe Castle stood there. It had been built in the reign of Edward III and was in ruins by 1359. It was rebuilt in 1683 but was destroyed by fire in 1693.
Although building work on a new grand house began in 1699, construction took over 100 years to complete. The 3rd Earl of Carlisle whimsically asked a playwright friend to help him build the original, but as the friend had never actually built anything before, he sensibly retained a professional architect to assist with practical details such as design and construction. By 1725 most of the exterior was finished and the interiors had been opulently furnished, but the house was still incomplete when the 3rd Earl died in 1738, lacking a west wing. Instead of a matching and flamboyant baroque wing, as originally imagined, the 4th Earl added a conservative Palladian wing. As you can imagine, the unbalanced appearance provoked a mixed response. Construction was finally completed in 1811, with further refurbishments until 1875, which brought greater harmony to the design of the wings,
The eighth generation of the Howard family still live in the house today, and restoration work will clearly continue indefinitely.
You can spend a couple of hours here, or a full day, there’s that much to see, especially if you wish to explore the huge gardens. There’s a walled garden, statue lined walks, artificial lakes and an amusement area for kids. There are several places to eat, so you won’t go hungry. We enjoyed table service in the courtyard café. There are two gift shops with an excellent selection of unusual items and a farm shop supplies local and artisanal products.
Harewood House, 20 miles to the west of York, completed in 1771 for a wealthy businessman, whose descendants still live in the house, and noted for its lavish interiors and exquisite gardens designed by the famous Capability Brown. In the television series, the building stands in for Buckingham Palace. Harewood House has also reopened for the season.
Thirty miles to the east of York, stands Beverly Minster, one of the largest parish churches in the UK, larger than one-third of all English cathedrals and regarded as a Gothic masterpiece, largely completed by 1260 AD. In the TV series the church is a look-alike for Westminster Abbey, where Victoria was crowned.
The gigantic Buckingham Palace interior was filmed on a studio set built outside York, and sadly cannot be seen by the public. There are a great many stately homes in the area, and others, still in private hands, were used in the filming.
One more that can be visited by the public is Wentworth Woodhouse, whose spectacular façade is wider than that of Buckingham Palace, which I dubbed “the largest county house you’ve never heard of” after my visit last summer. If stately homes are your thing, these properties will add sparkle to your collection.
Castle Howard — How to get there: From York, head East and join the A64 at the Hopgrove Roundabout. From there it is well signposted and just 15 miles or about 11 minutes. Turn off the A64 to the left (North) at Mains Road and follow it directly to the estate.
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