CASTLE Howard’s Christmas opening drew a record 67,000
visitors as A Christmas Masquerade lit up the North Yorkshire stately home.
The figures have been released as the
house, near York, closes for the winter, with teams busy removing dozens of
Christmas trees, not least the 26ft tree that dominated the Great Hall and tens
of thousands of decorations and baubles that graced every public room as part
of Charlotte Lloyd Webber’s festive installation with a commedia dell’arte theme.
“It has been a superb year, and a real credit to those
involved in making Castle Howard the most festive place to visit throughout
November and December,” says chief executive officer John Hoy, who has enjoyed
his second Christmas at Castle Howard.
“For the first time, the house stayed
open into the New Year, closing on Sunday, January 5 and enabling us to welcome
over 5,000 additional visitors.”
Alongside the Christmas decorations,
family traditions continued to be honoured with opportunities to meet Father
Christmas, while Santa Paws took up residence in the estate’s garden centre to
greet well-behaved dogs of all breeds and sizes for the first time. More Twilight
Evenings, when the house stayed open after dark, were fitted into the seven-week
The good weather throughout those seven
weeks allowed families to enjoy Skelf Island, the new adventure playground, as
part of the Christmas experience. Launched in July 2019, the playground has had
a successful impact on footfall and, in addition, the Friends of Castle Howard
membership has almost doubled, the scheme experiencing a 48 per cent rise
Although the house will be closed until
March 21, the grounds, woodlands and Skelf Island playground remain open
throughout the winter.
THE decorative Christmas displays at Castle Howard, near York,
are the most theatrical yet.
Running until January 5 2020, A Christmas Masquerade has
taken over every public room in the historic Yorkshire house for this themed
Each one is dressed in ornate and elaborate feathers,
sequins, baubles and twinkling lights as visitors join the Howard family in
their preparations for a Venetian-themed Christmas Carnival, complete with
masquerade ball and entertainment from Harlequin, Pierrot, Colombine and
Puchinello, all part of the Commedia
Producer Charlotte Lloyd Webber and theatrical designer
Bretta Gerecke once again have led the team of set dressers, florists,
baublographers, artists and seamstresses to create the immersive masquerade
“Castle Howard is a house that was built with a sense of theatre and extravagance inspired by Venetian design – Vanbrugh was both an architect and a playwright – and at a time of year when glittering opulence makes its way into almost every home, we couldn’t think of a better opportunity to explore a tradition enjoyed by generations of the Howard family: the masquerade ball,” says Charlotte.
“Many of the themes, colours and styles
that we have used to recreate a Venetian masquerade ball fit perfectly within
the theatrical grandeur of each room.”
The experience opens with the grand
staircase in the main hall, setting the scene for the lavish displays that
follow. Using the Venetian palate, the staircase is lavishly decorated
with sapphire blue, magenta, purple and gold.
At the top of the stairs, visitors gain
a taste of the entertainment for the forthcoming ball: multicoloured Harlequins, one of the
characters in the Commedia dell’arte, the troupe of wandering artists that
delighted 17th and 18th century
audiences with a mix of pathos, romance and slapstick.
On the China Landing, an estate-cut
twig tree has been painted in the Harlequin colours and hung with a plethora of
ornaments following the Venetian theme, while two masks give a further hint of
the ball’s lavish theme.
The following suite of four rooms
highlights the four key characters for the Commedia dell’arte visiting Castle Howard over the Christmas
period. Lady Georgiana’s bedroom is handed over to Colombine, a character
who started life in the troupe as an elegant dancer, before joining the “Zannis”
and becoming partner to both Harlequin and Pierrot.
Pinks, golds and silvers fill the room
to reflect the custom-made Colombine ballgown on display in the room, as if the
mistress of the house were preparing her own costume for the ball. The room also hosts the first of a special
collection of masks, hand-created by Venetian master craftsmen for Christmas at
Castle Howard: the Rosetta Mask.
The adjacent dressing room is a huge
contrast, to reflect the first of the troupe’s clowns, Puchinello, leader of the Zannis and
inspiration for the modern English use of the word “zany”. This wacky room
features an upside-down white Christmas tree, with a circus fairground
feel. The very British Punch and Judy explode out of a present in a nod
to the seaside tradition that has its origins in these Venetian artists.
A popular contemporary vision of clown
Pierrot finds him sitting in a moon, and this provides inspiration for the
Castle Howard dressing room: a dreamlike and tranquil space decorated with a
starry ceiling, gold, silver, black and white, with the character himself in a
familiar pose at the back of the room.
Harlequin’s bedroom is one of the most
lavish in the house: red, gold and green with a beautifully decorated tree,
atop which sits another ornate Venetian mask. This is the space where the
Master of the House will prepare for the ball, his Harlequin costume awaiting on
The rich, bright colours of the theme
inspired the Antiques Passage, an explosion of colour featuring a jewellery box
of hues and shades presented through exotic birds and butterflies.
The Castle Howard tradition of the
enormous Christmas tree continues in the Great Hall, where a remarkable 26ft
real tree is installed and covered with 3,500 baubles. “As far as we’ve
been able to tell, this is the largest Christmas tree in a stately home in the
country,” says Abbigail. “It’s certainly several feet bigger than the trees in
However, the Masquerade theme is still
very evident in the room; the view up to the balcony features acrobats on the
handrail with a monochrome and a colourful Harlequin balancing there.
The influence of the Commedia dell’arte
becomes even more prominent in the three rooms on the first floor that show the
theatrical experience of masquerade and pantomime from both backstage and
audience perspectives. The display includes historic items from Castle
Howard’s collections, featuring dresses, masques and fans that would have been
worn and used by ancestors of the present custodian, the Hon. Nicholas
On display too are wigs, make-up and other
accoutrements that would have helped the actors’ preparations for the
stage. The centrepiece of the High South
is a life-size “paper theatre”, inspired by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, which
uses the architectural features of Castle Howard in a colourful pantomime
Returning to the ground floor, visitors
will have another behind-the-scenes peek in the room dedicated to the ruler of
Venice. The new library includes the Doge Tree, dedicated to the “Duke”
of Venice – or in Castle Howard’s case, the master of the house – and laden
with opulent Venetian glass ornaments and fabrics, with books on display all
about the Venetian masquerade – essential for planning any authentic ball.
The Garden Hall’s traditional bare twig
tree returns, but this year features candle-lit decorations of brightly
coloured Venetian Glass to create a kaleidoscope effect in the room.
A special model of Castle Howard created
last year by artist Mark Bond returns to the Cabinet Room, now joined by a new
model showing the exterior landscape down the Lime Avenue. Tiny
depictions of actors and their supporting crew from the Commedia dell’arte can
be seen making their way with horses and carts on their way to the house in
this tiny display, while ladies in their ballgowns can be found on the North
Front of the main model, arriving for the ball to entertainment from a
miniature Punch and Judy show.
In the music room, one of the paintings
almost comes alive, as characters step out of Marco Ricci’s The Opera Rehearsal
and don costumes ready for the ball.
The Crimson Dining Room is a glittering
Venetian feast, the table set with a centrepiece of lions and exotic
monkeys. As Charlotte Lloyd Webber explains: “We have tried to amplify
and reveal aspects of the house that you may not have noticed with the designs.
A painting of the Grand Canal in the Crimson Dining Room, for example, is
reflected in the gondola-themed decorations in the room.”
Crimson turns to scarlet for the
drawing room – the only colour used in here – with two mannequins wearing
bespoke garments created for the room and a Venetian Fraudis Jolly, a
masquerade mask made of playing cards.
Resuming the figurative flow of the
water in the dining room picture, the Long Gallery –the epicentre and pinnacle
of each year’s Christmas designs – recreates the glittering waterway as the
setting for the Venetian Carnival that has been teased throughout the
Visitors join the guests at the
waterside Ball, its setting drawn from the imagination of Brette Gerecke, using
artistic skills and set-dressing normally seen from afar on the theatrical
stage. The “canal” itself is made from nearly 250 metres of moulded aluminium foil, on which 4,300
customised iridescent sequins have been painstakingly glued in a task that took
three people four days to complete.
At the heart of the Long Gallery is a
three-metre-wide suspended revolving Harlequin mask, one side multicoloured,
the other covered in sequins of gold, silver and bronze. One of the
windows at the octagonal centre of the gallery has been replaced with a stained-glass
window to shine coloured diamonds all over the space, even on darker winter
days, when an artificial light provides the illumination!
Leaving the Long Gallery, visitors
descend to the chapel, which this year has been dressed by Slingsby School
working with Castle Howard’s charity of the year, Yorkshire Wildlife
Trust. Alongside a traditional Nativity scene, children have created
animal-themed decorations with hand-written eco-wishes. Visitors are invited to swap real coins for
chocolate ones in a donation box, with proceeds going to the charity.
Each weekend during the Christmas opening until January 5,
those visiting will be joined by members of the Commedia dell’arte troupe for
live entertainment around the house, while soundscapes and music arranged by the
Hon. Nicholas Howard provide an additional sensory appeal to the proceedings.
Head of marketing Abbigail Ollive says: “Christmas at Castle
Howard is an experience never to be forgotten, with many people returning year
after year to get their festive ‘fix’, whether to take inspiration back for
their own home designs, or simply just to marvel at how an already beautiful
property can be transformed into this magical place – a veritable festive film
set that you can walk through and admire!
“Each year’s designs are totally different, and the
jewel-like sapphire blues, ruby reds and golden amber bring a whole new colour
palette to this winter’s displays.”
Castle Howard: A Christmas Masquerade runs until Sunday, January 5 2020, closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets are on sale at castlehoward.co.uk.