The Howards of Castle Howard | The Castle Howard Family Tree

This week I spoke to Castle Howard‘s Chris Ridgway and Nick Howard about the love stories intertwined into the branches of the Howard family over the past three centuries…

Holly: Hello, welcome back to Past Loves, the new weekly history podcast that explores affection, infatuation and detachment across time to give you an insight into the lighter side of history and perhaps a touch of romance to your daily life. This week, I have been trying to research actually my own family history, my great great grandmother, and grandfather – Rosa and Franz – because they have a very interesting story that always fascinated me as a child and so when I was preparing for this week’s episode, I thought about how important telling the love stories within a family tree really are because at the end of the day, we’re discussing love stories here because it’s the more human side of history that, to me, is so incredibly crucial in understanding who we are. And that could never be more pertinent than when you’re thinking about the love stories within a family tree. Because this is, you know, the love stories that made you and to me that’s quite incredible. So I’m very jealous of the family we’re going to be exploring today because they have a wealth of information about the love stories across the centuries trees of that family; I’m talking about the Howard family of Castle Howard. Castle Howard is, of course, the most glorious stately home in the heart of Yorkshire. It was created by the 3rd Earl of Carlisle and since then has gone on to of course permeate our public consciousness with the likes of Brideshead Revisited that have just made it an icon. It is an incredible place. 

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Brideshead Revisited (1981)

And so I felt very, very lucky to be able to discuss the different love stories within the Howard family tree. So this is a slightly different episode to normal because I will be speaking to two people about three and a half love stories from more than three centuries of the Howard family. This is why I start with my first guest Castle Howard’s curator Chris Rigdway by discussing the significance of the archive and what it reveals to us about the love stories intertwined into the branches of the Howard family tree. Chris has been at Castle Howard since 1984 and over this period he has lectured nationally and internationally about the collections at and history of Castle Howard. He’s also published works on its collections, architecture, landscape and history. Last year, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his services to the heritage sector at the UK Heritage Awards. With this today, he has, as I mentioned, very kindly agreed to take us into the Castle Howard archive and share love stories from the history of Castle Howard. The first is concerning Anne, who is the daughter of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle. Then we look at the relationship between the 5th Earl of Carlisle Frederick Howard and Lady Margaret Caroline Leveson-Gower and then we go on to discuss the 9th Earl, George James Howard and his wife, Rosalind Francis Stanley. It’s such an honour to be allowed into the archive in this way, to look thematically through the house’s life, through the Howard family tree to discover stories that are really, really touching. And I really hope you enjoy this frolic through the centuries as we discover the love stories that are all pinned to this one family. Again, it is really quite remarkable.

Welcome, Chris. And thank you so much for joining me today.

Chris Ridgway: Pleasure to be here. Thank you very much.

Holly: So the archive gives us great insight into what life has been like across the centuries at Castle Howard which has been situated in that beautiful Yorkshire setting.

Chris: The archive is hugely important. I mean, it’s difficult to overstate its importance, because land is a house full of treasures in the traditional sense: paintings, porcelain, wonderful, wonderful objects. But you could say that the archive is the most important treasure because it gives you all the stories to the background of Castle Howard. Without the archive, we just wouldn’t have the paper trail to go into excavate the lives of people or finances of the estate or the management of the estate, building of it, the restoration of it, all of that. So the archives in a sense, they’re the iceberg in Castle Howard. The tip of it, we kind of produce the information for public interpretation and explanation, so there’s this great kind of hidden depths to it, which allows us to excavate and research and bring these stories to life.

Holly: And so some of the love stories that were found in the archive are what we’re going to discuss today and how they relate to these people’s lives

Chris: We’re blessed that this is a family that never threw anything away.

Holly: That’s very useful, very rare.

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Chris: It is very useful, because if you didn’t have that trail, you wouldn’t have the story. And I think that’s very germane in the sense that, obviously, the love letters and the personal letters that I’m going to talk about today, in many cases, families would have destroyed those and disposed of them. And particularly in the case of the 9th Countess, we have evidence that she wanted to reorder her letters for posterity’s sake. So I think we can see an acceptance that these documents would endure and that people were comfortable with the fact that their inner lives and reflections and their affections and so on would be there for people to read in later years. So in the first example I’ve got is the example of Anne Irvine who was one of the three daughters of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, the man who built Castle Howard. Now, when you’re at Castle Howard today, there’s a sparkling portrait of these three girls seated around a little harpsichord. The weird thing about the portrait is each of the girls has an identical face. So the portrait can’t tell you who they are. We don’t know which Anne is or Mary or Elizabeth, her sisters. It’s clearly commissioned as a marriage portrait – here are three equally attractive heiresses. So if we just had the portrait, we wouldn’t know anything more. But between the three girls, they wrote more than 200 letters to their father in their lifetime. So we can excavate their lives. And Anne is the serious one who marries quite early in 1718 and is widowed three years later. And she spends the next two decades as a widow, rather an independent lady. She travels to Europe on her own. She then becomes a lady-in-waiting for the Princess of Wales in the 1730s. But late in life, she writes to her father to say she wants to marry again, a gentleman called Colonel Douglas, and this is a love match. There’s no doubt about it. And initially, her father doesn’t approve. And he does come round to accept it in the end, but there’s a very touching letter, which she writes to her father about the reasons why she wants to marry and I’m just going to quote you the short lines from it. She’s tired basically of living on her own in London, and she says to him, “good hours and home I’ve ever loved, but always to eat alone, to come home in an evening to nobody or if I would have company to be obliged to look for it out of my own house is not agreeable.” And so this is a match that is obviously genuinely affectionate, but it’s about that sort of middle aged companionship which she’s looking for. And I think that’s kind of, in some ways remarkably modern. She’s saying, ‘Well, I’m a solitary person, but it’s time to settle down again.’ And I think that’s really a rather touching portrait of her.

Holly: It really is. Why didn’t the Earl approve of him as a match?

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Chris: It’s not clear. I think perhaps he was expecting her to marry someone more in keeping with her station and particularly, she was lady-in-waiting for the Princess of Wales at the court. Perhaps he thought that she would snare a more prestigious name. Colonel Douglas I mean, he was clearly a gentleman, but he wasn’t from the aristocracy, perhaps. But I think what her father realised is that actually, the true affectionate marriage and the fact she goes through detail she says, ‘Well, look, my income is and his income is that. And together, we can set up a house and we can live perfectly suitably together.’ So it’s rather practical and sensible. She’s saying, ‘Well, you know, we can afford to do this and we want to do this.’

And in time, I mean, the Earl and his new son in law, Colonel Douglas, they correspond quite regularly too. So it’s a nice story, I think of a marriage that is a genuine love match that the daughter has decided for herself. Very often, you get the sense that many marriages are, if not arranged, that the daughters and sons as well, are being kind of steered in a certain direction. She was clearly a strong character. I mean, it’s not the name of her sisters. I mean, one of her sisters was kind of professional invalid all her life and never married and kept writing to her father and saying, you know, I mean Bath sampling and other quack cure and this and that. Anne is kind of steady, rather sage, probably a little bit of a blue stocking. I mean, she writes poems that are published in the 1730s. She knows how to keep a council when she’s at court. So she’s a sensible person. And I think that shines through in this later correspondence to her father. And her father recognises too, that she’s a grown up woman who can make her own sensible decision.

So I think that’s a nice kind of starting point. I mean, there are tons of marriages across the family in the various generations. We could look at a number of them, but I think that the next one I want to look at is certainly a love match. It’s a love match between two grand families, the Carlisles and the Leveson-Gowers from Trentham down in Staffordshire. And the fifth Earl is a very interesting character. I mean, first of all, he is the grandson of the builder of Castle Howard, and he completes the building of the house with the West Wing and the roofing of it. He’s a great art collector. He’s a bit of a rake to begin with and he sews his wild oats in London. But he settles down in 1771 when he’s just 22. He meets Caroline Leveson-Gower and they marry. And they begin a wedded life together that lasts until their deaths and he dies in 1825. And they have six children – I mean, actually she has nine children, but three die in infancy. And, for example, one of the loveliest things in the collection and I’m talking about papers and letters which reveal a lot, but also let’s not forget the pictures, the likenesses so we can see what these people looked like. He has, I mean first of all, he commissioned a portrait from Sir Joshua Reynolds of her, but more significant, I think for our talk today is there is a small miniature by the artist Joseph Saunders, dated around the middle 1770s, about five years after they’ve got married. So it’s a tiny little picture. She’s wearing that fashionable, piled up hairstyle so it looks kind of really quite extreme, but on the back of the miniature woven into the reverse are strands of her hair, and the miniatures you wear around your neck and you carry her with you wherever you go. And so I like to posit those sorts of things against the marriage agreements and the settlement, all those legal documents you have, but it’s the keepsakes and the letters that get you into the human life of these people.

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5th Countess of Carlisle miniature by Joseph Saunders
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Image courtesy of Castle Howard

Holly: It’s beautiful. So the 5th Earl Frederick, what was life like for him? Did he grow up at Castle Howard during the 18th century?

Chris: Yeah, he grew up at Castle Howard in the 18th century. He was the result of his father’s second marriage because his father had been widowed and all the children from his father’s first marriage actually pre-deceased their father, so the 4th Earl was getting a bit worried. I don’t have an heir. And his second marriage, he married a woman called Isabella Byron, who actually was great aunt to Lord Byron, the poet, much younger than him. And she produced him five children, including the all important male heir. So he’s born in 1748. His father dies 10 years later. And by 1768, he’s on his grand tour in Europe, starting to buy up prodigious amounts of paintings and artworks to furnish Castle Howard, so spending a lot of money – art is a great passion of his – as well as finishing off building the house. And again, like all people do, they reach that point in their life where they kind of want to settle down, have a family, and that’s how he marries Caroline. Not quite clear how they met, but remember, they will have come from very tight social circles, certainly class circles, politically and so on. And that’s how they begin life together. But then he starts to embrace a political life and in 1778 he is in charge of the mission sent by Lord North to negotiate with the colonists in America – a peace mission. And it’s not a great success as a political mission because as we all know, America left the British Empire. But for our purposes, again, you have a whole set of official political papers in his records. But you have his letters to Caroline, particularly during the voyage out to America. He boards a ship called the Trident down at Portsmouth in 1778 and it’s a six week voyage across the Atlantic And he is desperately homesick, he misses her enormously, and his letters are full of protestations of love and melancholy he feels being absent from her and from his family. So you will encounter phrases like, it is not possible to love you more than I do. There’s not a moment that I’m not thinking about you. And these phrases are peppered throughout the letters. And these are very passionate and clearly when you’re away, physically separated from a loved one, and you know this is way before you can pick up a telephone or things like that, you know, he’s in the middle of the Atlantic, he could be on Mars as it were, in terms of proximity to his wife. And then there are these really other touching details. So he sort of says things like, ‘I’m worried that you’re going to be lonely. I’m worried I’ve taken all the servants and you’re going to starve. But when you write to me, please make your letter a little book.’ As we all know this when we’re travelling and away we’re crying out for news back from home. He then says to her ‘will you go and buy a chart of the Atlantic, and every time you get a letter from me, put a pin in the chart so you know where I am in my progress around the world.’ Again, these chime with us today. We can do this with a flick of a keyboard today that wasn’t quite the case in 1778. He gets worried at one moment, of course that the way that the correspondence would be posted if you like in the Atlantic is that as he was sailing westward, when you encountered a ship coming eastward, you would swap letters.

Holly: Oh, I didn’t know that’s how it happened.

Chris: You would hope that the eastbound ship would land back in England with the letters that you had transferred to them in the middle of the Atlantic, and then they would carry on overland back to their recipients. But he then worries about what happens if the letters are intercepted, perhaps by pirates or something else? What’s it going to be like somebody else reading my letters to you? And again, that’s familiar with us today. You know, what happens if somebody breaks into your email account? So there are those sort of moments of insight into how he’s missing her, the practicalities of writing to her. I mean, at one point, he says that ‘writing is the only way he can feel connected to her.’ And he then starts to think about the children. She’s pregnant with one of their children who’s just been born just before he sails. So he’s not seen the child and he asks, ‘How is the child?’ He’s able to stay in touch a little bit and he talks about it as having a conversation with her. He says’ I’m conversing with you through my letters.’ So it’s not clear how many letters from her he ever received because we don’t have them in the archive. So it could be that he sent six weeks of letters and never heard a word from her, which would only intensify his feelings of missing her and melancholia and solitude. Now, the letters tail off when he gets to America, because he’s then much more busy with the political mission. And he hasn’t got that same reflective time in the Atlantic. And literally, the ship has becalmed the times. But you get this opportunity where he touches in all sorts of local colour on the ship. Something that I never realised he starts talking about, ‘well, we’re doing very well for food and we’ve got plenty of milk and butter.’ And in the next sentence, he says, ‘Well, we’ve got a Guernsey cow on the ship.’ The idea of a cow being on a ship – first of all, you think ‘Crikey, that’s a bit odd’ and then you realise ‘That’s perfectly sensible.’ Providing you have feed for the cow, then you’re guaranteed fresh milk and butter during the voyage. He talks about huge storms, very violent storms. And then when he gets to America, he talks about new fashions. He’s wearing something that they never wear in England called trousers. And they’re great protection against the insects. He finds the insects very kind of bothersome there. So it’s not a surprise that he really says that my letters are like stories of 1000 pages. And so I find that really significant because again to put it against all the official political papers, the men he’s talking to, there’s this really single-minded correspondence back to his wife and I think the most touching thing he says that he describes writing to her as a kind of duty to repay your love and goodness to me, and it’s a welcome duty clearly. 

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Castle Howard, North Front

Holly: Ah well that’s so very sweet. Do we know that much about Caroline as a person? Apart from the fact that she’s clearly dearly loved…

Chris: We don’t I mean, there will be more information in the archives and I haven’t excavated it all, but in a way, you have to kind of work out what she was like from the other side of the equation through his letters back to her. I can’t think there’s any doubt that warmth of feeling wouldn’t have been reciprocal. I mean, he’s not likely to be writing like that if she didn’t feel the same way and clearly, there’s always a toss up isn’t there that is it the person travelling who misses the other person more or is it the person whose at home whilst the other person is roaming around the world or wherever? It’s a difficult one to say. But I’m sure it was a good, close, affectionate marriage. I mean, he certainly has a reputation as becoming rather a crusty grumpy old man later in life. And we don’t really know any more than that. It’s precisely because he’s gone away that we have this record of letters.

Holly: But she must have been quite a capable lady as well being at home with the children, having just had a baby as well. So just like Anne, she must have been rather capable, the women of Castle Howard are quite remarkable in their strength.

Chris: I think there’s no doubt about that. I mean, traditionally country houses have always been seen as the preserve of men who tended to build them and collect the art and things like that, and other pursuits like farming and so on. But there’s no doubt that the women were equally important and had just a decisive role in terms of raising families, running the household, decorating the building. And what’s great again about somewhere like Castle Howard is that you can get both these sets of stories from husbands and wives in different spheres over different generations. And I think the most formidable lady, in a way, is the 9th Countess Rosalind Howard who marries the future 9th Earl in 1864. And Rosalind is a strong character, she’s known in her lifetime as the radical countess. He was a strong personality who certainly could excite contrary opinions. And a lot of people found her kind of quite unpalatable. She was opinionated, argumentative, she was educated. So she was well read. She was used to the cut and thrust of political debate. Her father was a politician. So again, here we have a strong mind, an articulate mind so that again, her letters, they don’t just tell you things, they tell you things in a really interesting and colourful way. And the record of her correspondence with George Howard, over 40 plus years of marriage, again, covers an arc that you might expect from passionate, early beginnings, to quarrels and difficulties and actually growing estrangement because the family had a lot of children and were moving around their different family homes. So husband and wife seem to spend in their later years more time apart than together. But it’s clear that the bonds of affection still existed, not obviously in the way as young lovers and young young newlyweds. But those bonds of affection would have been, if you like, modulated through their large family and their children that they had. The interesting thing about the correspondence between Rosalind and George, is that again, she is mistress of the word. George Howard was an artist, and actually he expresses his feelings more in paintings, and around the time of their courtship and their early marriage, he starts to send you these tiny little pen and ink drawings, rather risque ones of her naked in bed, of her in a state of undress or emerging from above or putting on her stocking. And these are tiny – they’re letter size so they’re going to be no bigger than a little notebook in their sizes, nothing like finished painting. And it’s clear that he feels very kind of warmly towards her.

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Sketches for Rosalind by the 9th Earl | Image courtesy of the Castle Howard archive

And he says in one undated letter, but it must be early in their married life, ‘the more I do, the naughtier I become.’ She won’t be annoyed with him and he says, ‘I think perhaps you should burn them,’ but she doesn’t burn. And this is what I mean that there’s evidence that she orders her papers late in life and decides to preserve them. So I discovered these some years ago and they were revelation, not least of all because they challenged the the stereotypical image of Victorian marriages being frigid kind of formal, loveless, no, here we’re a sexually fulfilled happily married couple in the 1860s and 70s, having children having very close time together, and again, it’s reciprocated through what Rosalind says. So she will come up with phrases again, with some remarkably contemporary she says things like when he’s away, ‘I missed you when the cuddling hour came’ and cuddling, they use a lot. They like that kind of close physical proximity, cuddling in bed or cuddling together. So you’ve got this kind of range. You’ve got these rather risky a little intimate drawings, you have this general sort of, if you like mature affection of cuddling and being together as well as these protestations that the world isn’t big enough to hold all the love I feel for you. I mean, her husband says again, a phrase that we would all equate with, he says, ‘I feel a very maimed and one sided being without you.’ It’s like, you know, I’ve lost…

Holly: Lost his other half!

Chris: Yeah. And then to corroborate what I was saying earlier about a miniature, he says in the first year of their marriage, I’ve got your miniature, but it will not do at all as a substitute. So he can add the representation of a winner, but he’s yearning for the real thing. And the same way as they talked about when they are apart from one another, ‘my thoughts are about you all the time.’ When they’re in their courtship. She’s in Paris. She can’t really concentrate on Paris. She’s thinking about him back at home. So these are really revolutionary insights into their relationship. Yeah, they have quarrels, they quarrel over political matters and over how they might raise the family. And there are sad sentences that we find where she says ‘Why do you say such strange things?’ in one letter, they clearly had a domestic tiff of some sort. Late in life, she says, ‘I’m sorry, my own George Howard is a thing of the past’ – that sounds rather sad. But equally, you then get later protestations of their closeness so the love modulates and evolves, as of course it does through any lengthy marriage.

Holly: Yeah, I think it’s so interesting to be able to trace that ebbing and flowing of a relationship through the way in which they are talking to each other, in essence, it’s an insight that we don’t normally get into people’s lives.

Chris: Yes, I think it’s that. I think it’s obviously that you go back and there are different kind of sets of decorum for how you would express yourself in private, I think what I do like is that the fact that the in the private languages, in the private exchanges, they strike a very resonant chord with how we might express ourselves today, in terms of things like ‘I cannot find the words with which to express my love’ or things like that. We’ve all said an equivalent of that somewhere along the line, and you just realise how unchanging in one sense these patterns of human relationships are, but each one is different. Each one is unique. And these letters give you that very privileged insight into a couple’s relationship. Now with the fifth Earl, it’s all his words to her in the voyage, with Rosalind and George, it’s very largely all her words to him because much more of her letters survive than his to her. But even late in life after they’ve had some quarrels, I mean, he says again, something, perhaps he’s a wounded person when he writes this after a quote, he says, ‘You ought to have had a clever man. But you couldn’t have had one who loved you so idiotically as your own boy.’

Holly: Haha. It’s very sweet fair to refer to as your own boy. Clearly, that’s a little nickname that they have for each other. I love hearing those like tiny moments of affection that you get.

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The 9th Earl of Carlisle | Credit: Castle Howard
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The 9th Countess – the radical countess | The 9th Earl of Carlisle | Credit: Castle Howard

Chris: Yeah, and the names they give each other. He talks about himself as your own boy, and she refers to him as my boy. She then signs off her letters very much as wifey, again a common sobriquet that you find lots of couples today. For Rosalind, of course she’s very concerned about how her daughter’s marriages will work out and she keeps a benign maternal I over her daughter’s suitors. Her first daughter Mary, whose was her eldest born, is clearly the apple of her eye. And Rosalind was an early feminist so she’s championing for votes for women and things like that. There’s an anecdote when she was giving birth to Mary, her first child. The bells were ringing out across the state, but they stopped when it was discovered she had given birth to a girl and she was incensed by this. But Mary ended up eventually marrying the classical scholar Gilbert Murray. But they had a very tempestuous courtship. But yeah, I mean Rosalind says to her daughter, ‘take your time, trust your feelings, you will know when it is the right moment.’ And she credits her daughter with an emotional intelligence. And I think that’s important. That’s not always the case with earlier, arranged marriages back in the sort of late 17th or 18th Century. But by the 19th Century, generally they are love matches within obviously, as I say, this kind of narrow social band, the fathers would concern themselves with the agreements, the settlements, the jointures, all that sort of stuff. The mothers would be the emotional advisors and encouragers or perhaps in some cases, dis-encouragers. In the end, I mean, Rosalind let Mary decide whether she wanted to marry Gilbert Murrary or not. So she went from being rather kind of indifferent to them to actually then working out clearly in her mind ‘Yes, this is the man I want to be with so they had a long happy marriage.’ So you’ve got the rough and the smooth. And hey, that’s true in any household in any generation.

Holly: Wow, I just love the idea of the 9th Earl of Carlisle drawing risque sketches for Rosalind. I mean, what a way to woo a woman in the 19th Century. It’s very impressive. So we are now going to zoom down the family tree into the next century. We’re going to go into the 20th Century, talking with the current resident of Castle Howard, Nick Howard, and it was an absolute honour for him to talk to me about his parents – George Anthony Jeffrey Howard and Lady Cecilia Blanche Genevieve FitzRoy, which is quite a mouthful in one go. He is the great grandson of the 9th Earl. And so he was so well placed to discuss his parents relationship, even if he kind of thought he would be giving his impression. But I think there is an intimacy in his talking about his parents, which I was so grateful that he would share with us. I was looking at his Instagram actually the other day and there’s the most beautiful picture of George and Celia in 1949, which is the year that they got married, and George’s hugging Cecilia from behind. And Nick wrote the caption, “as a child to see your parents in a pose like this is excruciating. Now it is glorious.” And I just thought that was so beautiful because it’s so true. And it’s a testament to the way in which he was able to speak about his parents, and their love story. And the love that they had really has helped to craft the lasting legacy of Castle Howard because they were the first couple to open it up to the public, and they worked together on that project. And, of course, for that, we will be forever grateful. And so it’s such a special discussion. I think we should probably just let Nick, take it away.

Welcome, Nick, and thank you so much for joining me.

Nick Howard: It’s lovely to be here.

Holly: I’m really grateful that you’re going to take us into the next century, into the 20th Century, with your mother and father. So your father, George, he was born in 1920. And did he spend his childhood at Castle Howard?

Nick: Yes indeed he did I mean 100 years ago this year, of course, that he was born. Let me get back a little bit and explain why he was here. 

Holly: Yeah, please do. 

Nick: The 9th Countess of Carlisle in particular, held what for her day were quite radical views.

Holly: Yes, the radical countess

Nick: One of those views was a form of the equal division of inheritance sort of, in her case, what that meant was saying to the eldest son, ‘which of the two estates do you want to inherit? Do you want Castle Howard or do you want Naworth? And he chose Naworth Castle up in Cumbria, so she then turned to her next child who’s Lady Mary and said, ‘you’re going to have Castle Howard’ and Mary said, ‘don’t be so silly mother, women don’t inherit places like Castle Howard. Give it to Geoffrey’ – who was the next son, down and my grandfather. So Geoffrey inherited Castle Howard, and I think in some ways he was rather surprised by this. There’s not an awful lot of evidence left of Geoffrey’s tenure here. And indeed, he and his wife, Kitty, were both buried in the cemetery of the local church, the local village, rather than the mausoleum here. I think there’s probably an indication that their sort of slight, I suppose a slightly sort of almost embarrassed ownership of the house. They died by the time my father and his siblings were quite young still, so they then had the run of Castle Howard as well as having a nice life in London. So I think they probably enjoyed the house rather more than my grandparents did. There are stories of fairly riotous parties. But my father had an older brother as well as a younger brother, so I never expected to inherit Castle Howard himself. Then the war came along, and he joined up and went to Burma. which really was the pits of the war.

Holly: Yeah, that’s where my great grandfather was.

Nick: Oh really? And he came back?

Holly: Yes, he did.

Nick: Well, his elder brother Mark was killed in the Normandy landings. So suddenly he was the elder brother. I’m not sure how much he knew about that before he came back because he came back very seriously wounded and went into hospital. When he came out of hospital, he discovered that his trustees had decided without any consultation that no one would ever live in a house like Castle Howard again. And so were in quite far down the road negotiations with the school would have been evacuated here during the war for a 999 year lease. They were beginning to sell off the artworks, and indeed had sold some of the artwork, all this without consulting my father at all. I think that this made him so angry, which I think is completely explicable that it really rather fired him up to make the house survive I suppose is the best way of describing it. He was known by a lot of people in the area as the Mad major for moving back in. But move back in he did. And he before that, of course, he would have spent a little bit of time in London sort of working things out and probably picking up on his social life as it had been before. He once said to me, and I won’t say who this was about, but I came home one day with I suppose a slightly unsuitable girlfriend and he said slightly diplomatically and slightly rudely, he said ‘of course it was so much easier for us in the old days, there really were only about 400 people to choose from.’ And society existed in England just before the war and I think you’ll find still after the war, still on that basis – which in fact started in New York – referring to the 400. There was a club in London called the 400 to which lots went. It went on after the war – it was a favourite club of Princess Margaret, actually. But the result was that people like him who’d been born where he met similar people who’ve been born in the sort of place that he’d been born. There really wasn’t much jumping of stratification.  But so it was quite easy for him to meet my mother who was the daughter of the 8th Duke of Grafton and now, she was the product of a second marriage. And her oldest half-brother was 36 years older than her.

Holly: Wow, that’s a significant difference.

Nick: He was 72 when she was born.

Holly: He was 72 when she was born? Wow. 

Nick: So there was, I think, probably some surprise on behalf of the children of the first marriage that they suddenly had this half sister. But anyway, meet they did and somehow one of the places that I kind of go to look to see, what was happening at that time is this book, which is the visitors book from Castle Howard. And this particular one goes back to 1928. Full of fascinating things there, in conjunction with everyone coming, but the lovely thing is actually watching my mother starting to appear to be coming more in the visitors book. There’s something really endearing about that. You can see that she was happier and happier to be here, the stays were longer and longer and longer. And then of course, eventually her name stops appearing because they’ve got married. Now my father at that stage has realised that he had to take life very seriously and was going off I think, every day to Leeds to learn a little about accountancy and a little bit about business. He knew that he was going to have to do something more than just sit around in a large house because to be quite honest, there really wasn’t any money here. There were the assets but very little else – I know this is a wine that a lot of people like us have. But this really was the case here.

Holly: No.

Nick: But, at that stage, various other people like Lord Montagu and various other stately home owners were starting to talk about letting people in on a paid basis – to pay their half crown to come around the house and he was very much in the vanguard of that. So, when they opened the house in 52 I think it was.

Holly: Yeah, 52 so three years after they got married.

Nick: 3 years after they got married, the year I was born. It was something that quite a lot people were starting to do. But it was very much on the amateur side. I mean they would sit at the ticket office themselves.

Holly: Really?

Nick: They would guide people around and, you know, big smile. When I was growing up lunch was a quarter of an hour earlier on sundays than it was the rest of the week because we all had to chip in and help on Sundays because of course not everyone came to work on Sundays. So we had to be ready to let people in.

Holly: So it was a full family affair.

Nick : Absolutely right. But I think one of the interesting things was that when I was growing up my mother particularly often used to say to me ‘you do love this house don’t you?’ And there was always, always when there’s a love affair concerning this house it always goes in three directions – between the two people and then towards the house itself. Because really there is no other rationale that would make one keep doing it. I think my mother put it rather well when she said ‘you must love the house’. That love I think – I mean I referred to this as my third parent. It sort of helped me to explain to myself a lot what my relationship with the house is because it is a relationship. But so my parents, that seems to generate such closeness in itself with the third person.

Holly: Yeah so, they together part of their relationship must have been so deeply rooted in revitalising Castle Howard together.

Nick: Indeed, it very much was. It was not something that he did on his own. She became more and more interested in the house itself. Obviously coming along as the new bride she didn’t know very much about the house. By the time she went into the mausoleum, she knew as much about it as anybody.

1940 castle howard fire
The fire at Castle Howard (1940) | Credit: Yorkshire Post

Holly: So they were revitalising it a lot to bring it into creating this place for the public to come but also because there was a big fire in 1940 wasn’t there?

Nick: That’s right. Now the fire destroyed I suppose some of the grandest rooms in the house – two thirds of one frontage of the house – and really quite a lot of the useful rooms. So one of the things my mother did was to bring some money in and I make no bones about it. That was one of the things that helped them to get the whole place going again. And I think without any qualms at all, she invested quite a lot of money in Castle Howard Estate and made it possible for the whole business to carry on. I’m not saying that that was in any way a motivating factor but it is good fortune.

Holly: No because again it’s that third person or third entity within the relationship.

Nick: You’re absolutely right.

Holly: You have to invest time into any relationship and that care is very clear between them. And so, the fire happened in 1940, they got married in 1949, opened it in 1952 – and so, how was it received at first when they first opened the house?

Nick: Well as I was only, I was scarcely one year old…

Holly: No, well I’m not expecting you to remember.

Nick: Well I mean I was involved in it myself at later stages. I mean by the time I was seven I was giving pony rides at six pence a go down the front. But it was received really well. I mean there are lovely pictures of it first being opened. There are lovely pictures of my father talking to the York Georgian Society on the south front steps – obviously holding court with his arms going out like that and pointing up to the non-existent dome as it was then. Because that was one of the things that was fantastic that my parents did was to reinstate the dome on the house because there was no dome and it looked very odd without it. It looked kind of threatening and dark and as soon as the dome went back on, one understood the point of the house, the brilliance of it. 

Holly: That was it. It was back and then obviously it became synonymous with Brideshead Revisited.

Nick: I’m afraid my mother was no longer with us by then. She died very young sadly in 1974 – Brideshead didn’t happen until 81. But they had a closeness right up to the end and I think, as is perfectly normal, as she – she died of cancer – and as her cancer started to take over more and more, the love between my parents became more and more apparent. I mean I’d really never seen my father display emotion in the way that he did during that phase and afterwards. To lose someone you’ve spent a large part of your life with is a terrible, terrible thing.

Holly: Absolutely, and to have worked so closely together, for them both to be so intertwined in the same movement together.

Nick: Indeed, indeed. They managed to live really quite separate lives sometimes – not in any bad way just of course my father had to work increasingly outside of Castle Howard in the various public roles he got involved in and as my mother did as well in the various charities she got involved in. They would quite often literally pass each other on the A1 as she was driving down in one direction and he was driving up in the other. But my father always had a little say which was ‘one of the reasons that people who live in the country have more successful marriages, is that they come home for lunch.’ It was this idea – though I’m not entirely sure that it’s that true – the idea that if you have lunch together, that you stay together.

stories from castle howard
The grounds of Castle Howard

Holly: Well it’s a nice theory to try out isn’t it?

Nick: Well let’s see how people feel about that after this period.

Holly: Well exactly, I’m not sure coronavirus will have done us any favours. So, she really did leave quite the legacy with him in how they revitalised the house and created something entirely present within our minds – everyone knows what Castle Howard is.

Nick: I mean I think by the time that we got to the 70s, she was quite used to the idea that they had brought the house back to life and he was starting to do new things. About two years after she died, he laid out a rose garden with his great friend Jim Russell who was a great garden designer. And they laid a rose garden, entirely of old English roses, and it’s very beautiful and dedicated it to her. I won’t try and give you the Latin dedication, actually it’s carved above the door and what it actually translates as ‘this garden is dedicated to my love Cecilia who was a lover of roses.’

Holly: Ah that’s beautiful.

how old is castle howard

Nick: So again, there’s that continuing triangle – he’s created this garden for her, who’s the person he loved with the things that she loved. And that will always stand, that dedication will always be there so long as the walls of the garden stand. And that will stand really as a monument to their love.

Holly: That’s absolutely beautiful and the consistent way in which Castle Howard is more and more in tune with the population and we all go and visit the more their legacy continues I guess.

Nick: That’s right. I think it’s the one thing I keep finding when I look at the history of who’s lived here, who’ve developed the house, is that the only pride that they seem to show is in leaving something that actually will be there for the future, for future generations. Heritage has a double meaning. Heritage if you look it up in most dictionaries is ‘what has been or may be inherited’. So it’s about the past but it’s about the future as well. So when the 3rd Earl built Castle Howard he left a dedication on the obelisk which is the great stone needle at the top of the drive it begins I think ‘if to perfection these plantations rise, if they agreeably my heirs surprise, think then on him on planted them to be’. And he’s saying look around, you’ve grown up in a way I’ll never see and really it’s another expression of that love that you can’t get away from for the place as well as the people.

Holly: That’s incredibly beautiful and I’m sure so many of us like myself are so grateful that we do have the opportunity to come to see such a beautiful house and grounds. Thank you so much for taking the time to give me this little insight into your parents love story because it’s been joyous hearing all of the stories from Castle Howard

Nick: Okay Holly, lovely to speak

Holly: And thank you as well for listening. I have to say if this episode hasn’t encouraged you to discover the stories within your family tree, well…I for one am certainly so excited to do some research. If any one knows about how to find out more about birth records and marriage records and everything like that from Poland and Germany when you don’t speak Polish or German let me know. I’d be very grateful, you might ease my research process significantly. Because, honestly, learning about the Howard family tree has been so incredible. I found that looking at love across more than three centuries it has really shown me so significantly how important this kind of thematic look at history really is because it’s just who we are. And I so grateful for Chris’ having given us such insight into the Castle Howard archive and to Nick for talking so eloquently about his parents and giving a really intimate portrayal of this episode. I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed this episode and I really hope you have too.

Thankfully, as of now, it is now possible to visit Castle Howard. So the gardens and grounds of Castle Howard are now open to the public. All tickets will need to be booked in advance online so if you follow the link the website in the show notes, you’ll be able to find all of the information on admission and the additional safety measures that have been put in place because obviously we’re still in Covid times. For anyone listening to this in the future, it will be lovely when Covid times are a distant memory. But, in the meantime, it will be so lovely to be able to return in part to Castle Howard. I’m sure we’ll all welcome a trip to such a beautiful, beautiful setting with an incredibly rich history. You can also follow Castle Howard on Instagram that will also be in the show notes, and follow me @pastlovespodcast so we can continue this conversation further. I would love to hear your stories about exploring your family history. And if you’ve really enjoyed this episode I would be extremely grateful if you rate, review and subscribe to wherever you are listening now so that you get each episode as soon as possible. We are officially halfway through the first season so make sure that you subscribe so that you don’t miss a single episode. Next week we will be back again with one main love story and I look forward to speaking to you again then.

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