Castle Howard Dome
The Dome of Castle Howard
On Monday the 11th of November 1940, the Yorkshire Post featured the sad story of a fire at Castle Howard.
Before and after the fire.
The underside of the dome is decorated with the story of the Fall of Phaeton, painted by Pellegrini from 1709-12. It depicts the moment when Apollo’s son, Phaeton, stole his father’s sun chariot and rode it across the skies. Unable to curb the horses he spun out of control and tumbled to earth in a fiery blaze. Little did anyone realise that one day this story would literally come true when the dome crashed into the hall in the fire of 1940. During the war Castle Howard was used as a school, it is believed the fire began in the chimney of the servants kitchen.
Many things at Castle Howard seem to happen twice including building of the great central dome. Between 1699 and 1700 Vanbrugh persuaded the 3rd Earl of Carlisle to ornate his new mansion with an enormous masonry lantern and cupola, which gave Castle Howard a highly distinctive profile: no other private home in England can boast such an architectural feature. Completed in 1707, the dome remained the majestic crowning point of Castle Howard until the calamity of 1940, when it crashed into the house leaving a tangle of molten lead, charred timber and damaged stonework.
For the next twenty years Castle Howard remained a home without a dome until in 1960 Professor E.H. Thompson from the University of London undertook the challenging task of working out the exact size and scale of Vanbrugh’s dome. Because no original drawings existed the dimensions had to be arrived at through the technique of photogrammetry using early, pre-fire photographs of the house.
Vanbrugh might not have understood the algebraic calculations and complicated pieces of machinery Thompson and his team employed but he would have recognised how these were a means to an end – namely a faithful reconstruction of his great dome.
Both Sir John Vanbrugh and Professor Edward Palmer Thompson were men of multiple interests and talents. Vanbrugh was a London trader, a merchant in India, a soldier, a civil servant, a dramatist and theatre impresario, a knight of the realm and an architect. Thompson was also a soldier, as well as a mechanical student, scholar, inventor, teacher and connoisseur of the arts. They also share the unique satisfaction of having built the dome at Castle Howard.
The telegram from Colonel Hinde, the Agent, informing the Trustees that Castle Howard had caught fire.
Christian was a great support to her brother, George, during this awful time.
The handwritten list of some of the important art losses.
In total some twenty rooms were lost, some with delightful name such as the Kit Cat Room, the Jasmine Room, the Queen’s Room, the Bullseye Rooms and the Canaletto Room. Nearly one third of the building was left open to the skies, and although in time the debris would be cleared and the structure made secure there was no escaping the fact that Castle Howard had been substantially damaged by the fire. In time these areas would receive a temporary roof and new windows, but it would be another twenty years before major restoration began.
The biggest architectural loss was obviously the dome, to imagine the house without would be to see an ocean-going vessel without its funnels. The proportion and grandeur of the house are entirely lost, and the Central Block assumes a strangely stunted appearance.
Pupil Elaine Scott’s list of all she lost in the fire.
Each side of the Great Hall the staircases show fire damage to this day.
The blackened ceiling. The scorched paint. The charred stone next to the newer wooden floor.
Further along the upper corridor we entered rooms not yet renovated.
The dome today.
In 1962 Scott Medd, a Canadian artist, was commissioned to reconstruct Pellegrini’s masterpiece – The Fall of Phaeton. He only had a single black and white photograph of the original painting to work from, but with careful research into colour and design, and by examining other examples of Pellegrini’s work, Medd was able to reproduce this celebrated episode from classical legend fully in the spirit of his Venetian predecessor. The finished design was scaled up from smaller models and eventually Medd perched on a scaffold tower, seventy feet high to execute this dramatic tale.
ALL IN ALL REALLY INTERESTING
CHUFFED THIS UNIQUE STRUCTURE IS AS IT SHOULD BE