Castle Howard: what is ‘Christmas in Narnia’, where is York estate, and does Howard family still live there?

Channel 4’s Christmas at Castle Howard shows just how the 8,800 acre estate is decorated in time for the festive season

Castle Howard looks regal, elegant and grand all year round, but Christmas time brings another spark of magic to the 22-year-old estate.

Christmas at Castle Howard is an event like no other, as visitors step into the fictional world of Narnia, brought to life by a team of interior designers, the owners’ finishing touches and many other castle staff.

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The castle stands in grounds which roll for over 8,000 acres, and although some of the gardens undergo renovations in the winter, much of it is left open for the public to get lost in.

So, what is Christmas at Castle Howard and what is the history behind it? This is what you need to know.

Where is Castle Howard?

Castle Howard is situated 15 miles North East of York and is easily accessible from the A64 which connects Leeds, York and the Yorkshire Coast.

The estate consists of the house, gardens, Skelf Island (which has a playground on it) and several shops and cafes.

What is ‘Christmas in Narnia’ at Castle Howard?

From 13 November to 2 January, visitors to the York castle can step into the wonderful world of Narnia, as told in the C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

On the Castle Howard website, it says: “See the lavishly decorated interiors of Castle Howard transformed.

Pictures from 2018 show the castle transformed with light displays (Picture: Getty Images)

“Enjoy breath-taking dramatic installations, lighting and soundscapes evoking everything we love about this special time of year.

“Marvel at the 25-foot Christmas tree adorned with over 3000 baubles providing a magnificent highlight in the Great Hall.”

The decorating is overseen by interior designer Charlotte Lloyd Webber, who has worked at the castle during Christmas for three years (Picture: Getty)

Those who venture into Narnia can also shop for souvenirs of their time at the castle in the gift shop, or try local produce at the cafe and stalls.

Tickets for the display are currently available for £26.50 for an adult, £15.90 for a child (3-16) and free for infants below the age of three.

Narnia themed afternoon tea is also available for £17 per person, which can be pre booked or is also welcome to walk-ins on the day of your visit.

The festive lunch includes:

  • Rose and Lemon Turkish Delights
  • Boozy Mince Pies
  • Chocolate and Orange Tarts
  • Preserved Fruit Scones with Clotted Cream, Strawberry Jam and Butter
  • Miniature Estate Sausage Rolls with Orchard Apple Chutney
  • Bacon, Brie and Cranberry Tarts

There is also a courtyard grotto and the opportunity to meet Father Christmas, though this is booked separately from the Narnia experience.

When was Castle Howard built?

Castle Howard took over 100 years to build and has transcended eight generations since it was first commissioned by Charles Howard the 3rd Earl of Carlisle (1679-1738) and designed by his friend, John Vanburgh in 1702.

Due to the length of time it took to build the wings, main gallery and chapel, the various heirs to the property changed the design of sections and led to obvious disjointedness in the appearance of the building.

The picture which first appeared in Britannica in 1725

It wasn’t until the completion of the chapel and attic pavilions in around 1801 that the architecture was ironed out to reflect a consistent theme.

Therefore, the buildings looks quite dissimilar from the design by Vanburgh which appeared in the Vitruvius Britannicus (The British Architect), in 1725.

The Howard family are descendants of the Duke of Norfolk, though the family who live there today no longer hold a title.

The lives of those who have lived at the opulent home have been shaped by public service, political activity, artistic endeavour, and strategic marriages, typical of their own particular times.

Who lives in the castle today?

The Howard family continue to own the grand property and its gardens, with Nicholas Howard and his wife Victoria living there now.

Nicholas and Victoria Howard (Picture: Castle Howard)

Nicholas took over the property in 2017, following the dramatic eviction of his younger brother Simon, and his family from the castle. Simon had looked after the property since 1984.

One of four brothers, Nicholas and Victoria (former Chief Executive of HarperCollins), are now joint Executive co-chairpersons of the estate.

The couple, who wed in 1992 and spent over 20 years living together in London, now live in the east wing, which has six bedrooms, a kitchen and a sitting room, and comprises a fifth of the house.

The couple married at the castle in 1992 (Picture: Philip Berryman/Tatler)

Nicholas and Victoria take a hands-on approach to the Christmas events at their home and can be seen managing the plans for festivities in a new Channel 4 documentary.

The documentary takes a look at the planning, precision and effort which goes into Christmas in Narnia and the other festive activities.

When is Christmas at Castle Howard on Channel 4?

Christmas at Castle Howard airs on Wednesday 15 December at 9pm on Channel 4.

It is the first in three episodes which explore three grand stately homes in England as they prepare for the festive season.

All episodes will be available on All 4, shortly after broadcast.