In 1944, the fate of Castle Howard hung by a thread.In 1940 a fire had broken out in the south-east wing, apparently in a chimney. By the time it was extinguished, the south-east wing and main block were gutted, the dome had collapsed and nearly 20 rooms had been lost.

The greatcollection of china had exploded like fire-crackers in the heat. Pellegrini’s wonderful murals in the High Saloon had been destroyed, together with Chippendale mirrors, Westmacott’s statue of Venus and a dozen Marco Ricci overdoors.The answer lay in reviving the tradition of opening to the public, which Castle

Howard first did in 1953. The art historian Rupert Gunnis played a major role in making the rooms fit for the public. Equally important was the artist Felix Kelly, who designeda ‘fantasy train’ to take visitors from the car park to the house; in reality, a tractor pulling carts.Slowly the house was pulled back from the brink. The gutted area was roofed and the windows on the south front replaced. An early grant from the Historic Buildings Council funded therestoration of the Temple of the Four Winds. By 1960, the dome had been restored and shortly afterwards it was decorated with a new version of The Fall of Phaeton, painted by Scott Medd.

The 1970s saw the launch of two important landscape projects: the planting of Jim Russell’s distinguished collection of rhododendrons and azaleas in Ray Wood; and the creation, also under Mr Russell’s direction, ofthe arboretum. This is now of such importance that it is partly managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.The Garden Hall was decorated with modern Vanbrughian fantasiesby Felix Kelly.

This was followed by the creation of the adjacentlibrary. The Long Gallery was redecorated and rehung. This has been followed by the complete restoration of the adjoining bedrooms in the west wing.

About90% of the furniture and paintings in the house have now been restored. In the gardens, thewaterworks and lakes have been restored, as have the fountains, lead statues, bridge and cascade.Foranyone visiting Castle Howard regularly, what is most impressive is theconstant state of activity, the sense that a project has always just been completed, that another is about to begin. Today, it is possible to see a time, not that far off, when this great restoration will at last be complete. It is a remarkable achievement, for which two generations of Howards deserve every credit.Opening times and admission fees change seasonally.

For details checkwww.castlehoward.co.ukor phone +44 (0)1653 648444. Location: York 15m, A64. Bus: Service and tour buses form York Station. Train: York to Malton station 30 mins.