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A Tale of Two Victorias
Chris Ridgway
By Dr Chris Ridgway  //  Fri 9th September 2016
Curatorial, History, Victoria, Filming
Jenna Coleman as Victoria
In the autumn of 2015 Queen Victoria came to Castle Howard - in the form of Jenna Coleman that is. But Victoria’s presence at Castle Howard in 2015 was a remarkable instance of déjà vu, for way back in 1850 the real Victoria came to stay.
The first episode of the ITV series saw the young princess living at Kensington Palace with her mother. Several interiors at Castle Howard doubled as the palace including: the Castle Howard Bedroom, the Museum Room, and the Long Gallery, each given a pre-Victorian makeover by set-designer Michael Howells.

Many of the spaces seen on screen were used by the real Queen Victoria and Prince Albert when they stayed at Castle Howard, as the guest of the 7th Earl of Carlisle in 1850; by which time she was in the 13th year of her long reign, was married, had given birth to seven children, and been advised by three prime ministers.

FACT vs FICTION: Whereas Jenna Coleman had to make do with a small cot on the floor next to her mother's bed in the Castle Howard Bedroom, the real Victoria and Albert occupied the grandest rooms in the house: a suite of rooms above the Great Hall comprising two bedrooms and the High Saloon as a private sitting room, with spectacular views over the gardens.

Victoria’s real visit to Castle Howard was a private one, as she and Albert broke their journey from London to Scotland. The visit avoided all the usual pomp and ceremony that accompanied large-scale royal visits. She travelled with a small entourage, about a dozen members of her household. Arriving by train at the Castle Howard station the party were driven in horse and carriage to Castle Howard where they were welcomed in the Great Hall by the Earl, his mother and members of his family.

As 6.00pm on 27th August approached everyone at Castle Howard was in a state of high nervous excitement. Staying at the time as a guest of Carlisle was the Massachusetts-born historian William Hickling Prescott.

Prescott sent back an account of the visit in letters to his wife: ‘Everybody has been running about arranging and deranging’, he wrote, ‘some carrying chairs, some flower-pots, some pictures, some vases &c &c. Such a scampering’. He remained pretty ineffectual amongst this bustle but felt his most valuable role was to cheer up Carlisle as the weather turned wet and gloomy.

In preparation for the visit the interiors were smartened up or redecorated: comfort and elegance were the priority. New marble was ordered for bathrooms as well a new baths and tubs. Carlisle’s coup-de-theatre was to install special gas lighting in the Great Hall. A ringer of burners, supplied by a Mr Knapton, was mounted around the balcony beneath the dome, with 2,000 separate tubes to create 15 illuminated letters that spelt out ‘God Save the Queen’.

FACT vs FICTION: At the heart of the house, the Great Hall is the grandest and most dramatic space at Castle Howard and was the perfect place to welcome the real Victoria. In the ITV series the space is depicted far more modestly; a servant dozes by the Great Hall fire and is awoken by the messenger arriving to deliver the news that the King has died.

Queen Victoria arrives in the Great Hall

At the station the Royal Family was greeted with the usual fanfare of a band and guard of honour before transferring to carriages for the three-mile drive to Castle Howard. Carlisle ensured that they went via the famous Exclamation Gate, above the village of Welburn, which offered them a spectacular panorama of the estate; before turning on to the Avenue, and passing through the Carrmire gate and the Gatehouse. On arriving at Castle Howard they entered through the North Front which had been decorated with a red carpet and awning. After a brief introduction Victoria retired to her suite of rooms to take tea in private.

In the evening local worthies gathered for a reception beneath Carlisle’s patriotic gas illumination in the Great Hall which was followed by a dinner of venison in the Long Gallery. There was no ball but Mr Coote and his small troupe of musicians, who had been lent from Chatsworth by the Duke of Devonshire, entertained the guests afterwards.

FACT vs FICTION: The Octagon at the centre of  the Long Gallery hosted the real Victoria as she enjoyed dinner on the evening of her arrival at Castle Howard. On screen, this same space hosted the young Victoria as she addressed her Privy Council for the first time as Queen.

Queen Victoria address her Privy Council

The following day the royal couple toured the estate and Victoria was especially interested in Hawksmoor’s grand Mausoleum. Albert inspected prize cattle and pigs in the Walled Garden, there was a ceremonial tree-planting with each member of the Royal Family planting a tree and they witnessed a cricket match. Crowds of well-wishers had been allowed into the grounds, estimated by the police to have been 15,000, and were loud but well-behaved. In the evening, once more, proceedings were low key with no dancing.

On the second morning after a breakfast to which 70 guests had been invited the royals departed. Local schoolchildren formed a guard of honour, and the royals drove through the village of Welburn to the station.

For Carlisle the visit passed off successfully, and the gaslight was a triumph. But he and his family had to endure the foibles of their monarch - her notorious wish for windows to be thrown open and fires dampened down, and her customary lateness for receptions. At one point she became lost in the house and was rescued by Carlisle; Albert asked a multitude of questions about the sculpture collection, which Carlisle was at a loss to answer. If Carlisle had one regret it was, as he noted in his diary, that Victoria ‘has not the way of putting a room quite at its ease’.

Find out more about the filming of ITV's Victoria at Castle Howard.