The spectacular houses that were saved from ruin

Britain’s grand mansions attract flocks of visitors – but at one point they nearly disappeared. Alastair Sooke explores how a writer’s vision helped to save them.

Britain’s stately homes are some of its most impressive structures – vast country piles with ornate formal gardens that once housed the aristocracy.

One of the most well-known of these is Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, which was made famous by the TV series Brideshead Revisited, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh.

The book is a rich love letter to the English country house. It was written in 1945, at a time when these grand homes were often decaying and ravaged by a tough post-war economic climate.

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It was at this precise moment that writers such as Waugh were exercising their romantic fantasies about places like Castle Howard, buildings that Waugh described as Britain’s “chief national artistic achievement”.

By the 1950s, the fate of these crumbling mansions was already turning around – and today millions of people visit stately homes every year. Alastair Sooke travels to Castle Howard to find out more.

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