No doubt many will be keen to put Harry Potter on the television to keep the children occupied over this Christmas period—but for those more adventurous, you can experience Hogwarts for yourself. Well, sort of. At first glance, Carlton Towers looks more like a great Gothic edifice that would feel right at home for Harry and his motley crew. In fact, it is a family home owned by Lord and Lady Fitzalan-Howard, who still reside here, but one far from simple. The imposing stately pile, nearby Selby in North Yorkshire, is hidden away in a rural setting which appears far from prying eyes but is in actuality just four miles from Drax power station.
Gothic it may appear, but the origins of the pinkish-orange Carlton Towers lie in the 17th century, with dramatic Victorian additions that transformed this grand pile set within 260 acres into an imposing fortress-like building incorporating Palladian, Neo-Classical as well as those ambitious Gothic Revival additions for which it is now so well known.
There has been a house on this site since the turn of the 14th century, but the current residence owes its origins first to John Smythson, though it was the 1873-5 architectural enshrouding by Edward Welby Pugin that made the most impact, not to mention the interior of 1875-90 by J. F. Bentley for Lord Beaumont.
And this is an interior that must not be overlooked. The rambling house belies one of the most ambitious suites of Victorian rooms in the entire country, with myriad decorative touches from stencilled ceilings, dados painted with figures from the Merchant of Venice and chimneypieces painted with heraldic panels, to stamped plasterwork and gilding resembling leather. The Venetian Room, above all, features all moulded plasterwork with pomegranate motifs, double-height windows and crystal chandeliers. So opulent, it became a convincing substitute for Windsor Castle in ITV’s television series, Victoria.
‘Mieux Sera’, the French motto of the Fitzalan-Howards, is emblazoned across the pinnacle of the clock tower, translating as ‘Better times are coming’—a fitting motto for a family that has faced centuries of ebbs and flows, with many more likely to be encountered in the future of this grand structure.