Skip to main content Accessibility help

Hawksmoor's Vision of Wray Wood, Castle Howard

  • Sally Jeffery

Despite an extensive literature on Castle Howard and its innovative landscape, few details have been known about the important naturalistic garden at Wray Wood. This article identifies four drawings attributed to Nicholas Hawksmoor as designs for the wood's rockwork and watercourses. Although these features have long since disappeared, building records, letters and visitor accounts confirm their existence and show that Hawksmoor was also involved in the display of the sculpture and fountains, with subjects drawn from classical myths and legends. His later designs for the two temples on the east wall of the wood further illustrate his personal vision of the woodland garden and of the sources that inspired its mythological theme. This article draws together all the evidence relating to the wood and considers it in the context of innovative European garden design and its transfer to England in the first years of the eighteenth century. The wood has usually been attributed in more or less equal measure to Hawksmoor, Vanbrugh and their patron Lord Carlisle, but the evidence indicates that it was Hawksmoor who took the lead in carrying out Carlisle's wishes.

Hide All


1 Sandys, George, Ovid's Metamorphosis Englished, Mythologiz'd and Represented in Figures (London, 1632), book 3, pp. 8485, lines 156–61.

2 Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor, 2nd edn (London, 1979), drawing nos. 533, 534; Chippenham, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Earl of Pembroke Papers, 2057/H3/6. These drawings, and several others by Hawksmoor, were probably collected by one of two members of the Pembroke family. Thomas Herbert, eighth Earl of Pembroke (1656–1733), First Lord of the Admiralty and later Lord High Admiral, was a commissioner of the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich and would have known Hawksmoor through this connection. Lord Henry Herbert (1693–1750), later ‘the architect [ninth] earl’, was also involved with Hawksmoor on various projects.

3 I am grateful to Anthony Geraghty, who first suggested to me that the drawings might relate to Castle Howard. My subsequent research has confirmed his initial insight.

4 A note in pencil is difficult to decipher: ‘Levell all behind & Truss the Gab over ye Cave to have a g[…]d force. Slab all ye Edges on ye Top.’

5 Visitors’ accounts include: Edward Southwell junior (1705–55), ‘Account of my Journey begun 6 Aug 1724’, Leeds, Yorkshire Archaeological Society, MS 328, unpaginated; Thomas Player, attr., ‘Description of a journey into Yorkshire’, Gloucester, Gloucestershire Archives, MS D421–F32; ‘Observations on buildings of a Travelling Man’ (the journal of William Freman), London, Sir John Soane's Museum, AL 46 A, p. 50; ‘Record of a journey through England by a Cambridge undergraduate’, 1725, Bath Record Office, Local Studies Collection, TOU1/1, pp. 44–45; Edward Harley, ‘Notes of a journey’, 1725, London, British Library [hereafter BL] Add MS 70405, Misc 14; Rev. Timothy Thomas, ‘Notes of a journey’, 1725, BL Add MS 70435 and Historical Manuscripts Commission [HMC], Report of the Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Portland, vol. 4 (London, 1901), p. 96; and John Tracy Atkyns, ‘Iter Boreale’, 1732, New Haven, CT, Yale Center for British Art, MS Atkyns 1, pp. 15–26.

6 The story of Wray Wood has been told before in a number of different ways. Older accounts of the landscape which are still extremely useful are: Tipping, Henry Avray, ‘The Outworks of Castle Howard, Yorkshire’, Country Life, 6 and 13 August 1927, pp. 200–08 and 230–37, republished from Tipping, Henry Avray and Hussey, Christopher, English Homes, Period IV, vol. II: The Work of Sir John Vanbrugh and his School, 1699–1736 (London, 1928), pp. 161; Hussey, Christopher, English Gardens and Landscapes, 1700–1750 (London, 1967), pp. 114–27. Whistler, Laurence, The Imagination of Vanbrugh and his Fellow Artists (London 1954), pp. 2681, is outstanding. The most authoritative recent account of Castle Howard is by Smith, Charles Saumarez, The Building of Castle Howard (London, 1990), especially chapters 1, 2 and 5. Kerry Downes's publications on Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh are essential: Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor (London, 1969), pp. 192–97; Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), especially chapters 1–5, 14, appendices A, C, G and pp. 283, 286–87; Downes, Vanbrugh (London, 1977), chapter 2, appendix J, K; Downes, Sir John Vanbrugh: A Biography (London, 1987), chapters 18, 19 and 33. See also Hunt, John Dixon, Gardens and the Picturesque: Studies in the History of Landscape Architecture (London and Cambridge, MA, 1992), pp. 1946; Eyres, Patrick, ‘Landscape as Political Manifesto’, in ‘Castle Howard: Landscape of Epic Poetry’, New Arcadian Journal, 29/30 (Winter/Spring, 1989–90), pp. 3265; Ridgway, Christopher and Williams, Robert, Sir John Vanbrugh and Landscape Architecture in Baroque England 1690–1730 (Stroud, 2000), especially chapters 4 and 8; Neckar, Lance, ‘Polity and Politeness at Castle Howard: Awed and Angry Visitors in a Baroque Landscape Architecture’, in Baroque Garden Cultures: Emulation, Sublimation, Subversion, ed. Conan, Michel (Washington, DC, 2005), pp. 385414; Richardson, Tim, The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden (London, 2007), pp. 6668; Levine, Neil, Modern Architecture: Representation and Reality (New Haven and London, 2009), pp. 1544; and Dalton, Caroline, Sir John Vanbrugh and the Vitruvian Landscape (London and New York, 2012), pp. 5159, 88–103; Brogden, William, Ichnographia Rustica: Stephen Switzer and the Designed Landscape (London and New York, 2017), pp. 2026.

7 See Downes, Kerry, ‘Hawksmoor's Sale Catalogue’, Burlington Magazine, 95 (1953), pp. 332–35; Watkin, David, ed., Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons, Vol. 4, Architects (London, 1972), pp. 45106; and Mrs Hawksmoor's bill of 1728, Castle Howard Archives [hereafter CH] J8/1/641, transcribed in Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), pp. 266–69. The sale catalogue includes hundreds of drawings for both identified and unidentified sites, many of which are now lost.

8 CH P1/2, ‘Observation and demensions of land lying in the manor of Castle Howard in the County of York, part of the estate of the Right Honourable the Earle of Carlisle in the year 1694. Done by Ralph Fowler’.

9 Victoria and Albert Museum [hereafter V&A] E434–1951 and E433–1951.

10 A rough sketch plan by Talman of his proposal for the house shows the rectangular area to the east with an exedra. See Whinney, Margaret, ‘William Talman’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 18 (1955), pp. 123–39 (p. 133).

11 Switzer, Stephen, The Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation (London, 1715), p. 64.

12 Switzer, Stephen, Ichnographia Rustica, or the Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener's Recreation, 3 vols (London, 1718), II, p. 198, and III, pp. 101–03, where he refers to Castle Howard again.

13 Brogden, Stephen Switzer, p. 20; payments to London: Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, pp. 78, 121; Whistler, Imagination, p. 62.

14 Whistler, Imagination, pp. 62–64; Hussey, English Gardens, p. 124; Downes, Vanbrugh, p. 108.

15 V&A E432–1951 and E432A–1951. Possibly by William Etty, clerk of works, or one of the masons.

16 Letter of 26 May 1701, transcribed by Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), letter no. 3, p. 234. Hawksmoor reported that there were some difficulties with levelling because the site of the new building was ‘under the covert of the wood’, but he was then ‘takeing all the declivitys and disposition of ye ground’.

17 Robert Williams, ‘Fortified Gardens’, in Sir John Vanbrugh and Landscape Architecture, p. 58.

18 CH G2/2/27; CH G2/2/29; CH G2/1/2, f. 57r, to Matthew Netleton ‘upon Acct. of Raywood Wall’.

19 CH G2/1/2, f. 30, f. 47.

20 CH G2/2/39, ‘Walling a piece of Wall in Wray Wood next the Loane’, ‘walling a piece of Wall Joyning to Wray wood’ and ‘Walling a draine in Wray Wood’.

21 CH G2/1/2, f. 30v, f. 48; CH G2/2/30; CH G2/2/29; CH G2/1/1, ff. 61v, 62; CH G2/2/43, p. 8.

22 CH G2/1/2, f. 45, May 1708.

23 Atkyns, 1732, p. 25.

24 CH P1/4, estate plan of 1727 by Ralph Fowler, ‘Observation and Dementions of Land lying in the Manour of Castle Howard in the County of Yorkshire Part of the Estate of the Right Honourable the Earl of Carlisle’.

25 CH P5/1/1. It was made after the completion of Vanbrugh's ‘Temple’ and the Octagon Temple, but before the 1773 estate plan.

26 Steps and seat, CH G2/2/29; paving, CH G2/1/2, f. 47; repairs, CH G2/2/39, pp. 28, 39; laying lead pipes, CH G2/2/41, p. 4.

27 CH P1/16, ‘A plan of the park and plantations of Castle Howard in the North Riding of the County of York belonging to the Right Honourable Frederick Earl of Carlisle survey'd and plan'd in 1773 by John Turner’.

28 Plans of Wray Wood are discussed and a reconstruction suggested by Caroline Dalton, in ‘“He that…doth not master the human figure”: Sir John Vanbrugh and the Vitruvian Landscape’, Garden History, 37.1 (2009), pp. 3–16, and in her subsequent book, Sir John Vanbrugh and the Vitruvian Landscape (as in note 8).

29 Ordnance Survey [hereafter OS], Yorkshire 123, six inches to the mile, surveyed 1852–53, published 1856.

30 For this quotation and the following, see the references in note 5.

31 CH G2/2/27, p. 4; CH G2/2/29, p. 4. Two other summer houses are mentioned by both visitors and in the accounts, situated near the top of the wood.

32 Thomas Williamson's bill of 1713–15 (note 26) refers to making a pump: CH G2/2/41, p. 4.

33 As in notes 5 and 12.

34 Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), p. 266.

35 CH G2/2/32. Other figures were supplied by John Nost and Andries Carpentière: Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, p. 125; John Nost was paid from 1708 to 1711. Carpentière provided statues for the parterre, mentioned in a long price list of figures, but whether any were purchased for Wray Wood is unknown.

36 It was not the pedestal for Apollo, as suggested by Richardson, Arcadian Friends, p. 67.

37 Abstract of mason's work, CH G2/2/29; the stone carver's bill, CH G2/2/32.

38 Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, pp. 124–25.

39 The masons made eight pedestals, not eighteen as some writers say: CH G2/2/20, p. 11.

40 CH G2/2/29, p. 4.

41 CH G2/2/38, p. 52.

42 CH H2/3/8, catalogues of 1698 and 1715/16; Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, p. 107. These included the Sandys translation of 1632 and the collection edited by Nahum Pate (1697), and two translations into French. On garden statues, see Evelyn, John, Elysium Britannicum or The Royal Gardens, ed. Ingram, John E. (Philadelphia, 2001), book 2, chapter 10, ‘Of Rocks, Grots…’, pp. 191, 196 and chapter 11, ‘Of statues…’, p. 207.

43 For Hawksmoor's own collection of paintings, drawings and engravings, see Downes, ‘Hawksmoor's Sale Catalogue’, pp. 332–35 and Watkin, Libraries of Eminent Persons, pp. 45–106.

44 Sandys, Ovid, book 11, pp. 372–73, lines 151–72.

45 CH G2/2/39, p. 38.

46 Kipling, Mike, The Gardens at Castle Howard (London, 2010), p. 44.

47 Hewlings, Richard, ‘Nicholas Hawksmoor in Chester’, Burlington Magazine, 153 (April 2011), pp. 224–28; Worsley, Giles, ‘In the English Campagna’, Country Life, 27 September 2001, pp. 118–23 (p. 120).

48 Letter of 7 January 1723/4, CH J8/1/565. Drawings published in Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), pl. 87a.

49 BL, K.Top.45.18, k recto and g recto.

50 BL, K.Top.45.18, g verso and h verso.

51 Quoted by Avray Tipping in ‘Outworks’, pp. 207–08; see also The Complete Works of Sir John Vanbrugh, 4 vols (London, 1927–28), IV, The Letters, ed. Geoffrey Webb, letters 154 and 155, pp. 156–57.

52 CH P5/1/1.

53 CH J8/1/596; transcribed in The Letters and Drawings of Nicholas Hawksmoor relating to the Building of the Mausoleum at Castle Howard, 1726–1742’, The Nineteenth Volume of the Walpole Society 1930–1931, ed. Webb, Geoffrey (Oxford, 1931), Letter XV, p. 129. For further references to drawings and letters concerning the temple, see Mrs Hawksmoor's bill (CH J8/1/641) transcribed in Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), pp. 266–69.

54 CH J8/1/631; Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, p. 147.

55 CH J8/1/634; Webb, ‘Mausoleum Letters’, Letter XVIII, p. 131.

56 Nick Helm, ‘The Temple of Venus’ (diploma thesis, Architectural Association, 1978), p. 27. I am grateful to the author for kindly making this thesis available to me.

57 CH J8/1/627, Hawksmoor to Lord Carlisle, 12 October 1734; Webb, ‘Mausoleum Letters’, Letter XLV, p. 154; Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, p. 147.

58 CH J8/1/631, Hawksmoor to Lord Carlisle, 19 July 1735; Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, p. 147. On the significance of the ‘fam'd vertuosi’, see Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), pp. 228–29.

59 CH G2/1/4, f. 5.

60 CH G2/1/4, opening p. 283, Mr Bagnal's account for ‘Plaistering ye Octagon’, 9 November 1735; CH G2/1/4, f. 15, Mr Robinson's account for the Octagon floor and the pedestal, 11 July 1736.

61 CH G2/1/4, f. 240, Carvers’ account; CH G2/2/76, bill for carving work measured in April 1738, ‘To Alterations at Venus's Pedistall wthin the Octagon’.

62 Reproduced in Whistler, Imagination, p. 82, and Downes, Vanbrugh, p. 108. A very similar temple of about the same date, perhaps also designed by Vanbrugh for William Wakefield, is at Duncombe Park, Helmsley, Yorkshire.

63 Bevington, Michael, ‘Viscount Cobham’, in Stowe Landscape Gardens (London, 1997), pp. 6263.

64 Downes, Hawksmoor (1969), p. 192.

65 Webb, Vanbrugh Letters, p. 136. Letter of 8 August 1721 to the Duke of Newcastle.

66 Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), p. 269.

67 Downes, Vanbrugh Biography, p. 201.

68 Cited in Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), p. 1.

69 Listed in the sale catalogue simply as ‘James's on Gardening’. See Downes, ‘Hawksmoor's Sale Catalogue’, pp. 332–35, and Watkin, Libraries of Eminent Persons, pp. 45–106.

70 CH J8/35/1, J8/35/4.

71 Saumarez Smith, Castle Howard, p. 3; Worsley, Giles, ‘“After ye Antique”: Vanbrugh, Hawksmoor and Kent’, in Sir John Vanbrugh and Landscape Architecture in Baroque England 1690–1730, ed. Ridgway, Christopher and Williams, Robert (Stroud, 2000), p. 152.

72 Worsley, ‘After ye Antique’. Also see Worsley, ‘In the English Campagna’.

73 Both Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor made use of Palladio's treatise, of which Vanbrugh owned at least two copies. See Worsley, Giles, Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age (New Haven and London, 1995), p. 92. The first volume of Vitruvius Britannicus was published in 1715 and the second in 1717, and Lord Burlington's interest in both antique and Palladian motifs was developing in the 1720s.

74 John Harris has written of the influence from France in Wray Wood, as well as in the huge wilderness garden to the south of the house. See his ‘Diverting Labyrinths’, Country Life, 11 January (1990), pp. 62–65.

75 Perrault, Charles, Le Labyrinthe de Versailles (Paris, 1675, 1676) with engravings by Sébastien Leclerc; Switzer, Ichnographia Rustica, II, opposite p. 218.

76 Switzer, Stephen, An Introduction to a General System of Hydrostaticks and Hydraulics (London, 1729), II, book 4, plates 50–59.

77 See James, ‘Designs of Woods of Forrest Trees’, after p. 60.

78 Israël Silvestre, ‘Plan general du Chasteau, et du petit parc de Versailles’, 1680, ‘Views of Versailles’ album, V&A 48.E.6.

79 Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, THC 2114–23. Cited in Mariage, Thierry, The World of André Le Nôtre, trans. Larkin, Graham (Philadelphia, 1999), p. 89.

80 It was ‘beautifully conceived, inexpensive, and an excellent way of conserving the great trees’, from the Relation de la visite de Nicodème Tessin à Marly, Versailles, Clagny, Rueil, et St Cloud en 1687, cited in Garrigues, Dominique, Jardin et Jardiniers de Versailles au Grand Siècle (Seysel, 2001), p. 354.

81 Hunt, John Dixon and de Jong, Erik, eds, ‘The Anglo-Dutch Garden in the Age of William and Mary’, Journal of Garden History, 2 and 3 (April–September 1988), pp. 158, 334–35.

82 HMC, Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath, vol. III: The Prior Papers (London, 1908), p. 347.

83 Harris, John, ‘The Artinatural Style’, in The Rococo In England, ed. Hind, Charles (London, 1986), pp. 1920; Maroleaux, Vincent, Marly: L'autre Palais du Soleil (Geneva, Paris, 2002), pp. 144–45.

84 Dr Japikse, N., ed., Correspondentie van Willem III en van Hans Willem Bentinck eersten graaf van Portland, vol. 1 (The Hague, 1927), March 1698/9, p. 240; HMC, Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath, p. 329.

85 Jacques, David, Gardens of Court and Country. English Design 1630–1730 (London, 2017), pp. 232–33. The sketch of 1705 attributed to Hawksmoor of the wilderness at Blenheim did not feature serpentine paths, although the plan finalised a few years later did (p. 184).

86 Jackson-Stops, Gervase, An English Arcadia 1600–1990 (London, 1991), pp. 3334. A plan of the Trianon and its gardens is attributed to him by Lablaude, Pierre-André, The Gardens of Versailles (London, 1995), pp. 106–07. Also see Bouchenot-Déchin, Patricia and Farhat, Georges, eds, André Le Nôtre in Perspective (Paris/Versailles, New Haven and London, 2013), Plan of the Trianon, notebook 2, 17.

87 Ingrid Roscoe, Emma Hardy and M.G. Sullivan, A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660–1851, online version: (accessed August 2018).

88 Ibbotson, Henry, The Visitors’ Guide to Castle Howard: Seat of the Right Honourable Earl of Carlisle (Ganthorpe, 1851), p. 59.

89 Castle Howard (guide book, 1997), p. 64.

90 In discussing the painted decoration for Vanbrugh's temple, he suggested ‘the sylvan storys of Pan and his merry attendance, in woods, groves, by fountains, and murmuring streams’ (CH J8/1/596): Webb, ‘Mausoleum Letters’, Letter XVI, 2 March 1732, p. 130.

91 CH J8/1/618; Downes, Hawksmoor (1979), p. 254.

92 Walpole, Horace, letter to George Selwyn, 12 August 1772, in Lewis, W.S., ed., The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence, vol. 30 (New Haven, 1961), p. 257.

93 Downes, Vanbrugh, p. 110.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Architectural History
  • ISSN: 0066-622X
  • EISSN: 2059-5670
  • URL: /core/journals/architectural-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed