CASTLE Howard has enjoyed a recession-busting year, with visitor numbers up by 17 per cent.

Staff at the stately home, near Malton, had looked forward to 2009 with some trepidation, fearing that the credit crunch and worsening economy would lead to a drop in income.

Instead, it benefited from the “staycation” phenomenon, as many cash-strapped holidaymakers stayed in Britain instead of going abroad.

Agent Henry Rayment said that a year ago, expectations had been moderated in the wake of the swiftest reversal of economic prosperity seen in anyone’s working lives.

“Reluctantly, our heads of departments pruned their figures, abandoned many of their ‘wish list’ items and we budgeted for a likely loss,” he said.

Instead, by the end of the main season, it had done outstandingly well.

“We have benefited hugely from a large proportion of the population staying at home. The weather has also been kind but, above all, the staff have pulled together and performed magnificently.

“As a result, we are projecting a break-even position, and may even make a small profit.”

Simon Howard, chairman of Castle Howard Estate, said that this time last year, he had been “somewhat discouraged” about the prospects for 2009, but the pessimism had been unfounded, and visitor numbers were 17 per cent up on last year.

“Other aspects of the operation at Castle Howard have also shown a better result and, as such, I am going into this Christmas and New Year with a confidence that a year ago was unthinkable.”

A spokeswoman said that while the summer of 2009 had not been the best, it had been better than the previous two, and visitor numbers had also been boosted because of improvements to the adventure playground and shops.

Now the home was set to re-open its doors again for the Christmas period, from November 28 to December 20, when the house and grounds will be decorated with Christmas trees, decorative plants and garlands.