Friday, 21 March 2014

The Last Castle Built in England

Julius Drewe set up the Home and Colonial Stores in 1878 - a business so successful that he was able to retire, a millionaire, at the age of 33.
In retirement his thoughts turned to building himself a baronial castle in Drewsteignton, Devon, alleged to have been named after Drogo de Teigne, his ancestor.
He found an ideal site overlooking Dartmoor and  Piddledoh Craigs, so off he went to visit Sir Edwin Lutyens and asked him to design and build his castle. Lutyens was one of the most interesting architects of the time and had just spent over twenty years designing New Delhi, popularly called "Lutyens' Delhi".
Rashtrapati Bhavan, fromerly known as the Viceroy's House, designed by Lutyens.
Castle Drogo, Devon
Lutyens designed the flat roof using what was considered to be the latest building material - asphalt, a natural material brought from pits in Trinidad. The qualities of asphalt weren't understood then; today we know that it expands and contracts in hot and cold weather and eventually cracks, thus it allowed water to leak into the castle. 
This photo is deceptive, for all is not quite what it seems.......
......the castle is under wraps and has been for the past couple of years. It is now almost halfway through an extensive 11 million pound restoration programme to prevent further deterioration from the ingress of water and to save it for future generations. 
If you don a hard hat, a florescent safety jacket, and have a head for heights, it is possible to climb the scaffolding, which we did.
It affords a fantastic birds eye view of the repairs being carried out - it is relatively easy to climb the scaffolding, especially compared to some of the narrow twisting church towers we clambered up last year.
The rich contents of the castle have been safely packed away until the reopening in 2017, apparently the builders are only three days behind schedule. However, it is still possible to see the castles interior.
Built from local granite, the castle borrows styles from the medieval and Tudor periods, but generally a more minimalist, contemporary approach was favoured.
 Wall panelling
Lutyens "...there will be plenty of light in the Kitchen, even on a dull day it will not be necessary to use artificial light;...."
The gardens are the highest English gardens held by the National Trust.
Surrounded by woodland walks and a deep gorge, the formal gardens were laid out by Lutyens and are entered through one of his Arts and Crafts style gates. 
A Wendy House to delight any small child
The castle took 20 years to complete. With the start of the First World War most of the young carpenters and stone masons working on the castle had to leave and fight for their country, sadly most of them did not return. In 1917 the Drewe family too lost their eldest son on the front line from an overwhelming intake of mustard gas in Ypres, Belgium. His death was a terrible loss and Julius never fully recovered from the shock. The castle was finally completed one year before Julius Drewe died. 

62 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tour, Rosemary. That looks like a cupola in the kitchen??? What a handsome feature. It's interesting that you were allowed to climb the scaffolding - I don't think the public would be able to do so in the US. If I am ever in Devon, will visit this magnificent castle. Cheers!

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    1. Dear Loi - you are right, cupola is the correct architectural terminology for the light feature in the kitchen. It was exciting being allowed to climb the scaffolding - we had someone with us who gave strict instructions on the correct way we should proceed, and only ten people at a time were allowed to climb. The stairway was netted, and health and safety codes were adhered to.

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  2. Great minds think alike, Rosemary - there is a picture of a 1913 Lutyens house 'The Salutation' in Sandwich, Kent, on my most recent 'Hastings Battleaxe' blog post! Some lovely pictures on yours.

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    1. Dear Stephanie - I am familiar with many Lutyens properties but have never visited The Salutation, tomorrow I will pop over and see your post.

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  3. Brilliant tour of the castle, grounds and even the scaffolding-such a great idea to allow visitors to climb inside.

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    1. The NT are involving their visitors much more within their properties than they used to which is a good thing especially from the interest point of view.

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  4. Thanks for bringing back some memories. We visited Drogo several years ago and really enjoyed the visit, even though it's a granite castle, it felt very homely. Did you meet "Boots" the cat? I would love to go back to climb up to see the work, like you we've climbed a few Cathedral stair ways. Winchester has a really narrow stair to the top and I must admit I didn't like it as it's so narrow - and I'm not large, I was glad to get to the top and fresh air.

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    1. Dear Elizabeth - I am not sure whether Boots the cat is still around or not. It was really good to have the opportunity to see the work on top of the castle at first hand, something that probably would not have happened a few years ago.

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  5. Thank you for a lovely tour, Rosemary. I'd love to visit that castle and its surroundings. I wish I had such a great business idea as Mr Drewe ;O) Happy weekend, Rosemary!

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    1. Dear Satu - your comment made me smile - I think that some people are born with an entrepreneurial talent for making money.
      A happy weekend to you too.

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  6. It shames me to say it, I have not visited, even though it is probably little more than an hour away. It looks well worth the trip and I shall now go this year! Thanks Rosemary. I hope you had a good time down here in Devon. You certainly picked a great week for weather!

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    1. Do visit Jessica, and then you can return again in 2017 when all the wraps come off - I think that it will all look splendid.
      You are right we picked a good few days.

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  7. I love the details, and that round ceilling....this is also a
    interesting post Rosemary.
    Have a nice Weekend.

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

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    1. The cupola feature in the kitchen is lovely - it must be of interest all year round to be able to look up and see the sky.

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  8. I've never been there but would like to. Thank goodness for the National Trust - we can be sure that the repairs are the best possible, too.

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    1. Dear Jenny - the NT have employed a top European team of experts to work on the castle who know exactly what is required. The NT are very pleased with them.

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  9. It was lovely to see inside the house and the gardens of Castle Drogo we have only being on the wonderful walks on the edge of the estate. It looks an amazing view from the scaffolding! Sarah x

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    1. There are some lovely walks around the edge of the estate in the woodlands. I wonder if you have also walked down to the river in the gorge?

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  10. Hello Rosemary, I would love to see this house again after the restoration is finished. It is very interesting that they allow such direct access to watch the work in progress. Often such work is shrouded in mystery as well as scaffolding, so the public cannot learn much about the restoration process, and one cannot create any opinion of the work itself until it is a fait accompli.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - the National Trust are really going out of their way to give visitors a total experience of whatever is happening in their properties. If we had visited and only been allowed to view the castle wrapped up in plastic it would not have been such a memorable experience as actually seeing the work for ourselves.

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  11. I hope you had a lovely holiday! I have enjoyed reading about Castle Drogo. I only knew a little bit about it before. It's location looks amazing with those beautiful views.
    It does make me wonder if another castle will ever be built in this country. Perhaps Drogo will be the last of centuries of castle building.
    It is terrible that so many of the young men connected with the castle lost their lives in the Great War, including Julius' son.

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    1. It seems that many of the great houses and gardens in the west suffered neglect due to so many of the young man having to leave for WWl - the gardens at Heligan also experienced the same fate.
      The location is magical - uninterrupted high views for miles.

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  12. I love visiting Drogo, we have been several times and it is always such an interesting place isn't it. I hope that it can all be repaired and will be around for many many years yet to come. I love the little wendy house in the garden too, it is so sweet isn't it!! xx

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    1. Dear Amy - I am sure that you will return again to Castle Drogo especially when it is all newly restored - it should look splendid. The NT have employed a European team of experts who are used to working on similar projects, and they are very pleased with the progress.
      Wouldn't you have just loved to own a little Wendy house like that when you were a child?

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  13. Wonderful photos, you may have saved me a trip up the scaffolding as I'm not sure I could go that high up!

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    1. If you visit you must climb up - it is not difficult and very safe. It is a good experience.

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    2. Gulp! We are due there soon so will see how brave I feel on the day!

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  14. Really impressive , incredible how you can devote your whole life (almost) to build a castle for yourself ! Love the garden and the design and the sweet Wendy house :-) Have a nice weekend.

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    1. It makes me think of that quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald - 'Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.'
      Wouldn't you have loved to have that Wendy house when you were a child?

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  15. What a fascinating experience, to be able to climb up in the scaffolding to watch the Castle restoration Rosemary. It is all very interesting, and quite amazing that Julius Drewe made his fortune by 33! Like other commenters, I love the cupola in the kitchen, which is stunning. The architectural features are all intriguing, especially as they come from so many different eras. I hope you go back to see it when it is all finished. Thank you for an interesting post.

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    1. Thanks Patricia - glad that you enjoyed seeing the bits of the castle that were available. You are right, we must endeavour to return in three years time and see the watertight newly restored castle.

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  16. What a mammoth task to repair.
    How clever were you to go up that scaffolding, and I can't imagine that being permitted here.

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    1. It wasn't at all difficult to climb the stairway to the top of the scaffolding. It is certainly a new venture here to be allowed to see exactly what is going on, but full safety rules were in operation. Only 10 people at a time, wearing good walking shoes, safety gear and accompanied by an official.

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  17. Great post, Rosemary!! What a wonderful restoration project. It's terrific that they let the public see some of the work. Very cool.

    Sorry, I'm so behind in reading blogs and commenting. I'll try to pop in more often. ;)

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    1. Lovely to hear from you Marie - I do hope that winter is finally releasing its grip on you, and that spring is on the way. It seems that you have had a proper Canadian winter.
      Glad that you enjoyed seeing the restoration project at the castle.

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  18. Thanks for that tour, and I salute you for climbing up the scaffolding! Every posting that I see on Lutyens makes me want to know more about him. I like the ability he had to gracefully blend old styles with the contemporary, and the hallway you featured is a wonderful example.

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    1. The climb was not as difficult as it probably looks Mark - but I am pleased that we had been out walking before we left as most of the gardens we visited were very steep too.
      Lutyens had the ability to imaginatively adapt traditional architectural styles to suit the current trends at that time.
      He was actually born a couple of generations before H in the same Surrey village. Many of his domestic country houses reflect the vernacular Surrey properties that he was familiar with.

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  19. Dear Rosmary,

    It's always a delight to read your post. Especially for me as an Anglophile :-) I enjoyed seeing the gardens and beautiful countryside around the castle. Whenever I am in Devon, castle Drogo will be on my list!

    Have a lovely weekend!

    Madelief x

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    1. Dear Madelief - you are so kind with your comments for which I thank you. Do hope that you have the chance to visit Castle Drogo at some time in the future - you would find it interesting.

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  20. Lovely photos and story Rosemary. I'm envious that you could clamber all over the castle. What will the new section be used for? Functions? B & B or residential? Can you imagine living there....

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    1. Dear Valerie - the area that is covered is still the old part of the castle which is being restored to make it waterproof, so underneath it will carry on as before. It belongs to the National Trust and is being safeguarded for the future. It will not be used for B & B but I expect that there is the possibility that it could be used for weddings in the future.

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  21. Hi Rosemary, such an interesting post again. Must be so very special to be able to see the restorations like that and I think your picture of part of the castle visable through the trees and the yellow daffodils and then part of the castle hidden for restoration is fantastic. I do know the name Lutyens of course as the designer of many, many war cemeteries. Did you know three weeks ago hundreds of unexploded mustard gas bombs were found under the field of a farmer in the area? Farmers are used to finding bombs from WWI here but after he had dug out almost hundred bombs the farmer thought it cleverer to call DOVO to finish the job. When they discovered it were all poison gas bombs, immediately a perimeter was set in which people couldn't enter anymore. The digging up is still going on now and the perimeter is still set, people living in that perimeter have to be ready to leave immediately if necessary. It is the largest find of unexploded poison gas bombs from WWI ever, years after that terrible war started, a war that affected so many people all over the world. Just last week, two construction workers were killed in Ypres manipulating a bomb that was lying on the field around the building they worked in, waiting to be retrieved by DOVO. Just awful.
    Marian

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    1. Dear Marian - Thank you for this very appropriate and thoughtful comment. I was thinking about the two construction workers who were killed in Ypres whilst I was writing this post - it is a frightening thing to realise that this awful legacy still lives on, and those two men have paid a terrible price with their lives.
      Lutyens is of course as you mentioned the name that comes to mind when we think about the design of war memorials. Even in our little villages there are war memorial crosses that he designed, and of course the main one in this country being The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London where the Remembrance Day Parade takes place.

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  22. This is such an interesting tour with great architecture and attention to details. Taking 20 years to complete, it must have been a mission build on love and passion. It was unfortunate that the completion was blighted with death and sorrow.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment, I am pleased that you enjoyed seeing the tour of the castle. Sadly this castle had no fairytale ending.

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  23. You are so courageous, rosemary, to have climbed up to that height, but seeing from some of your posts you seem to have had nice experience thanks to your courage and curiosity. The architecture made from granite, roof window, interior of contemporary simplicity with the flavor of Tudor period, and Wendy House, were some of the most impressive to me. There seem to be no castles built after Meiji Restoration (1868) in Japan. I didn’t know such a chemical weapon like mustard gas was used in WWI.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - I am sure that you have as much courage as me, and that you would have managed to climb very well. It was all very secure and the stairway was netted.
      I doubt if any castles will ever be built in the UK again. This one is costing 11 million pounds just to repair it.

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  24. What a grand castle Mr. Drewe built!
    You are very courageous, I cannot imagine scaling a scaffolding that high.

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    1. It really looks much more difficult on the photos than it actually was to climb up Merisi - I feel a bit of a fraud that everyone imagines it was harder than it was.

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  25. It must be a massive undertaking for the NT; removing and storing the contents, erecting the scaffolding and then making the property watertight. I'm sure it was an interesting experience to see the work that has been done so far, especially the roof space and to walk around the estate. Thank you for the tour and the information about the owner and Lutyens, the architect. I like the portrait of Julius Drewe. It's a shame that he didn't get to enjoy living in the castle and the death of his eldest son in WWI must have been a terrible blow.

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    1. You are right Linda - all of the contents have been numbered and catalogued and carefully cleaned, and put away in special tissue paper to prevent attacks from moths etc.
      The portrait of Julius was a photo I took of a painting in the castle, and it turned out much better than I imagined it would.
      Yes, there was no fairytale ending to this story for Julius Drewe.

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  26. Thank you Rosemary - I would not have dared to climb the scaffolding as I have no head for heights. I do dare to admit that I remember Home and Colonial Stores!

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    1. I think that they closed down in the 1960s Nilly - John Betjeman immortalised Home and Colonial in his poem Myfanwy
      Smooth down the Avenue glitters the bicycle,
      Black-stockinged legs under navy blue serge,
      Home and Colonial, Star, International,
      Balancing bicycle leant on the verge.

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  27. I think this is going on my visit list for the rapidly approaching trip. Lutyens architecture and landscape in one visit. Will I be brave enough to climb the scaffolding? If I do, much whimpering will be involved. The tea set is a huge temptation and may make a huge dent in my discretionary spending.

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    1. I am excited to know that you are coming over Susan. The climb is not difficult - there is a scaffolding stairway, it looks more difficult than it is.
      You can buy individual cups, saucers, and plates etc exclusively in the Castle Drogo shop.

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  28. Well I must say that the Rashtrapati Bhavan is a mighty impressive statement of power isn't it! Castle Drogo looks like an incredible day out, the merest whiff of a hard hat and some scaffolding and be shimming up those ladders quicker than you can say health and safety. The wall panels are beautifully carved, the gardens look beautifully structured and I want that skylight in my kitchen! :)

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    1. Bravo Mr. Paul, you are the first commenter who would venture up the scaffolding without a moments hesitation. It was well worth the climb to have the view down Piddledoh Craigs and to see the extent of the work being undertaken.

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  29. So many young lives wasted in WWI. It still makes me sad to read about the families who lost their sons or brothers or fathers. Such a terribly sad time. But, at any rate, I still enjoyed reading your post and looking a the photos Rosemary. I don't think I'd be climbing any scaffolding, but I could wait on the ground and offer encouragement to the brave and hardy. :) I'm glad to read that the castle is being restored for future generations. That's the way it should be.

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    1. I really feel a bit of a cheat here, the scaffolding had a stairway to climb up, and although a bit wobbly was perfectly safe and easy to climb. It was all netted too for protection.

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  30. it was fascinating to read this, Rosemary, not long after having watched a Time Team special on the work of Edward Lutyens, which spent a lot of time on Drogo Castle and its restoration. Gorgeous photos as always.

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    1. We saw that programme too Perpetua. We were thinking of calling in to see Castle Drogo anyway on our way down to Cornwall and that programme clinched it for us.

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