Over the years Castle Drogo had somehow called to me so I don’t know why it took me until today to go there finally.
Rising darkly near Drewsteignton, on Dartmoor, it was the last castle built in England and might well be the last private home here to have been built entirely of granite. For me, as I approached its entrance with a friend, it felt slightly reminiscent of a forbidding prison. That isn’t meant to detract from its impressiveness, though …
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens it stands in an awesome position looking across the Drogo Teign Valley. Julius Drewe, who commissioned Lutyens, had founded the Home & Colonial Stores and was sufficiently wealthy to realize his dream of creating a magnificent ancestral home.
He managed to bring exquisite Venetian chandeliers back from his honeymoon and was very keen on having the latest gadgets installed. These included ‘candles’ on his grand dining table that were lit by electric wiring concealed within an under blanket beneath the white linen tablecloth. When he pressed a secret button, he impressed his guests with words to the effect of “Let there be light” – and suddenly there was light!
Castle Drogo certainly didn’t disappoint – but ever since its completion in the 1920s it has suffered massive structural problems that have now resulted in serious leaks and water penetration throughout. It seems that after his son, Adrian, died during the Great War Julius rather lost heart in his building project and ignored advice from Lutyens to take certain precautions during construction.
This has now become a big headache for the National Trust, which must install a new roof system – involving the removal and ultimate return of 2355 granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes! 900 windows also need refurbishing with over 13,000 panes of glass – plus over 60,000 metres of pointing need to be replaced.
All in all, I’m glad to live in a normal sized house with normal sized repair bills!