Castle Drogo. The name sounds like something out of an 18th century Gothic novel, perhaps created for a work of fiction by Ann Radcliffe. It is, however, a very real place and one built just a century ago: completed in 1930, it is the last castle constructed in England. The owner was Julius Drewe, a self-made millionaire who developed the Home and Colonial Stores, a precursor to the modern retail store, and its overwhelming success meant he could retire from active business at the age of 33. Drewe decided to take the saying “An Englishman’s home is his castle” to the extreme and create an “ancestral” family seat. He chose an area in the Devon countryside because he believed he was descended from the medieval landowner, the Norman baron Drogo de Teigne (also known as Drewe de Teignton), and he selected the leading architect of the day to bring his medieval fantasy to life from the local Dartmoor granite.
This was Sir Edwin Lutyens (pronounced Lutchins), who was renowned throughout the early 20th century for his designs of stately homes, buildings, and monuments. His best known works include the extensive Viceroy’s Palace in New Delhi and the Cenotaph in London, which was designated the UK’s official national war memorial. It seemed like it should have been the perfect marriage of client and designer, but there was one little hitch: Drewe and Lutyens didn’t get on—Drewe wanted a “proper” Norman castle, Lutyens a “lovable house”.
Drewe’s insistence on adhering to historically accurate (but impractical) architecture would cause problems: the castle was to have a flat roof and no rain guttering or window sills. To seal the roof, Lutyens decided to experiment with a new, untested material—asphalt. Although he had seen it successfully used in the warmth of the Caribbean, the British climate and Castle Drogo’s location—perched 250 metres feet above sea level on the edge of the Teign Gorge—meant the asphalt layer cracked in temperature fluctuations and severe weather. The result of all this? Castle Drogo leaked from the very beginning (and I haven’t even mentioned the problems with the windows—there are over 900 of them and they also sprung leaks over time).
Six years ago, the National Trust began a massive construction project to make Castle Drogo watertight. Costing over £13 million, it should see this modern take on a medieval castle last well into the future. The scaffolding is due to come down next year and, in the meantime, visitors to Castle Drogo can get a view of the incredible construction project that has seen each granite roof slab removed, the full castle repointed with lime mortar, and each of those 913 windows refurbished and resealed.
The MissElaineous Blog has been ticking along for a few years now itself. It doesn’t leak, but if it were a house it would be the equivalent of a one-bedroom studio flat. I’m starting to feel I’ve outgrown the current system and there is a lot more I would like to offer readers, so I will be taking the rather drastic step of moving everything to a new platform and renovating the blog.
I am anticipating that this will take slightly less time than the six years that Castle Drogo has been under construction but I will not be posting anything new on the blog until the migration is complete. The daily photos, however, will continue over on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so feel free to follow along on your chosen social media channel. If you’re not already on the mailing list, please consider signing up to be notified when the next new post is ready. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the things that I’ll be writing about once the new blog is up and running …