Castle Drogo is a country house and mixed-revivalist castle near Drewsteignton, Devon, England. Constructed between 1911 and 1930, it was the last castle to be built in England. The client was Julius Drewe, the hugely successful founder of the Home and Colonial Stores. Drewe chose the site in the belief that it formed part of the lands of his supposed medieval ancestor, Drogo de Teigne.
The architect he chose to realise his dream was Edwin Lutyens, then at the height of his career. Lutyens lamented Drewe's determination to have a castle but nevertheless produced one of his finest buildings. The architectural critic, Christopher Hussey, described the result: "The ultimate justification of Drogo is that it does not pretend to be a castle. It is a castle, as a castle is built, of granite, on a mountain, in the twentieth century".
*** – History – ***
In 1910 Julius Drewe bought about 450 acres (1.8 km2) south and west of the village of Drewsteignton in the belief that he was descended from the Drewe family that once lived here. Born Drew, the son of George Smith Drew and his wife Mary, née Peek, both from substantial families of grocers, Drewe added the "e" to his surname later in life. By the time of his death in 1931 he had bought up an estate of 1,500 acres.
Around 1910 he asked Edwin Lutyens to build him a castle. According to his son Basil, he did so on the advice of Edward Hudson, proprietor of Country Life magazine, who was both a patron and a champion of Lutyens. Drewe was now 54 years old, but he still had time, energy and money to create his new family seat. The budget was £50,000 for the castle, and a further £10,000 for the garden. Lutyens wrote privately of his concern over Drewe's ambitions; "I do wish he didn't want a castle but just a delicious loveable house with plenty of good large rooms in it". On 4 April 1911, Drewe's 55th birthday, the first foundation stone was laid.
The castle took many years to complete, with the First World War and the economic downturn causing many delays. One reason for the slow progress was the very limited number of craftsmen used. The writer Christopher Hussey records that "after the first year, every stone was laid by two men alone...Devon masons Cleeve and Dewdney".
As significant, was Drewe's waning enthusiasm; his son and heir Adrian was killed on 12 July 1917, in early skirmishes prior to the Battle of Passchendaele. Drewe's daughter later recalled, "after my brother's death...the joy of life went out as far as my father and mother were concerned...my father really was somewhat of an invalid afterwards. Overall responsibility for the construction work was held by Drewe's agent, John Coates Walker, described in the most recent guide to the castle as, "the unsung hero of the whole venture".
Castle Drogo was finally completed in 1930, roughly a third of the size of Lutyens's 1911 designs, and only a year before Julius died; he had, however, been able to live in the house since around 1925. The catalogue prepared for the 1981 exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on Lutyens' work describes Drogo as "one of his finest buildings". It was built at the same time as Lutyens's work in New Delhi, resulting in many similarities in design.
After Julius's death, his wife Frances and her son Basil continued to live at the castle. During 1939–45, Frances and her daughter Mary ran the house as a home for babies made homeless during the bombings of London. Frances Drewe died in 1954 and Basil was then joined at Drogo by his son Anthony and his wife. In 1974, Anthony and his son, Dr Christopher Drewe, gave Castle Drogo and 600 acres (2.4 km2) of the surrounding land to the National Trust.
It was the first 20th-century property the charity acquired. The writer and National Trust administrator James Lees-Milne recorded his impressions of the house and its owners in a diary entry dated 9 September 1976; "Reached Castle Drogo ... at eleven. Very satisfactory house of clean-cut granite. A new family aspiring to, rather arriving at, landed gentry-hood and now the representative living upstairs in a tiny flat, all within my lifetime".
The castle has been undergoing an extensive, five-year, restoration. A new visitor centre with shop and café opened in the summer of 2009, after English Heritage required that industrial kitchen equipment such as that used by the previous café within the house, be removed from Grade I listed buildings. In February 2011, the National Trust launched a public appeal for money to fund necessary restoration work.
*** – Architecture – ***
The castle as constructed represents approximately one third of the building Lutyens originally planned. The intended building would have run the entire length of the ridge, comprising three sides of a large courtyard. The existing structure broadly represents the planned eastern wing of the whole. It was to have been matched by a corresponding wing to the west, the two joined by a northern block enclosing the planned great hall.
Drewe balked at the costs, although his own decision to double the thickness of all of the walls on grounds of authenticity was a significant factor in their escalation. Pre-war, the plan for the western wing was abandoned, and after the end of hostilities, which had seen the death of Drewe's eldest son, plans for the great hall were also set aside, with the undercroft, which had been constructed, becoming the crypt chapel.
The castle borrows styles of castle building from the medieval and Tudor periods, along with more minimalist contemporary approaches. A notable feature is the encasement of the service staircase, around which the main staircase climbs. Its defensive characteristics are purely decorative. Additionally, the castle had electricity and lifts from the outset, with power being supplied by two turbines on the river below. The castle is a Grade 1 listed building.
The castle essentially comprises a three-storey main block, with a four-storey family and service wing to the side. The main block comprises four reception rooms, the hall, the library, the dining room and the drawing room.
*** – Gardens – ***
The castle has a formal garden, designed by Lutyens with planting by George Dillistone, which contrasts with its setting on the edge of Dartmoor. In 1915, Lutyens brought in Gertrude Jekyll to assist with the planning. Jekyll's involvement appears to have been limited to designing the planting for the approach to the castle along the drive. The garden is noted for its rhododendrons and magnolias, herbaceous borders, rose garden, shrub garden and circular grass tennis court now used for croquet. The gardens are Grade 2* listed
Created over 100 years ago by Sir Edwin Lutyens and George Dillistone this terrace garden was carved out of granite. There's something of interest to see in all seasons.
*** – Teign Gorge Classic Circuit – ***
Perhaps the most famous walk on Dartmoor. From the imposing bulk of Castle Drogo – the last castle to be built in England – and following the breathtaking Hunters Path high above the River Teign, this walk is filled with chances to spot wildlife and stunning views. Pushchairs are not recommended on this route as the walk does include unfenced drops, steep terrain and steps. Classified as Moderate, this walk is just over four miles long and should take about two and a half hours to complete. It is a dog-friendly walk.
Start: Castle Drogo main car park, Drewsteignton.
*** – Visiting – ***
Please book ahead before visiting. The garden, café, car park and toilets are open. Limited parking for Teign Gorge walks (no booking required). If you'd like to visit the garden at Castle Drogo please be aware that you need to book tickets before you visit. You can book either online or by calling 0344 249 1895 by 3pm the day before your visit. Members can book for free, while non-members will need to pay when booking. The National Trust will be releasing tickets every Friday. Please note they will be turning people away who arrive and haven't booked. They are looking forward to welcoming you back. Click here to book your visit now.
Feeling peckish? The café has reopened serving a range of hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, cakes and a selection of warming options perfect for the changing season. They have introduced new safety measures including screens at their till and collection points, and waymarked routes. In line with government guidelines you'll be required to wear a face covering in their café from 24 July. Please bring one with you. They will also only be accepting card payment. They look forward to welcoming you back and know that you’ll support them to make this a safe experience for everyone.
The shop and plants centre is open. For the safety of staff and visitors they have introduced social distancing measures and changes to payment, which will be via card only. In line with government guidance visitors to the shop are required to wear a face covering. Please bring one along with you. It is through your purchases that they are able to continue to look after Castle Drogo for everyone, for ever.
Their shop is open Friday to Tuesday 11am till 4pm. There is a one way system in place and face coverings are required to be worn. You can brighten up your home with their range of products including rugs, blankets, cushions, kitchen accessories and much more. For something a little different, take a look at ceramics on sale from nearby Spreyton Pottery. The shop has a great selection of locally produced jams and chutneys. Or there are traditional hard boiled sweets, chocolates and fudge.
There’s so much more to discover about Castle Drogo. Pick up the National Trust guidebook to delve into the extraordinary history of Drogo, from Julius Drewe’s vision to build his own ancestral home through to the present day.
*** – Facilities – ***
Location : Castle Drogo, , Drewsteignton, near Exeter, Devon, EX6 6PB
Transport: Yeoford (National Rail) 8 miles. Bus Routes : Take the Dartline Coaches Bus 173 leaving from Exeter bus station (passing Exeter Central train station), available Monday to Saturday. The bus drops off at the bottom of Castle Drogo's drive which is a 800 yard walk uphill to the Visitor Centre.
Opening Times Gardens: 10:00 to 16:30.
Opening Times Countryside: Dawn to Dusk.
Tickets Gardens: Adults £5.00; Child £2.50; Free for NT Members.
Tel: 01647 433306