Set deep in the heart of Dartmoor, an area often impassable in the winter months due to severe weather conditions, Castle Drogo boast a few lasts; the last Castle to be built in England, the last private residence in England to be built entirely from granite.
As a unique building, it was also the first 20th-century building to be donated to the National Trust, an organisation in England and Wales dedicated to the preservation of historic properties. The property was donated to the trust in the late 1970s. And, after a brief period of renovation, has been open to the public ever since…
A Little History of Castle Drogo
A man named Mr Julius Drewe commissioned the build in the very heart of Dartmoor National Park. His grandparents had been tea importers and he had taken up the family trade, expanding the company into a chain of grocery stores. Having made his money from the tea industry and founding the Home & Colonial stores (now part of the Morrisons group), he was able to retire at the early age of 33; chance would be a fine thing…
In 1890, Drewe married Frances Richardson; the story goes that he was sat in a hotel reception when he saw her. On sight, he said ‘that’s the woman I’m going to marry,’ pretty arrogant, don’t you think? Frances loved gardening, particularly roses and as a result of this, Castle Drogo has a large landscaped garden. Being obsessed as to where his family had come from, Mr Drewe hired a genealogist.
The genealogist discovered that Drogo de Teigne, a Norman Baron, had come to the area centuries previously. Drogo is the Latinised form of Drewe and the nearest village to Castle Drogo is named ‘Drewsteignton’. Through all of these connections, it was therefore assumed that Mr Drewe must be the descendant of this Norman knight.
In an attempt to further this connection, Drewe donated vast sums of money for the restoration of the pub in Drewsteignton and even had it named ‘The Drewe Arms’. Unfortunately, later research has rendered the entire discovery false and there is, in fact, no connection between Mr Drewe and Drogo de Teigne.
The architecture of the last castle built in England
From the outset, the castle was an ambitious build, using all the latest equipment and technology available. Edwin Lutyens, (designer of the Cenotaph) was hired as chief architect. Although he advised Mr Drewe that a country house would be much more appropriate for such a bleak and barren environment, Julius was convinced that he needed a castle built in such a way as to make it seem like it had stood there since time immemorial.
The result is that windows were placed inside staircases to falsely indicate later additions and a mix of various architectural styles were used. However, Mr Drewe was also on the cutting edge of technology and so the ‘modern’ castle boasted a lot of modern equipment; a shower with a number of settings, electric candlesticks for the dining room table and a refrigerator. However, the very best thing about the last castle built in England has most definitely got to be its magnificent views over the surrounding moorland!
Saving Castle Drogo for future generations
Unfortunately, due to the ‘modern’ techniques used at the time, the roof and windows have leaked since the outset. Although the materials (asphalt and lime) were ground-breaking combinations when they were first installed, they were not tested, especially against the harsh weather of Dartmoor. This means that castle Drogo is in the middle of a £11 million+ restoration project to repair the windows, roof, and a large amount of water damage caused over the past few decades.
Castle Drogo is currently still open to the public but in a way in which is different from any other National Trust property. There are temporary interpretations by various artists and companies and much of the original furniture and fittings have been safely stored away for the duration of the project. One of my favourite temporary exhibitions within the castle is the tapestry room (formerly the dining room).
In pride of place in the centre of the Dining Room, hangs ‘Le Char De Triomphe’ tapestry. It was acquired by Mr Drewe when he bought Wadhurst Hall (now demolished) in Sussex from a Spanish Family of bankers who had gone bankrupt. The tapestry was probably made by the iconic Gobelins Factory in Paris; a world-famous organisation famous for their luxurious tapestries and rich use of colours; notably red and purple.
The tapestry, having been left flapping in the wind near the great entrance hall for years and years, was only rediscovered during the renovation to be incredibly rare and one of only a few left in the world. Created in 1693, it is a portiere; intended for covering doorways. It is originally thought to have hung in the palace of Versailles and is meant to depict Louis XIV’s military victories.
Must-see attractions at Castle Drogo
The last castle built in England boasts a wide variety of things to do, meaning that there is something to interest anyone, of any age. From the intricate details of Lutyen’s architectural masterpiece to playing croquet in the gardens to visiting stunning landscaped gardens, Castle Drogo has plenty to do, and even more to see.
The viewing Tower: The viewing tower boasts amazing views over Dartmoor and beyond. Although the viewing platform is closed in bad weather, it’s the perfect spot to observe the reparation works to the castle and get an idea of how vast the structure actually is!
Rhododendron Walk: The environment is harsh on Dartmoor and the soil is acidic (organic material just disappears soon after it is buried), rendering it difficult to grow many plants. Fortunately, rhododendrons are very hardy and plentiful on this part of the moor!
How to visit Castle Drogo: Tips & Tricks
Open daily between 9:30- 5:30 in the summer months with the grounds open for walks from dawn to dusk. During the winter time, the Castle is open on select days only. This is for both preservation and renovation purposes. Yearly events are also held in December to celebrate Christmas and the New Year.
Price: In order to visit Castle Drogo, you’ll have to pay a fee to enter (and you’ll have to pay to park if you’re not a National Trust Member). Members visit for free and the Visitor’s Reception Centre also has a tea room and gift shop. Nearby attractions include Lustleigh (the prettiest village in Dartmoor), plenty of local pubs, and Spinster’s Rock (a Neolithic Dolmen with a rather peculiar past).