Down in the depths of Devon, in a place where the weather is at its worst and the wind whistles non-stop through a wooded valley, you’ll find the last castle built in England. Castle Drogo is situated in the very heart of Dartmoor National Park and hides many secrets within its walls; including the Char de Triomphe Portiere.
A Louis XIV-era tapestry which was produced by the Gobelins Factory, once hung in Versailles, and somehow ended up in the middle of nowehere, England…
Castle Drogo: A 20th-century granite castle in Devon
Castle Drogo is a contradiction of sorts. While it was constructed in the 20th-century, it has both a working portcullis for defence, battlements, as well as all of the luxuries and mod-cons of the era. A destination which is frozen in time (though, unfortunately, the castle has leaked from the outset, leading to decades of water damage!), the mansion is currently undergoing a six-year renovation project in order to make Drogo watertight for many years to come.
Designed by the acclaimed architect Edwin Lutyens, the same man to have designed the Cenotaph in London, the castle was built for self-made businessman, Julius Drewe. Note that Julius himself added the ‘e’ to the end of his name ‘Drewe’ as he wished the surname to sound older than it was.
Retired by the age of 33, Julius soon became obsessed by genealogy and selected the site because it was both convenient to purchase (the land was sold to him by a family member who worked in the clergy) and because a certain Drogo de Teigne came over to England after the Norman Conquest and settled in the area.
Though it has since been proven to be false, Drewe became convinced that he was a descendant of de Teigne. That, combined with the sheer coincidence of the local village being called ‘Drewsteignton’ led Julius Drewe to commission his would be castle and construction began in 1911.
Char de Triomphe Portiere
For years, the portiere (deriving from the French word for ‘door’ and meaning door cover) hung in the breezy corridor linking the entrance hall to the dining hall, drawing room, and the rest of the house. Dusty and grimy, little was thought of the hanging, which acted as a decorative piece for decades, rather than hiding any hidden doorways!
Little was thought of the Char de Triomphe tapestry until an inventory was taken of the house at the beginning of some major renovations works (the kind of works which are still continuing on to this day!) At this point, it was discovered that the tapestry was created in 1693 and was most likely created by the Gobelins factory of Paris.
A grand and beautiful piece dedicated to celebrating Louis XIV’s military victories, it’s believed that during the French King’s reign, it hung in the Palace of Versailles. The design is by Charles Le Brun, who was the first painter for Louis XIV. Woven by hand, it would have taken six people several years to create.
Julius Drewe acquired the Char de Triomphe Portiere when he bought the Wadhurst House, Sussex and all of its estate from a Spanish banking family whom had gone bust. Quite how it ended up in Sussex in the first place remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. Today, the tapestry is just one of a handful of this type surviving in the world. Restoration of the tapestry took place over the period of five years and, during this time, the tapestry was mostly in Norfolk.
Other must-see locations and attractions at Castle Drogo
The rose garden: One of the more unusual features of the castle is that the gardens are hidden from the house itself by several well-placed and positioned hedges. The lady of the house, Frances Drewe, so loved gardening that her portrait features the roses of Drogo. Today a sweet-smelling rose garden still flourishes in the castle grounds.
Incredible stonemasonry: The granite blocks you see at Castle Drogo today come from a local Dartmoor quarry which has since been closed. Throughout the castle, everything has been hand-hewn, carved. And no detail is too small. From the motto above the doorway to the battlements on the roof, really take the time to admire the work of some seriously skilled masons…
Fingle bridge, Plunge Pools & Salmon Leaps: The River Teign finds it source in the heart of Dartmoor and meanders its way through much of Devon, giving its name to several large settlements along the way; Teignmouth and Teigngrace to name but a couple. Fingle Bridge and the Victorian Plunge Pools make for a lovely walk, are free to visit, and you can even bring along your dog as well!