Monday, 29 December 2014

Castle Drogo: Englands Last Castle

 Castle Drogo stands on a granite outcrop on the edge of Dartmoor, and from a distance the stonework seems so perfect that you will be forgiven for thinking that it has been crafted by a child out of granite coloured lego bricks. But Castle Drogo is a real castle, its walls are nearly six feet thick, it has battlements and working portcullis. 

However, unlike the hundreds of castles built in Britain, this is one that has never had to endure an attack or a siege.

This twentieth century castle was named after one Drogo de Teigne who is thought, by the castles original owners, the Drewe family, to have been a Norman baron and their ancestor. 

The Drewe families time at this West Country castle began in 1911 when the building work began. Julius Drewe was a young and wealthy grocery tycoon and the original owner of Castle Drogo, his fortune was made through his Home & Colonial Stores. The first store arrived on our English high streets in 1883 and the last in 1903. Within those twenty years Drewe built up a chain of over five hundred stores. 

The story of the Drewes and Castle Drogo begins with a cousin who was the rector of the Parish of Drewsteignton with whom Julius had stayed on occasions. The fact name of the village was a similar name to his own did not go unnoticed and he soon became convinced that it was here, in this little piece of England, that his ancestors lived, the search of proof of this was soon underway. A link to Drewe family in Elizabethan Devon and a knight in the court of King Charles I was soon found and this convinced Julius Drewe to build a new country home on the lands of his ancestors that matched his place in society, it was at this point that he decided that a castle would be a perfect way to add weight to his newly found social status.

 The castle was was completed only eight decades ago in 1931 and designed by architect Edwin Lutyens. Julius Drewe's castle was designed to appear as though it was rising from the cliff face, as if it had grown 'organically over the centuries.' The building of Castle Drogo began in 1911, but the labour shortage due to the First World War saw the work on Drewes dream home come to a halt and the death of his son Adrian in 1917 from a mustard gas attack in Ypres France saw the end of his dream. 

Since then the castle has been in much need of repair, the main problem area is the brickwork which has been severely damaged, the result of water pouring in from the original badly built roof.  In 1974 Castle Drogo was given to the National Trust. It has also been given a Grade I listed building status and is presently in its second year of a 5 year conservation project to protect the castle from more water damage. 

So was Julius's family of Norman origin or was he, as historians suggest, just a wealthy man with the desire to move up the social ladder with the money and the means to make it happen. Putting all the facts together it looks unlikely. The letter E was added to the family name in the same year work began on Castle Drogo when the information about the Drewe family of Devon was discovered.  The  Domesday Book has Drewsteignton as Taintone meaning a village by the Taine and by the thirteenth century it was known as Teyngton Drue which derives its name from a local landowner Drewe de Teignton which could, if you wanted it to be, a link to a Drogo de Teigne.
I have much sympathy for Julius, why is it we scoff at men like him? 
Why do we say they have "ideas above their station" or " they are trying to be someone they are not." 
Don't some of us look back through history in the hope of finding a solid connection to our past, a something, a anything to attach ourselves too in a fragile world that we are unsure of? I certainly do. Don't we all look in estate agents window and gaze in wonderment at those big houses with even bigger gardens and hope one day that we too might be living in one.

That is all Julius Drewe did, but what we English don't like is the fact that he had the money to be able to do it.