Roofscape and landscape

Treasure Hunt

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds ©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

When you have a big roof that leaks, you have a big problem.

©National Trust/Steve Heywood ©National Trust/Steve Heywood

At Castle Drogo the roof has never really been watertight since the castle was built by Sir Edwin Lutyens for grocery magnate Julius Drewe between 1910 and 1927. But then they do say that all great architecture leaks…

©Lobster Vision ©Lobster Vision

Following intermittent repairs over the years, the National Trust has now initiated a five-year project, with major support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to finally sort out the problems with the Drogo roof.

©National Trust ©National Trust

A huge and almost Piranesian scaffolding structure has been erected to provide access and protection for the contractors.

©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds ©National Trust/Lucy Reynolds

A two-layer membrane designed by Bauder will be introduced to cope with the extreme temperature fluctuations and heavy rainfall of the Dartmoor area. This will involve the removal and reinstatement of 2,355 separate granite…

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1913 – A year in the life of Sir Edwin Lutyens

As we progress further into 2014 and look back on 2013, perhaps the most dramatic year in the history of Castle Drogo since its completion, let us reflect on what was happening in Sir Edwin’s life 100 years ago.

The media and historians have been focused for some time on 1914 and the outbreak of WW1, and 1913 has largely been overlooked. Yet it was a significant year in the history of Britain, perhaps marking the beginning of the end of Empire as well as loss of pre-eminence as a world power.  Being British was still very special and those who lived then were blissfully unaware that war was about to shatter or at least affect the lives of everyone in the country. The summer was one of the best ever recorded and is often referred to by historians as the Golden Summer of 1913.

Lutyens was at the height of his fame. Appointed to the Delhi Planning Commission in 1912, he was in India for the four months up to mid April 1913. On his return to England he learnt of his election to membership of the Royal Academy, an honour many thought long overdue, the delay probably the result of jealousy on the part of his peers at his incredible success, given his lack of formal training. There was much catching up to do with his many clients and outstanding projects. He quickly visited Lambay, Howth and Dublin in Ireland. Then Barrow in Furness to choose a site for a guest house for the Vickers Armstrong Company. There followed visits and designs for the reconstruction of offices in Nottingham for Imperial Tobacco and a house in Derbyshire for the chairman William Player. He checked on the progress of the HQ to the Theosophical Society in London; The Salutation in Kent; Castle Drogo and extensions at Roehampton and Great Dixter.

Unable to accommodate the sheer volume of work associated with the Delhi project at his existing premises, he also supervised the setting up of his new dedicated Delhi office at Apple Tree Yard, London SW1. Much liaison was undertaken with his partner architect, South African based Sir Norman Baker, other members of the Delhi Commission, and the Viceroy of India; all at a time when communication was almost entirely by letter.

There must also have been domestic pressures given his wife’s sympathies for the suffragette movement at its height following the death of Emily Davison at Epsom racecourse in June.

His frantic year continued into November when he again sailed for India, remaining there until 1914. Little did he know that in the next few years he would find difficulty in obtaining any new commissions other than to design war memorials.

Clive Smith


An Edwardian Grand Designer: A Time Team special

Don’t miss us this Sunday on Channel 4 at 8.00pm for a Time Team special. Tony Robinson came to visit us to go behind the scenes of our building project and explore the life and works of its architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Lutyens is considered to have built some of the greatest monuments of the British Empire. His commissions were extremely varied from private houses such as Castle Drogo in Devon to his work as chief architect in the new capital city of New Delhi. There he designed the Viceroy’s House (now the official residence of the President of India) and Baroda House.

Perhaps Lutyens is most famous for his work with the Imperial War Graves Commission which includes the Cenotaph in Whitehall and Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

The programme explores Lutyens work and includes contributions from Phil Harding and Grand Designers presenter Kevin McCloud.

A year in the life of a Castle Drogo volunteer

We both retired in August 2012 and agreed that we would wait a full year before we got involved in anything…………. and so six months later we found ourselves volunteers at Castle Drogo!

On reflection, it may have been inevitable. I grew up in Plymouth and discovered the Teign Gorge as a child in the 1950’s , when my father eventually got a car (North Dartmoor would have been a long cycle ride from home.) Later in 1960 I was at Scout camp in Whiddon Park and saw the Castle looming high above. Later again as a student, I was studying Lutyens, and made the pilgrimage to look around the Castle the year it opened in 1974, camping at Fingle Bridge. This pilgrimage extended to the Drewe Arms when Mabel Mudge presided over the only little bar on the left of the door. Much much later, downsizing to buy a tiny second home in Chagford in 2004, we found ourselves visiting the Castle regularly when friends and family came to stay. With all those visits we became extremely familiar with Drogo, its architecture, contents and story.

And so, earlier this year we came along to find out what it is all about ……and signed up there and then! The phrase ‘press ganged’ never entered our heads! Ali elected for Visitor Reception and I dithered around so became a Room Guide.

The team on VR are a ‘jolly crew’ and thus Ali was kindly let into the deep end quite quickly gaining skills in dealing with the cheerful, and the slightly more demanding, visitors. Buggy driving was taught by one of the ‘would be’ Jensen Buttons and it is now a fight to get a go in the driving seat. Fortunately discerning clientele demand a lady driver.

Meanwhile I found myself shadowing in rooms and trying to remember what the message in each was all about. Gradually some light dawned, I was let loose and the temperature inside rose to survival levels. Visitor numbers started to increase, with some quite hectic days in school holidays (bless their little cotton socks) but with too many visitors to properly explain things to. (The mysteries of rotas still elude me and I just wait to be sent to lunch or tea.)

One deviation was volunteering for car park duty on Easter Monday, a day when a cruel North West wind brought freezing temperatures to the elevated plateau which rapidly overfilled.

I went on the tour guide courses and then shadowed some very experienced guides as back up. Eventually on one tour the kindly guide suggested that I did the second tour in the afternoon. Well, that came as a shock, but with that kind backup I struggled through. Did any of the visitors spot the shaking hand and quaking voice? Since then I have completed a further number of tours, again with kindly back up.

We’ve managed just one walk with the Drogo Walkers, it would be more but family and visitors intrude.

Our first year is coming towards it’s close. Crikey…………!! On reflection we have enjoyed our first year very very much, the friendliness of all of the staff and volunteers is quite wonderful, and we look forward to more years supporting Castle Drogo and the Trust.

Alan and Alison Deacon

If you would like to find out about the latest volunteer opportunities, please contact Laurence Harvey 01647 434114,