Sir Edwin Lutyens – the Devon connection

When Martin Lutyens last attended the castle to address staff and volunteers, he was asked if it was true that his great uncle had designed a small house near Haytor to accommodate the Drewe family whilst Drogo was being built. He replied that he had never heard of such a scheme. However, as a member of the audience, I was prompted to reflect on how many projects Sir Edwin had been involved in with a Devonshire connection. My researches were most interesting.

The great man’s first professional foray into the county seems to have been in 1909 to meet the Duke of Bedford at Tavistock. At the time, ‘garden cities’ were all the rage and the Duke was keen to explore the possibility of developing part of the Endsleigh estate into a garden city along the lines of Bourneville or Port Sunlight. The project petered out and one wonders if the beginning of the demise of the tin mining industry might have been a contributory reason. Lutyens, who was at his peak and much in demand, was soon occupied elsewhere in similar design work at Hampstead Garden Suburb. However, his visit to Tavistock was not entirely wasted since, whilst there, he was asked to design a house for a Major Gallie. The result, Little Court, is one of Sir Edwin’s smaller country house offerings and is today privately owned. Its location on the edge of the moor and its date of origin might well have been what triggered a rumour which in turn prompted the question to Martin Lutyens.

Soon after, the Castle Drogo project commenced, which ensured a 20 year plus connection with the county for Sir Edwin and the Drewe family.

In 1921, he was commissioned by Alfred Mildmay to add an extension to his country house at Mothercombe, near Plymstock. This was one of several extensions with which he was involved at the time in different parts of the country, including Penheale in Cornwall, and which were undertaken when he was at his busiest with work on war memorials and cemeteries, not to mention New Delhi.

Sir Edwin’s final work in Devon was in 1936 when he was commissioned by Torquay Corporation to build the Drum Inn at Cockington, Torquay. The town had recently purchased the Cockington estate from private owners and were anxious to exploit its tourist potential, hence the perceived need for a pub. It survives in its original state and thrives as a tourist destination and a wedding venue.

After the conclusion of World War 1, war memorials, which are again much to the forefront of our thoughts as we approach the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities, were in great demand. Lutyens was commissioned to design many; 49 in the UK, including Exeter, 9 overseas and at least 8 private memorials for favoured friends and clients. Additionally, he was asked by the Imperial War Graves Commission ( now renamed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) to be one of three supervisory architects to oversee the building and laying out of the many hundreds of cemeteries and memorials to the missing in Europe. He was principal architect for 136 , including the Dartmoor Cemetery, the Devonshire Cemetery and the Thiepval Memorial , all in the Somme region of France. The latter is the largest British war memorial in the world a model of which we have held at Drogo for several years.

The memorial to the Devonshire Regiment at the front of Exeter Cathedral was designed by Lutyens and unveiled in July 1921. The cross design used became known as the Lutyens cross and was used by him in several other towns in the UK. The site was chosen because the permanent home of the regiment was in Exeter and the Cathedral was the first place of worship in the county. Exeter was also where the 8th and 9th battalions of the regiment were created in September 1914 to accommodate the hundreds of those who volunteered some of whom may well have been from the Drogo workforce.

The Dartmoor Cemetery was started in 1915 as a casualty cemetery near the village of Becordel-Becourt on the Somme, whose name it was initially given. The name was changed later in 1915 to the Dartmoor Cemetery at the request of the 8th/9th Battalion of the Devonshires who were at that time manning that sector. 768 casualties are buried there, many of whom are Australians and New Zealanders and Lutyens was called upon to create the final post war layout.

On 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme, the men of the 8/9th went ‘over the top’, their objective being to take the village of Mametz. Within a few hours 160 of them were dead, a figure that is difficult to comprehend today. Later in the day their bodies were returned to the trench from which they had departed at the beginning of the assault. Uniquely the trench was then designated a cemetery. For this reason it became famous as a battlefield cemetery despite its relatively small size. 163 men are buried there, some of whom were never identified and Lutyens is attributed on the approval form as the principal architect.

At the risk of being frivolous, I draw to your attention an unfortunate connection between Castle Drogo and the Thiepval Memorial, which displays the carved names of the 72,099 missing during the battle of the Somme in which the Devonshires were heavily involved. The flat roof of Thiepval has twice needed extensive repairs since water ingression caused potentially major damage to the facing of the memorial. Repairs were undertaken in1952/3 and again in 1970.
Finally, an interesting statistic that I came across during my researches. The total cost to the War Graves Commission of all cemeteries and memorials completed in Belgium and France, well over 900 in total, was £8.15m. The cost of one day’s shelling during September 1918 as the war reached its conclusion was £3.75m. A salutary note on which to close; someone might like to convert these figures into today’s values.

Clive Smith O.B.E


UPDATE: Lottery funding boost for Fingle Woods, April 2014

The transformation of Fingle Woods by the Woodland Trust and National Trust has been boosted with initial support, including development funding of £64,900,from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), with plans in place to apply for a full grant at a later date.

The HLF grant will be used to carry out a number of ecological surveys of the wildlife on site, including butterflies, bats and birds, as well as an archaeological survey, which will allow the charities to understand how the landscape has developed over time.

The funding will also help the charities hold a public launch event in the summer, giving people the chance to offer suggestions on what they would like to see on site, as well as learn more about the charities’ long term plans.

David Rickwood, Woodland Trust site manager, said: “It’s a fantastic boost for all involved to receive this funding from the HLF, which will help us learn more about the rich history and wildlife associated with Fingle Woods.

“We’ve now raised £3m towards the acquisition and management of the site with incredible support both locally and nationally. Anyone who hasn’t yet donated can still make a real difference and help us restore these fantastic woods for the benefit of people and wildlife.”

Adrian Colston, General Manager at the National Trust on Dartmoor, added: “We are delighted that the HLF has funded our first round bid. Fingle Woods is huge, providing many opportunities and this funding will enable us to draw up plans which benefit the woods, their wildlife and archaeology. We will also be able to discuss our plans with the local community and other interest groups so that our plans for access and recreation are appropriate and fun.”

The two charities joined forces in August 2013 to purchase and restore the woods which straddle the Teign Valley, and recently opened 45km of previously inaccessible pathways on site, allowing visitors to explore routes closed for up to 10 years.

Around two-thirds of Fingle Woods is covered in damaged ancient woodland, planted with conifers, which the charities aim to restore by gradually thinning the conifers over many decades. This will allow native woodland to regenerate, increasing the habitat for species such as pied flycatcher, redstart, wood warbler and fritillary butterflies. Damaged ancient woodland makes up nearly half of the existing ancient woodland left in the UK, which is irreplaceable and covers just 2% of the landscape, with restoration being the only way to protect its long-term future.

To find out more information or donate to the Woodland Trust’s appeal visit

Fingle Woods- The most exciting thing to happen to the Teign valley Rangers since the Chocolate Hobnob!

As many of you may be aware, the National Trust, in combination with the Woodland trust have last year bought the section of woodland which once divided the castle Drogo estate from our Teign Valley woods holdings. This comprises around 830acres of broadleaf and conifer woodland and over 45km of tracks and pathways. This is also the first time the two charities have worked together on a project like this.
This is tremendously exciting for us as Rangers not only does it mean the woodlands are now “whole”, but it provides enormous potential for the future.
Much of the conifer woods are what are termed PAWS (Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site), and it the intention of both the NT and WT to restore these to broadleaf woodland, a long process that will take over a century. The potential for the new woods can be laid out as follows;

As we thin the conifer plantations, there will be much saleable timber, providing the funding needed to work the less profitable areas of the woodlands. We will also be able to supply plenty of biomass to the castle for the foreseeable future.

Some areas of the woods were not covered in conifers as they were too wet/steep/difficult to plant, these areas are potentially very rich in biodiversity which could spread into the rest of the woods as they are restored. Our biosurvey team visits soon to tell us what we have got.

With over 45km of tracks currently identified, the potential for walking, cycling, horseriding and even organised motorsport is huge.
The woods were opened for access from March this year, so what are we doing at the moment? We have waymarked a number of trails to allow people to explore the woods, we have created areas for carparking to give better access. We will shortly be installing new interpretation at the entry points to help people find their way around. We are working with groups of local volunteers to undertake rubbish clearance and start to expose some of the features of the woods. We are working with contractors to draw up plans to begin tree thinning operations next winter and to enable us to get the timber out easier.

There will be an official opening of some sort in the summer, so stay tuned, and in the meantime I recommend you get out and explore!


Tom Wood