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