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No.12 : Castle Drogo, Devon

issue 41 Feb / Mar 2008

This time around, Dominic Meyrick bores his children with a castle in Devon

Tagged with the evocative epithet; ‘The last castle to be built in England’, Castle Drogo is an austere and monumental building located above the Teign Gorge within Dartmoor National Park in Devon. It is situated at a height of 300 metres which results in dramatic views and exposure to extreme weather conditions.
It was designed by the renowned British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens as a country house for entrepreneur Julius Drewe. After researching his ancestry, he began a relationship with the norman baron, Drogo de Teign from whom he discovered he was a descendant. He began plans for a contemporary mock castle to reflect his grand line and chose the site at Drewsteignton in Devon as its location. Lutyens, better known for his inspired memorials, and elaborate restoration of stately homes, accepted the commission but remained unconvinced about Drewe’s ideas for a modern ‘medieval’ castle. The original plans show the ambition of the commission. Combined with the First World War labour shortage and the realisation that the rooms were to be far too large for practical living, the castle was scaled down from an original design that would have been around three times the size. The foundation stone was laid in 1911 and after many amendments to the original design, the house was finally completed in 1931, the year that Julius Drewe died.
The building is made entirely from granite with every block specially quarried and then laid by two masons. After a twenty year construction period, the finished house resembles both a Medieval and a Tudor castle. It is stark and unornamented on the outside and similarly austere within. There is a working portcullis and turrets but the defensive characteristics are merely decorative.
Due to its situation, the castle has unblocked access to daylight and Lutyens harnessed this throughout the building. The castle is an excellent study in daylight design with small windows cunning placed where least expected to tap in to the natural resources of the location.
Grand mullioned and transomed windows light the higher status family rooms and smaller, deep set windows are used to for the servant’s rooms. There is great attention to detail with examples of daylighting even in areas such as the scullery which has stone pillars supporting a vaulted ceiling, with daylight from lunettes above.
The corridor connecting the entrance hall, main stairs and drawing room is a cleverly designed sequence of arches, with a shallow dome and leading into the main staircase. Here the stairs are lit by a huge window, whose many lights are divided by stone mullions and transoms in decreasing proportion towards the top.
The abundance of daylight penetration into the building creates a sense of spaciousness at odds with such a solid construction.
The Castle was gifted to the National Trust in 1974 and was the first 20th Century building that the Trust acquired. It has a Grade 1 listed status due to the quality of its construction and also the addition of a formal garden designed by Lutyens with planting by Gertrude Jekyll.

“On holiday this year my family and I went to see this fantastic castle. As we wandered around I was taken aback by the sheer brilliance of the daylight coming into the rooms, halls and corridors. Here was true daylight design from a master craftsman. As you walked through corridors on every level small glazed slots are positioned, not for views, but to allow small but vital amounts of natural light to penetrate into every corner of this solid granite building. The slate, all the way from Aberdeen, does exactly the same internally as the material does externally in Scotland, it absorbs and reflects the natural daylight and sunlight creating incredibly light and open spaces... I wandered around in amazement and not a daylight factor in site. My kids thought I was VERY sad!!”
Dominic Meyrick,
Principal Lighting Designer, Hoare Lea 



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