Following nine years of major conservation work, the National Trust’s ambitious project to save Castle Drogo, one of the country’s most iconic buildings, is complete.
Castle Drogo is the last castle to have been built in Britain, between 1911 and 1931, by the renowned architect Edwin Lutyens. It was built for Julius Drewe, a food retailing magnate, whose dream was to create an imposing ancestral home situated on a granite outcrop overlooking Dartmoor that would appear to have existed for hundreds of years.
However, the castle had suffered major structural problems ever since its completion which resulted in serious leaks and water penetration throughout the building.
In 2011 the National Trust launched a successful fundraising appeal to secure its future and work to repair the massive flat roof structure, using cutting-edge materials to make it permanently watertight, commenced in 2013.
The repair of the castle presented a major challenge which cost a total of £15.5 million and took almost nine years. In order to install the new roof system, over 3000 granite blocks weighing anything up to 1.4 tonnes have been removed and then returned. Some 913 windows containing over 13,000 panes have been refurbished to stop them leaking and over 60,000 metres of pointing have been replaced.
The National Trust said the repairs would not have been possible without the massive support of the public and individual donors who raised over £800,000 to support the project alongside funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Interreg, the Department of Culture Media and Sport through the Culture Recovery Fund and others .
Tim Cambourne, National Trust Project Manager said: “The distinctive nature of the original construction and design at Castle Drogo required a unique solution to deal with the fabric issues.
We have now installed a high-tech roof system over an area roughly equivalent to two football pitches. A new two-layer membrane, designed to cope with the extremes of weather experienced on Dartmoor, now works alongside newly designed roof gullies to accommodate the heavy Dartmoor rainfall, protecting the castle from water damage.
This, alongside the work that’s taken place to repoint the entire building and refurbish all 913 windows, represents conservation work on a monumental scale.”
During a conservation project of such enormous scale and complexity, there have been plenty of surprises thrown at the project team who have had to overcome a variety of construction-related issues and the very special kind of weather, only experienced in a location as high and as exposed as at Castle Drogo.
Indoors the house and conservation team have completed the mammoth task of cleaning, putting carpets and blinds back and, most importantly, uncovering the collection to return the castle to a family home and bring to life the Lutyens-designed masterpiece, as well as the lives of the Drewe family who it was created for.
Ben Dale, Collections and House Manager at Castle Drogo said, “Reaching the end of this landmark project has given us the opportunity to open previously unseen areas inside the castle and re-display the whole interior in line with historic decorative schemes. It’s wonderful to see the castle looking its best and we’re looking forward to an exciting programme of conservation and curation over the next few years.”
Heather Kay, General Manager at Castle Drogo said: “This has been a huge undertaking and marking the project's completion is a moment to celebrate the dedication and commitment of all involved. The castle is regarded as a masterpiece of 20th century architecture and its future has now been secured.”
Heather continued: “Castle Drogo is a special place for visitors as well as so many from the local community. It is a place where people not only explore the castle and formal garden but also enjoy walking on the wider estate and spending time with their families. We’d like to thank all the supporters and donors who helped to ensure this striking landmark remains a feature of the Dartmoor landscape.”
The castle is open daily until 30 October 2022.
For more information visit: nationaltrust.org.uk/castle-drogo