Castle Drogo – a 20th Century granite masterpiece. Shame about the visitor centre….

On Sunday I went to Castle Drogo, which is just a few miles further on from Exeter in the SW of England.  Having joined the National Trust a month ago during my visit to the Lake District the first really warm weekend of the year gave us the excuse we needed. We had to start taking advantage of the fact that living here in Somerset we are within an hour of some of the most beautiful houses, gardens and coastline in Britain.

Castle Drogo is not just the last castle built in England;  it is possibly one of the last private homes to be built of granite and it is an imposing building, almost fortress like from the outside. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for Julius Drewe, retail tycoon and founder of the Home and Colonial Stores, it was actually built between 1910 and 1930. Drewe had discovered that he had as an ancestor a Norman baron named Drogo de Teigne and apparently determined to build a castle on the acres that had once belonged to the baron.

Although the outside appears strongly influenced by medieval design, inside the rooms are warm and comfortable and very much of their time. From the very beginning it was a castle with all the latest home comforts – central heating, electricity and lifts for example  – although poor Julius Drewe had only one year in the completed building before he died in 1930.

A visit to Castle Drogo is made even more memorable by the views of Dartmoor and the Teign Valley, above which it rises so imperiously. The Arts & Crafts inspired gardens and the acres of land around the castle offer fabulous walks and there really should be no cause for complaint. However, this post is really an excuse to sort through some of the photographs I took and have a little bit of a moan.

I know we expect a lovely tea room at NT properties and there has to be a shop to catch us on the way out. I understand that English Heritage required the industrial kitchen equipment to be moved from the castle so we have to be catered to elsewhere. However if you can find your way down past the pictures of one of the most wonderful buildings I have ever seen you will see the ‘Castle Drogo Visitor Centre’ which now sits squat next to the car park and through which you have to make your way before you can get on to the drive up to the Castle. Please feel free to disagree but I think Lutyens would be horrified.  Worse still, with the ‘state of the art’ centre only opened in 2009, the castle itself is in constant need of funds to prevent it falling into disrepair. How ironic.

(Nice to see even the NT can’t get rid of stains in the sink…)

Well here goes……..

What do you think? It is new and it will be screened by hedges eventually; it is also very environmentally sound. But although it did serve one of the best scones I have had in a tea shop I hate the thought that this is the first and last thing a visitor sees of Castle Drogo. Take a visit next time you are in Devon and make your own mind up…

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7 Responses to Castle Drogo – a 20th Century granite masterpiece. Shame about the visitor centre….

  1. Lisbeth says:

    HAHAHA how bizarre. That’s DIRE isn’t it?

    I had my university ball at Castle Drogo – I don’t remember anything except that I lost a shoe and caught the milk float home.

    I get angry every time I visit Hestercombe Gardens and wonder why on EARTH a building in the middle of a beautiful part of Somerset has modern tea rooms WITH NO VIEWS. Who on EARTH designed that? Idiots!

    • Jane Earthy says:

      There is nothing wrong with the tearooms at Hestercombe. They’ve made good use of existing buildings with a useful courtyard. There is plenty of time to admire the views as you saunter round, possibly taking time to pause at one of the many stunning viewpoints actually decided on when the garden was conceived. Maybe next time you should take a picnic instead if you get so angry.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    What a shame they couldn’t make the centre blend in a bit more with the overall surroundings. I imagine this is something they don’t teach managers in their business schools.

    I’m not a huge fan of the royals but I think that Charles’ discourse on ‘carbuncles’ and suchlike is beginning to make sense.

  3. Rod Miller says:

    I am with you on this one Suzie and (ahem!) it is rather a bandwagon of mine although I fall well short of Prince Charles’s zealous architectural evangelism. I have never been to Castle Drogo, but . . . this is an abomination – It is the product of lazy, arrogant, desensitised minds that have absolutely no right to claim a place in the design discipline. I hate it.

    The problem is that we, the people, the users, customers, taxpayers are also being desensitised to the ugly, inappropriate monstrosities. Not because we want to be but because we are being told there is no alternative. Rubbish!

    Since the ‘50s Taunton has been systematically destroyed by planners. County Hall must be just about the ugliest building outside Plymouth. Plymouth has a legitimate excuse for “expedient architecture”, Taunton as the “capital” of Somerset does not. Even when the planners had the chance to make a real difference, they mucked it up – Tesco (you know that small retail company with loads of money and shops everywhere) wanted to build a store in Taunton. Our planners reckoned it was ok for them to put up a crinkly tin warehouse. Strangely, the planners in Dorchester had the cohunes to tell Tesco exactly what they would allow. Dorchester has a lovely brick building with a clock tower and grotesques (gargoyles but without water). Our “state of the art” college bears a very close resemblance to Michael Eavis’s cow palace and the new farmers market at Sedgemoor. The much heralded Somerset Square brings to mind the dehumanising images of the stalag in Ivan Denisovich.

    Sorry for the rant but, why do we put up with it?

    • S Moore says:

      So, you would prefer your branch of tesco to be ornamented with fake clock towers and fibreglass statues? Really?
      I hope you have had a chance to reflect on that point of view in the past 6 years.

  4. Bill Urwin says:

    What I loved about the whole Drogo story is that it turned out that Drewe was not in fact related to the French ancestor and so the whole thing was a costly mistake.

  5. S Moore says:

    The visitor centre is bland. I can pay it no greater compliment, really.
    Apart from the usual poor acoustics, it was a nice place to drink a cup of tea and watch this birds scavenge crumbs from the tables outside.
    It is ironic, as you say, that the architect of the castle lacked the ability to design a building that would keep out the rain on a permanent basis.
    Firmitas, utilitas, venustas, as they say in Rome.

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