Sac Historic House Profile: Castle Drogo

castle drogo
©NTPL

Recently I spent a lot of hours on Ancestry.com, feverishly attacking the search function as I traced my family’s roots to England, Scotland and Ireland. I had heard great stories of our ancestors passed down through the generations “an Earl, or if not an Earl then definitely a peer…” or “he was a famous boxer, she was a well-known opera singer…” I guess we all want there to be some fabulous hero or heroine in our blood line. A forefather or mother we can call upon when days get a little bit hard. If great great grandmother could sail from Ireland to New York alone at 21 years-old, I can certainly get through waiting in line at the DMV.

So the timing was perfect when my friend at the UK National Trust told me about the last castle in England. Actually, it was the last castle built in England… by a man, who like me, was very interested in his ancestry.

When 19th-century import/export magnate Julius Drewe began researching his familial lines, he discovered a link to a Norman baron from the Crusades named Drogo – also known as Drewe – de Teine. So Julius had the fancy ancestor but was missing what every nobleman needs… an imposing castle.

Around 1910, Julius had amassed enough of a fortune to hire famed architect Edwin Lutyens. His instructions to Lutyens were to create a structure that would dominate its landscape and embody the key elements of a fortress that would have protected its original inhabitants from marauding invaders. Not a pastiche, he insisted, but an authentic and solid fortification. However, he wanted the inside to be the ultimate in modern living and convenience, a warm and welcoming home, with all the latest technology and comforts.

So Lutyens built an amazing castle, complete with a working portcullis, arrow slits and a flat, castellated roof. Very realistic, like something out of Robin Hood!

But Castle Drogo’s medieval-style flat roof quickly turned into a bit of a nightmare. Lutyens had attempted to seal the roof using asphalt, a relatively new and untested material for the time, but it was prone to cracks and before the building was even finished, it had begun to leak.

Drewe had also demanded that there were no modern windowsills or guttering. As a result the walls and windows also allowed water to penetrate the castle. Over the years, attempts to solve the leaking problems proved unsuccessful, but now, modern materials are available which can provide a permanent, impermeable solution.

If you are interested in helping the National Trust with their campaign to preserve the “last castle of England” or for more info, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/savedrogo.

Now, on to the photos! (all ©NTPL)

Castle Drogo exterior

castle drogo

castle drogo

castle drogo

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