Report on 15th March Castle Drogo talk

Whatever your thoughts about Castle Drogo, this informative and lively talk by Paula Clarke was enjoyed by a hall full of members. Those in attendance also had the benefit of witnessing our Annual General Meeting, chaired by John Risdon.

Paula is Castle Drogo’s Community Engagement Officer. She has been closely involved with the major work being carried out from the start, having previously been a volunteer there for a number of years.

Paula explained the background as to how Castle Drogo was conceived and constructed between 1911 and 1930. She covered how Julius Drew made his fortune with the Home and Colonial Stores; his visit to India to arrange to ship tea from there rather than China, directly into his own business, so with no middle men involved. This made Tea affordable to the masses for the first time. Dissatisfied with his life near London, he had his family history researched and came up with a somewhat tenuous link to a Norman Knight, who had owned the lands around what we know today as Castle Drogo.

Despite the best efforts of architect Lutyens, this Norman link played a major part in the subsequent water ingress. Due to Julius Drew’s insistence that it be constructed to Norman standards rather than current contemporary standards, the cavity wall was filled in! Other material issues led to further problems over time and the National Trust’s first effort at re-pointing with cement did nothing to help the worsening situation.

However, this has led to the most exciting time at Castle Drogo since its initial construction. They are undertaking a major building project to save this iconic place from the effects of the wind and rain in its exposed Dartmoor position.

Paula took us through the elements of problems with Walls, Windows and the Roof, explaining the issues and the solutions  – all of which were first trialled successfully on the SW facing Chapel.

They made the decision to stay open during this work with health and safety well in mind. This decision has proved successful with the numbers of visitors during this period. A key feature has been a ‘viewing tower’ built of scaffolding, allowing visitors to look down onto the roof under repair. As work has progressed this tower has been dismantled.

Paula has been promoting/advising this activity to a wide range of groups and organisations throughout the project and her personality and lively presentation made this a most enjoyable talk.