Drogo, Britain's youngest castle, faces a battle for survival

Julius Drewe was just 33 when he decided to cash in and spend the rest of his life playing the country squire. The year was 1889 and Drewe's astonishing success from relatively humble origins marked him out as the prototype for generations of self-made retail tycoons to follow, from Jack Cohen to Philip Green.

But the young magnate's enduring legacy was not to be the chain of Home and Colonial Stores which he founded. Instead, it was the granite fortress completed 40 years later which he built for himself and his family from the vast wealth accrued servicing Britain's love affair with the cup of tea.

Drogo Castle, the last castle to be built in Britain and an epic fantasia blending Norman and Tudor styles, was conceived and executed on the edge of Dartmoor near Exeter by the most celebrated architect of the age, Sir Edwin Lutyens.

But today, the future of what is considered one of the most important and grandest private dwellings built in the 20th century is under threat. The owner, the National Trust, is trying to raise £1.5m through a national public appeal to reverse the ravages of the years. Drogo, named after a Norman nobleman Drewe believed to be his forebear, has suffered severe deterioration.

Water has penetrated the exterior fabric of the building and deep into its 12ft-thick walls and the leaks have wrought havoc to parts of the interior. Conservationists need the money urgently to replace Lutyens' huge flat-roof structure with new materials to make it permanently watertight. That means builders must remove 2,355 granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes, and 900 windows containing 13,000 panes will require refurbishment. To prevent further water damage, a total of 60km of crumbling exterior pointing must be replaced.

Adrian Colston, Dartmoor general manager for the National Trust, said the rescue effort would involve local people and provide opportunities for learning new skills such as masonry, joinery and furniture-making. Volunteers would also be recruited for the £11m project which will include new educational and exhibition spaces.

It is hoped the balance of the cost will be met by other funding bodies, including a £2.5m application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. Mr Colston said: "The castle is regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture. This is our last chance for Castle Drogo and we urge our supporters across the country to help us raise the money we need to ensure its survival."

Building had begun in 1911 but was not completed until 1930. Unfortunately, its creator died in 1931, only briefly enjoying its magisterial views and the ministrations of its 23 staff. Drogo was designed to look as if it had stood in the ancient landscape for centuries. Construction was interrupted by the First World War which robbed Drewe not just of two-thirds of his workforce but also his eldest son and intended successor Adrian. Second-born Basil lived at the 600-acre property until 1974 when he died and the family seat became the first 20th-century property to be turned over to the Trust.

The cost of building was £60,000, equivalent to about £30m today. Drewe had built his fortune by spotting a unique business opportunity. The son of a clergyman, he was apprenticed to his uncle in the tea trade and spent time in the Far East as a buyer. This experience persuaded him, aged 22, to import his supplies direct not from the traditional middlemen in China but from plantations in India.

He established his first shop in Liverpool in 1878 and then London's Edgware Road five years later. By 1903, when Drewe and his partner John Musker had sold most of their stake, the chain had 500 shops. The Home and Colonial brand was a fixture of the high street until 1961 when the loss of empire rendered the name out of date. Relaunched as Allied Suppliers it was bought by Sir James Goldsmith but was later acquired by Argyll Foods which in turn became Safeway.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions