Monthly Archives: June 2011

Concluding The Country House Revealed

          Dan Cruickshank’s The Country House Revealed finally came to a conclusion this Tuesday on BBC2. In his last two programmes, Cruickshank looked at Clandeboye, County Down, and Marshcourt, Hampshire; the first an example of the wider changing social order and economic structure of the country house, the second was the result of this change and the symbol of plutocracy.

          At Clandeboye we saw Cruickshank in his element with the surroundings as he flitted from room to room and enjoyed the company

Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava

W Magazine photo of the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava upon the Clandeboye estate (February 2009)

of its owner Lindy Guinness, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. An interesting woman and the very epitome of elite presence in the modern age. We learnt that Cruickshank had attended a social event at Clandeboye some 35 years earlier, but we were not permitted the full story as to what circumstances he attained the invite in the first place. As a result the often giggly moments shared by Cruickshank and the Marchioness were cloaked in mystique which was added to with flirtatious undertones often allowing the main themes to be ignored. The life study of a ‘French boy’ tucked away in a closet space set the pair into rosey-faced sniggers, but on the other hand it was a pleasant departure to the more formal and scholarly encounters Cruickshank had had with the people connected with his case studies.

          At Marshcourt, Cruickshank seemed more sober in his approach (despite a moment which saw him purposefully scrape his elbow along the chalk walls), and there seemed a looming presence resembling unfinished business or stunted happiness. Where Clandeboye had stood as a symbol of landed wealth in the nineteenth century and had seen the financial struggles of its then owner – Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and his climb up the ladder to elite success, Marshcourt represented the ‘last hurrah’ in country house building. Built for Herbert Johnson by Edwin Lutyens between 1901 and 1904, Marshcourt was created for a member of the new elite who had made money away from landownership. This country house was intended to be a retreat from city life, and a vision of its owners playful character. On several occasions Cruickshank made reference to Marshcourt or Herbert ‘Johnny’ Johnson and his circle as playful, wayward and vivacious.
          Having watched the last two episodes back to back, there was a sense that Cruickshank had covered most angles of country house building and development from the fifteenth century to the twentieth century. We had witnessed the establishment of the country house as a power base, as the self-sufficient estate and home of the landowner, as the shelter for the spoils of the Grand Tour and worldly travels, and as a symbol of private wealth. Dan Cruickshank had done this with just six houses not normally open to the general public. We had met with private owners; many of which had little or no link with the older families who had built these houses, but all had different visions for the future. All expressed their feelings of responsibility for the maintenance and ‘homeliness’ of these buildings and emphasised a desire to recreate or continue the heritage of that specific property.
          Yet, within the murky depths of internet writing and reviewing there lies a comment which argues for more interest to be shown inside the usual boundaries of the United Kingdom and Britain generally – more specifically Wales. This is true of this kind of history documentary but is probably a reflection on the interests and academic knowledge of those involved or those the tv producers wish to work with. Amanda Vickery’s latest installment At Home with the Georgians for example was based on her Behind Closed Doors book of 2009 which made England its main focus. Lucy Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk let her explore only a few aspects of domestic arrangements outside her own place of work – the Historic Royal Palaces. Of course, Wales has country houses and not just lots of castles; Erddig is a fantastic example of how an eighteenth and nineteenth-century house worked. It may be owned by the National Trust, but its more recent history proves that modern-day hopes of retrieving local heritage are always prevalent. But what about Hawarden Castle which is privately owned by the descendants of British Prime Minister William Gladstone? And did Cruickshank and his producers fear treading on the toes of Ruth Watson and her Country House Rescue  team if they were to explore the histories of Pen-Y-Lan or Plas Teg? The demolition of hundreds of Welsh country houses in the twentieth century leaving vastly smaller numbers than in England only suggests that Cruickshank and his team should have focussed on one all the more. At least in that respect it would have been a more rounded examination of the British country house.  

Front cover for The Country House Revealed (April 2011)

  Overall, this was an enjoyable series to watch. I have read some of the book, and admit I do not have a copy of my own at the moment. That Dan Cruickshank is sole author however is misleading since the book is probably better described as a compilation of articles from several academic minds. The elusive Jonathan Parker is one of the main researchers with additions from those more well-known in the field. But Dan Cruickshank is afterall an architectural historian who has travelled the world in order to highlight some of the grandest buildings other countries have to offer. He has also entered more humble dwellings and compared urban development with that of the rural setting. He would be the obvious choice of commentator to link with a glossy hardback and to front a programme such as The Country House Revealed.

          Perhaps what follows should be a ‘demolition’ of the country house and we could delve into the archives of those no longer standing but were equally important establishments in marking out a true ‘hidden history’ of our nation. There are many historians at work on this theme, so Dan Cruickshank, if you’re reading this……
Clandeboye website
The full article from W Magazine‘s interview with the Marchioness of Clandeboye, February 2009 (includes glossy pictures of the interior of Clandeboye)
For more indepth reading on the circumstances surrounding the building of Clandeboye see The Country Seat blog 
For the review mentioned in this text see the Reviews, Snippets and Articles section in the right-hand column here; ‘The Independent review of The Country House Revealed’.

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The Baronial Country House; Castle Drogo and Sir Edwin Lutyens

          I read about Castle Drogo, Devon a few times as a student of art history, but that was a long time ago. So when it came to visiting a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea what to expect. We arrived at what we considered to be a fairly early time in the day, but being the half-term holidays, the ticket office was already busy. I then made the mistake of not getting a guidebook and hoped I could stumble through without having to ask too many questions. However, first impressions were fantastic, even awe-inspiring as you walk towards the castle building and see it against the drama of Dartmoor.

Castle Drogo from afar (Copyright The National Trust)

          Considered to be the last castle in England, Castle Drogo, was built for one of the twentieth-century’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Julius Drew (1856-1931) who had made his fortune with the establishment of the Home and Colonial Stores. By enlisting the most sought-after architect of the period, Edwin Lutyens, Julius Drew was able to determine his vision of an historical dynasty through name as well as stone. The National Trust are guardians of this property and have made use of snappy sub-headings in their literature on the building such as ‘Inspired by History’, ‘Driven by Technology’, ‘The Aspiring Aristocrat’, and ‘Designed for Life’; all of which place Drew’s eagerness to exploit his family’s identity in the modern world. Castle Drogo was intended to reflect these notions of long-established nobility in a baronial style reminiscent of an ‘impregnable medieval fortress’ of the Norman Conquest. Its position near the River Teign in Devon is not a coincidence and Drew saw potential in reviving his ancestry and their possible connections with the area as seen through place names like Drewsteignton and a Norman baron called Drogo de Teign also known as Drewe de Teignton. Julius was to add an extra ‘e’ to the end of Drew in 1910, and so the founding of a ‘new’ ancestral home could begin.[1] Yet, for Julius Drewe to invite Lutyens to be his architect for Castle Drogo at this date was somewhat intriguing.

          Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) was a gifted architect who had acquired a great reputation for creating luxurious country houses in the vernacular style with hints of the Arts and Craft Movement and later, the Classical style. This meant using local materials to create houses that merged aesthetically and almost morally with the immediate landscape. His clients were the nouveau riches; those who had acquired money through industries such as manufacturing, and the exporting and importing of goods. The owners of this wealth wanted to assert themselves amongst the older families of the landed elite and aristocracy, and one way of doing this was to have the traditional symbol of that ancient breed – the country pile. This was also the era of a growing glamour and desire for domestic comfort. The nouveau riches like Drewe did not want to forsake luxury for status, but demanded all the modern conveniences and had their houses equipped with central heating, modern plumbing, electricity, telephones and efficient kitchens. Lutyens provided these, and did so with great flourish. His previous projects had included Munstead Wood, Surrey (1896), Goddards, Surrey (1900), Deanery Garden House, Berkshire (1901), and Marshcourt, Hampshire (completed in 1904). The latter is the focus of Dan Cruickshank’s The Country House Revealed, 14th June, 9pm BBC2. All of these evoked a quiet romance and warmth with their old bricks, heavy timber beams, dark panelled walls and deep porches.

          At Castle Drogo, the modern innovations were set to be a major part of the plan, but it was the use of heavy granite and baronial style which would contradict all that Lutyens had previously envisioned. Lutyens was said to be dazzled by the size and scope of the scheme, and Drewe’s instruction for a ‘real’ castle. The site chosen for the building was a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Teign with the only route for materials and supplies coming from the east. To reach the castle today, you have to negotiate narrow country lanes and steep curves. Lutyen decided to draw from his experience at Lindisfarne and Lambay Castle, both of which had been transformed into comfortable homes under his direction. Yet, the designs for Drogo went through three phases and grew more and more medieval under the influence of Julius Drewe’s vision. Eventually, Lutyens was to write to his own wife Emily declaring, ‘I do wish he didn’t want a castle, but just a delicious loveable house with plenty of large rooms in it’ (3rd August 1910).

          The exterior is built entirely of granite, with some walls reaching six feet in thickness. Its asymmetry exists as a tool to suggest its development over time, as if the building had evolved throughout the centuries with every generation making their mark on the plans and arrangement. Indeed, Drewe had wanted a barbican or gateway into the courtyard entrance, which was built as a mock-up in timber, but never realised in stone.

Castle Drogo

The timber mock-up for the barbican that was never realised (copyright The National Trust)

His medieval stronghold was soon to become a financial drain, and many of his own plans had to be abandoned. Against the wishes and architectural expertise of Lutyens, Drewe did however manage to incorporate specifics to the design which included a flat roof and no modern guttering or windowsills. The architect created a magnificent roofscape, but attempted to seal the roof with a comparatively new and untried material – asphalt. By 1913, rainwater was already coming through the cracked surfaces created by the contraction and expansion of the concrete underneath. The Dartmoor weather was making its presence felt. Today, there are damp patches throughout the building. This is most clear on the north side of the Green Corridor on the upper mezzanine level. That we visited on a day of torrential rain probably helped make this more obvious!

          Perhaps what makes Castle Drogo seem more needy than other country houses (and castles for that matter) is its swift experience as that of a home. With the Great War in 1914, progress slowed, and skilled workers quickly enlisted, but so large was the slaughter of men that almost none of them returned. The Drewe family lost their eldest son, Adrian in 1917, and with him went much of the dynastic plans and architectural ambition. The final building was a third of the size originally planned by Lutyens, and by the time it was completed it had cost three times its original estimate. It is still lived in today, but only on a temporary basis. Its leaky roof has proved more than a perennial problem and its more cosy apartments seem static and eerie. There is a small closet dedicated to the memory of Adrian Drewe created by his mother which at first sight feels out of place, but once you have left Castle Drogo, the room has the opposite effect. The house has missed the chance to mature and realise its place as that of establishing a dynasty. It stands as a snapshot of a way of life which was a mix of aspiration and independence, beaten by the changing social order, high estate valuations and wartime necessities.

[1] Julius Drew and his brother William sought a genealogist to help further their claims and discovered that there was indeed a link to an Edward Drewe, Recorder orLondon who had owned land in the area certainly as far back as the sixteenth century.


Castle Drogo. The National Trust, Guidebook (2009)

Olive Cook, The English Country House: An Art and a Way of Life (London, 1974)

Christopher Culpin, Learning from Country Houses. The National Trust (London, 1995)

Christopher Hussey, ‘Sir Edwin Lutyens, O.M, K.C.I.E., P.R.A.,’ Country Life, 14 January 1944.


The National Trust website for Castle Drogo

A BBC local report on Castle Drogo restoration, 2004

Castle Drogo on Wikipedia

The Heritage Trail entry on Castle Drogo

BBC Devon report February 2011, with links to other information

Short article on Castle Drogo from The Guardian

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