Timber centring supporting the granite arch as the lantern is dismantled

View across the roof from the viewing platform

Cleaned stone before dismantling

Turning Castle Drogo Inside Out

By Bryher Mason, House and Collections Manager
and Tim Cambourne, Project Manager
The National Trust’s immense conservation project offers people
a new take on the castle’s history and a unique experience.
Update, November 2013

A spectacular scaffolding structure now shelters the southern end of Castle Drogo and the project is really starting to pick up pace. With all areas in this phase now accessible for the contractors, the rate of dismantling is clear to see every day. The focus of the work now is on taking down the masonry above roof level so the roof repairs and re-covering can commence.

The inappropriate cement pointing is being raked out by a team of stonemasons. The stone is then cleaned to remove microbiological growth and ensure we have spotless joints when the walls are rebuilt and re-pointed. Once the pointing is removed, the masonry is dismantled to enable the insertion of the waterproofing system.

One hundred and forty windows have been removed for repair so far. Each one is marked up and the openings protected with plywood. The windows are then taken apart and the lead cames replaced. The windows are rebuilt after the frames are cleaned and overhauled.

On the scaffold we have installed a viewing platform which stands 20m above the ground. The platform gives visitors with a head for heights a fantastic view across the roof and shows the work in progress. Volunteers explain to visitors exactly what
is happening. The feedback so far has been excellent: visitors have remarked on the scale and complexity of the work in hand. The masons can be seen raking out joints, cleaning the stone and dismantling the parapets.

Training opportunities
We are keen to provide training opportunities across the project and have had a Prince’s Trust trainee for six weeks as part of the masonry team. We have also developed links with Exeter College, with a view to their craft students getting work experience on site, and Plymouth University Building Surveying and Site Management students who will participate in the project as part of their studies. We are also looking to employ apprentices wherever possible.

What next?
The work will now rapidly pick up pace. The masonry team will continue with the cleaning, raking out and dismantling. Since the start of the New Year works to the roof coverings have begun. Scaffolding will go up inside the castle’s main stairs so the panes can be removed from the massive three-storey window on the east elevation and the masonry repaired.

Although we’re not yet half way through the present phase, our planning for the next one is already well in hand. During the winter, investigation works have been undertaken to understand the construction details on the north wing. This will mean that the repairs here can be specified for tendering. We also have to plan well ahead for winter 2014/15 when the scaffold on the south wing is due to come down, all the furniture and other objects inside the castle relocated again and the interpretation refreshed for the next phase of the project. This is a huge logistical effort that needs
a lot of careful thought and planning.

The castle remains open throughout the project, but what do our visitors get
to see?

Bryher Mason, House and Collections Manager, explains: “The story of the people who created the castle has been the inspiration for the new experience and the fabric of the building is taking centre-stage. Visitors are enjoying a unique opportunity to learn about the castle’s history. While exploring it, they encounter dramatic installations, which include some of the 8,000 letters written during construction by J C Walker, the tenacious Clerk of Works. Each letter provides a window into the past, revealing conversations, debates and dilemmas as the castle was being built. Large-scale reproductions of the plans also show Lutyens’s skill and dynamism as an architect”.

The Drogo team have also redisplayed some of the collection in the areas currently unaffected by the work to tell the story of the Drewe family. Conservation work will also be carried out in full view of our visitors in two rooms, newly open to the public. These rooms at the top of the castle offer the chance to enjoy the changing views down the Teign gorge. The whole project is being brought alive by the volunteer team who are presenting the castle in a completely new way.

A final word from one of our visitors…

‘As a regular visitor, I’m very impressed that the project makes it possible to see the architecture clearly, and the letters are a wonderful piece of social history.’

Please see our website for more information and opening times: