England was always known as a nation of shopkeepers. No one could quite decide whether this was a compliment or an insult. Having a shop never ranked very high on anyone’s list of career choices and certainly required very little in the way of ambition.
But, as in every generalisation there were exceptions. Margaret Thatcher comes to mind, although we would much rather she didn’t. She was definitely not content with her father’s corner store. She wanted the world, or at least the Falklands.
Julius Drew never comes to mind, but he would rather he did. Here was an English shopkeepeer with serious ambitions. He opened his first little corner grocery shop in Paddington in 1883. But he wanted more, so very much more. In just five short years he had shops all across England. He had created England’s first supermarket and made himself a sizeable fortune. At the age of 30 he was a self made millionaire. At the age of 40 he was a multi millionaire. But he still wanted more. He set his sights on becoming an aristocrat. He wanted to live the life of the landed gentry. Now, as ambitions go, that is right up my street.
But becoming an aristocrat takes more than ambition. One needs to be a descendant of an aristocratic family. Such a minor detail was not going to get in the way of Julius Drew. He discovered that there was a family in Devon with the name Drewe. The Drewes could trace their lineage back to the Norman Conquest, a noble aristocratic family indeed. Perfect! All Julius needed was to add an “e’ to his name, which he promptly did.
The newly minted Julius Drewe was now an aristocrat. Next step was to join the landed gentry. For this he needed land, and a lot of it. As luck would have it, and Julius was having a lot of it right now, there was a sizeable estate near Dartmoor in Devon that had just become available. It had enviable views, but to Julius Drewe at least, an even more enviable history. In Norman times the land had been owned by Baron Drogo de Teign, an infamous marauder and pillager. No doubt that appealed to Julius, but what really appealed was that he was one of the earliest members of the Drewe family. It couldn’t get much better than that. Julius snapped up the land and declared himself a descendant of the Baron, returning to claim the family estate.
The true Drewes (couldn’t resist that one) were not happy campers. They snubbed him whenever and wherever possible, but Julius was having too much fun to notice.
Now Julius needed a country home on the estate. And not any country home. It had to be something magnificent that would put him on the map. What he needed, he decided, was a castle. As one does! And with considerable help from the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, he built one.
Work started in 1911 and it took almost 20 years to build. Thanks to Julius’s considerable bank account and Sir Edwin Lutyen’s considerable skills the castle was built entirely of massive granite blocks, specifically quarried for the house. Remarkable for the period it was built without the use of a steel skeleton. Just granite blocks. And to make sure the world knew what a design feat that was, the granite blogs were left completley unadorned, both outside
Even on circular walls and granite arched ceilings
It was a masterpiece of engineering.
When looked at with today’s eye, the clean simple lines could easily be thought of as minimalist, modernist, or even part of the Bauhaus movement. All styles that were not to appear for some time. And yet, it is unmistakeably a castle.
Sadly, despite the price tag, it appears to have been done on the cheap. The National Trust has just spent the last 7 years and over £15million, redoing the roof and all the windows. An incredibly expensive undertaking that has finally made Julius’s home immune to both wind and rain. Because from the very first day the castle leaked – seriously. Apparently buckets catching water drips were a common sight throughout the castle. Sadly this was another prescient feature of the house, foretelling the many leaking problems Frank Lloyd Wright would have with the designs of his fabulous homes in America.
But a little damp here and there was not going to prevent Julius Drewe from enjoying his entry into the world of the landed gentry. His castle was built overlooking the Teign river valley and he could look out of his windows, or through his beautiful gardens and survey all that his money could buy.
Not bad for a shopkeeper
If he had a Fabulosity Meter it would be making a lot of noise.
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AND – I would just like to give a shout out to the National Trust. We have now gone to several National Trust properties (no other choice when you travel with Gordon) and the cafes and gift shops in every one of them have been adorned with rainbow flags and signs celebrating Gay Pride Month.
THANK YOU, NATIONAL TRUST, FOR CARING