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The hydro turbine at Castle Drogo

Equipment inside the turbine house at Castle Drogo, Devon
Inside the turbine house at Castle Drogo | © National Trust Images / John Millar

Hydroelectric power produced using the force of the Teign Gorge was introduced at Castle Drogo in 1927. Visitors can discover more about this greener energy source at the castle and how it came to be built here. Find out below how the machinery that generates the power fell into disrepair and the reasons it was restored to full working order.

Hydroelectric power at Castle Drogo

The story of hydroelectric power at Castle Drogo began in 1916. While Castle Drogo was being built, Julius Drewe wrote to Gilbert Gilkes and Co. to enquire whether it was possible to use energy from the River Teign.

Gilbert Gilkes and Co. were a well-established engineering company specialising in hydro-electricity generation and are still based in Kendal today and continue to supply the National Trust with turbines.

Close up of the levers and dials in the Switchroom at Castle Drogo, Devon
Dials in the Switchroom at Castle Drogo | © National Trust Images / John Millar

Installing the machinery

Work started in 1927 after Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the castle. Gilbert Gilkes and Co. were then able to install two turbines. By March 1929 the turbines were producing electricity that supplied the castle.

At this time there were 332 electrical plug sockets installed throughout the castle to power all of the gadgets in Julius Drewe’s thoroughly modern home.

The supply wasn’t always reliable, as one family member recalls, ‘when it was windy the power was unreliable and mother was never able to have a washing machine’.

Falling into disrepair

Over time the turbine house fell into disrepair. Other methods of receiving electricity through mains distribution from energy suppliers became increasingly popular across the country.

Restoring the turbine

As part of the National Trust’s aim to produce 50 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020, we've returned the building to its original purpose and reinstated the hydro scheme.

The majority of the original infrastructure was reusable. The two original Francis turbines were sensitively restored and the three feet diameter concrete pipe that takes the water from the river weir to the turbine house was in good condition.

Engineer Yvette Elliott works inside the Turbin House at Castle Drogo, Devon
Inside the Turbin House at Castle Drogo | © National Trust Images / John Millar

Protecting wildlife

The project also required the installation of new elements. These included an intake screening system to ensure that fish and eels cannot enter the turbine. A new cable has also been installed to bring the power directly to the visitor centre.

Renewable energy today

The turbine house is now generating electricity for the visitor centre and any excess is used to pre-heat water in the castle’s heating system reducing the amount of biomass needing to be burnt so there's no wastage of power.

As long as there's always sufficient water in the River Teign then power can be generated through this renewable resource.

The North Tower and bathroom wing from the outside at Castle Drogo, Devon

Discover more at Castle Drogo

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