After years of planning and months of hard work the Castle Drogo hydroelectric system was officially opened (well technically re-opened) on Friday 20th October. Around 60 people attended the opening which saw our Building Surveyor, Wesley Key, open the sluice gates, cut the ribbon to the turbine house and switch on the turbines….. all this followed by an enormous cake!
The turbines were built in 1928 and originally switched on in 1929, prior to the Drewe family living full time at Castle Drogo. The two wall plate Gilkes turbines of 50kW and 16.5kW would generate power for the latest electrical devices and gadgets of which Julius Drewe was so fond (good man!). They ran until around 1994 when they were finally switched off in favour of mains power and due to damage to the large turbine.
Now, over 20 years later, we have re-furbished the original turbines, connected two new generators (generating AC rather than the original DC) and installed new control gear. The two new turbines together generate around 60kW and, unlike the original system, can run together.
One of the most common questions I now get asked is… can we have a look at the turbines? Well watch this space because we plan to run regular volunteer-led tours down to the plant throughout the year. We already have our first Hydro volunteers recruited!
It’s been wonderful to be part of such a brilliant project, our main contractors, a hydro company from Derby, have been just fantastic. It’s been very rewarding to see the old building in the woods, once mostly derelict, come back to life once more and of course, being useful means it will be preserved for generations to come.
With our re-furbished turbines and biomass boilers, Castle Drogo really is on its way to being the greenest castle in the land!
By Tom Wood, National Trust Area Ranger