Drake’s Island goes on for sale for £6m

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

You’ll need a cool £6 million to take on this six-acre property off the coast of Plymouth, once used to defend against France and Spain.

Unfortunately, it’s not as yet a Caribbean-style paradise, thanks to its centuries-old derelict gun battery, former barracks, crumbling ablution blocks, commanding officer’s house and guardhouse.

However, the current owners of Drake’s Island hope a buyer will be drawn to the site’s huge potential as a luxury hotel and spa complex – for which there is planning permission. Former Plymouth Argyle owner Dan McCauley bought the island from the Crown in 1995 for £384,000. His son, Aidan, 48, said his dad described it as “the jewel in the crown of Plymouth.”

“We want to see the place come back to life. It has to come back to life,” he added.

In August this year it was reported that the development of a “stunning waterfront location entertaining the rich and famous” could finally begin after a marine licence was granted to enable the repair of the ageing jetty.

It said this work would clear the way for “experts to gain access and begin transforming the maritime jewel into a world-class spa complete with a high-end hotel, conference facilities and a posh restaurant with commanding views of Plymouth Sound.”

Formerly known as St Nicholas Island after a chapel there, it was used during the Tudor period, having been fortified from “at least the 16th century”, according to Plymouth City Council.

The first fortification was commissioned as part of the country’s maritime line of defence during the war with France, and strengthened in the late 1500s by the installation of guns and garrisons during the war with Spain.

It was named after Sir Francis Drake as he set sail from the island in 1577 to famously circumnavigate the globe.

Interestingly, two centuries later, Royal Museums Greenwich says, “the first recorded submarine fatality occurred north of Drake’s Island just two years after Captain Cook’s departure , when a carpenter named John Day died while testing a wooden diving chamber.”

Although regarded as a heritage site of national importance, with significant wildlife, the council last year gave the green light for a major resort complex. This includes conversion of the existing Grade II buildings and the Scheduled Ancient Monument casemated battery.

Drake’s Island’s website explains its plans include reusing the former Governor’s island house, barrack block and ablutions building “as the core for the hotel development.”

The barracks will be turned into a 25-room hotel, while the casemates will become luxury suites.
Michael Easton of JIL Property who have listed the sale said: “Its been vacant for around thirty years, we’ve had a lot of interest locally, nationally and enquiries from overseas.” He added, “It’s a unique site, we don’t tend see that kind of property every day.”

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