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Historic England Research Records

Drakes Island Fortifications

Hob Uid: 437587
Location :
City of Plymouth
Non Civil Parish
Grid Ref : SX4690052800
Summary : Drake's Island, known in medieval times as St Nicholas' Island, has been fortified since 1548 to safeguard the approaches to Plymouth. The first recorded fortification on the island is the conversion of St Michael's chapel into a bulwark and fort. The earliest remains are the base of a 16th century artillery tower, which formed the main defensive work until demolished in 1750-1779. The defences were improved in the late 16th century and early 17th century; the seawall dates from the 17th century or earlier. Most of the present coastal batteries date to the major alterations of 1862-1869, however two pre-Royal Commission gun emplacements are still present. By 1902 the island had four coastal batteries in place: Drake's Island Lower armed with three 12-pounder quick-firing (QF) guns; Drake's Island Casemate also armed with three 12-pounder QF guns; Drake's Island Main armed with two 6-inch breech-loading (BL) Mk. VII guns; and Drake's Island SE armed with seven 9-inch rifle muzzle-loading (RML) guns, which were removed soon after 1905. By 1918 two coast artillery searchlights had been sited on the island. By 1942 the 12-pounder guns had been removed and replaced with 6-pounder twin guns. In 1944 the 6-inch guns were reduced to care and maintenance, leaving only the anti-motor torpedo boat 6-pounder guns active. The 6-pounder guns were manned by 195 Battery of 566 Coast Regiment. The island was garrisoned until 1956. Drake's Island is a well-preserved complex of battery buildings and structures, although most of the remains date to the major alterations of 1862-1869 and the Second World War. Gun emplacements are in excellent condition and magazines clearly visible. Barracks and ancillary buildings are present and the coast artillery searchlights are in good condition.
More information : (SX 469528) Drake's or St Nicholas's Island (NAT). (1)

Drake's Island was known in Medieval times as St. Nicholas Island and has been fortified since the 15th century. Its defences were improved in the latter half of the 16th century by Sir Francis Drake and further improvements made circa 1859. The island was garrisoned until after the 1939-45 war and in 1964 was granted on a 99 year lease to the National Trust who are developing it as an Adventure Training Centre. (2-3)

The lower battery on the South-East side of the island is a granite casemated battery for 21 x 12-ton guns protected by iron shields. The upper battery was originally designed as a barbette battery to mount 5 x 23-ton rifled guns, but was modified for adaptation to the Moncrieff system. (4)

Drake's Island was first fortified in 1548-9 when a fort or castle replaced the chapel, followed by a perimeter wall in the 1570s. Grenville's map of 1586-8 shows 8 guns at various point around the island with a castle and enclosure mounting 2 guns. By the early 17th century barracks had been built with a parapet around its perimeter.

In the early 1700s 2 batteries of 14 and 19 guns were built, presumaly on the North and East sides, and probably near the waterline where the later 18th and 19th century batteries were placed. In 1716 Colonel Lilly recommeded various improvements to the defences. The plan of 1725 shows one battery and a number of platforms on the island, together with the old fort, barracks and a guardroom. In the 1750s and 1779-80 the defences were significantly modified. The old fort was demolished and new batteries created, including one for 22 guns.

The present defences owe their form to the Royal Commission proposals of 1860, when the lower casemated battey for 21 guns at the east end of the island, and the upper (main) battery was designed and implemented by 1869. The latter was sited above the casemated battery to fire over the guns of the casemated battery. The lower battery at the north end of the island had been built in 179-80 and was heavily modified in 1885 to mount six 80-pounders and two 64-pounders.There were further armament modifications in the 1890s and in 1903. The batteries were disarmed in 1956 and used for training until 1963 when it was sold to the national Trust.

The remains on the island are as follows:

The 16th century fort lies under the 6-inch battery of 1901, and on the North shore a polygonal structure may also date to that period.

There are few remains of the 18th century. The main upper battery was sited where the later main battery was built. Lengths of fortified walls around the coast probably also date from this period.

The casemated 21-gun battery of 1862 is in good condition.

The upper or main battery is largely intact but the 18th century lower battery was largely demolished or covered over when the later batteries were constructed. The 80-pounder emplacement on the south-west face is in good condition. Two of the three emplacements of the western QF battery of 1887 built on the earlier lower battery survive.

The eastern QF battery, built in 1901 above the casemated 21-gun battery to take 3 x 12-pounder QF guns, is in good condition .

The 6-inch BL battery built in 1901 in the centre of the island on the main battery of 1868-70 also survives intact. (5)

The Eastern Battery:

Coastal battery. Well-preserved complex of battery buildings and structures. Gun emplacements are in excellent condition, and magazines and CASLs clearly visible. Barrack buildings and other ancillary structures present. [information from 1999 aerial photographs].

DES=VIS=-/03/1993(PYE) EMPLACEMENT FOR TWIN 6-PDR QF GUN ON THE EASTERN SHORE OF DRAKE'S ISLAND TO COVER THE APPROACH TO THE DOCKYARD. CONSTRUCTED IN 1942. CONCRETE PARAPET, IRON RING GUN-MOUNTING, GUN PLATFORM AND GUN APRON STILL SURVIVE. THE MAGAZINES WERE PROBABLY SITUATED WITHIN THE 1860S CASEMATES (NOS 13-14) TO THE REAR AND THERE WAS AN OBSERVATION TOWER (NOW DEMOLISHED) ON THE ROOF OF NO. 14 (SX45SE/22/2) (PLYMOUTH FORTRESS SURVEY).

VIS=2/12/1977(MORLEY) DRAKE'S ISLAND. MORLEY MISINTERPRETS THIS AS EMPLACEMENT FOR HIGH ANGLE R.M.L. GUN. THE RAILS ON WHICH THE FEEDER TRUCK RAN ARE INTACT, FROM THE 1880'S. ONE WORLD WAR II ANTI-AIRCRAFT SHELTER ADDED WHEN EMPLACEMENT WAS MODIFIED TO TAKE A MORE MODERN GUN. THE MOUNTING OF THIS PROBABLY OBSCURES THE ORIGINAL GUN RING 0.3M DEEPER IN PIT (ANCIENT MONUMENTS).

VIS=MISINTERPRETED AS ONE OF THE TWO EMPLACEMENTS FOR TWELVE INCH RIFLED MUZZLE LOADING GUNS MADE BY ARMSTRONGS OF NEWCASTLE (GOODMAN).

VIS=TWIN 6-PDR GUNS ADDED IN 1942-3. GUNS STILL HERE IN 1946 (WOODWARD 1990).

VIS=-/-/1990 (ANCIENT MONUMENTS) ONE OF TWO WWII GUN EMPLACEMENTS (AM).

KEY=DEFENSIVESITE MODERN XX AIRRAIDSHELTER CRF:SX45SE/23 CRF:SX45SE/28 7/5/1982
WWII CRF:SX45SE/22/2 09/06/1994 CRF:SX45SE/730 17/06/1994
SCH=947(H)|12614

REF=GOODMAN, S./WESTERN MORNING NEWS(14/7/1981)/IN PARISH FILE
REF=OSA=SX45SE72
REF=HOGG, I.V./COASTAL DEFENCES OF ENGLAND AND WALES 1856-1956/(1974)186-7
REF=DES=ORACLE ADVERTISING/DRAKE'S ISLAND/(1989)/IN PARISH FILE
REF=WOODWARD, F.W./DRAKE'S ISLAND/(1991)FIG 12
REF=DES=PLYMOUTH FORTRESS SURVEY/ PYE,A./ (1993)/ COPY AND PLANS IN SMR
REF=WOODWARD,F.W./PLYMOUTHS DEFENCES/ (1990) 39
E shore of Drake's Island, Plymouth.DES=VIS=-/03/1993(PYE) (6)

Drake's Island located at SX 470 528. Drake's Island was first fortified during the mid-sixteenth century. By 1902 it had four batteries in place: Drake's Island Lower armed with three 12-pounder quick-firing (QF) guns; Drake's Island Casemate also armed with three 12-pounder QF guns; Drake's Island Main armed with two 6-inch breech-loading (BL) Mk. VII guns; and Drake's Island SE armed with seven 9-inch rifle muzzle-loading (RML) guns, which were removed soon after 1905. By 1918 two coast artillery searchlights had been sited on the island. By 1941 two of the 12-pounder guns had been removed from the armament, and in August 1942 two more 12-pounders were removed from Drake's Island and the remaining two replaced by 6-pounder twin guns. In 1944 the 6-inch guns were reduced to care and maintenance, leaving only the anti-motor torpedo boat 6-pounder guns active. The 6-pounder guns were manned by 195 Battery of 566 Coast Regiment, and the 6-inch guns by 159 Battery. (7-8)

Drake's Island is a well-preserved complex of battery buildings and structures. Emplacements are in excellent condition and magazines clearly visible. Barracks and ancillary buildings are present. The coast artillery searchlights are in good condition. (9)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1966
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Properties of the National Trust Jan 1973 57
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3
Source : Coast defences of England and Wales, 1856-1956
Source details :
Page(s) : 186-7
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 4
Source : Fort : the international journal of fortification and military architecture
Source details :
Page(s) : 94
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 11, 1983
Source Number : 5
Source : The historic defences of Plymouth
Source details : Plans and photographs
Page(s) : 139-149
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 6
Source : Migrated Defence of Britain Project database record originally compiled from various sources
Source details : The two databases developed by the Project can be searched on-line through the Archaeology Data Service at http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/specColl/dob/index.cfm
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 7
Source : Twentieth century fortifications in England. Volume 6.1. Coast Artillery, 1900-1956
Source details :
Page(s) : 181-189
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 6.1
Source Number : 8
Source : Twentieth century fortifications in England. Volume 6.2. Coast Artillery, 1900-1956
Source details :
Page(s) : 277,282
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 6.2
Source Number : 9
Source : Twentieth century military recording project: World War Two Coastal Batteries
Source details :
Page(s) : 65
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Fortified 1548-9
Monument End Date : 1549
Monument Start Date : 1548
Monument Type : Artillery Castle
Evidence : Extant Building, Structure
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Late C16 improvements
Monument End Date : 1599
Monument Start Date : 1567
Monument Type : Coastal Battery, Artillery Fort
Evidence : Extant Building, Structure
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Altered 1716-25
Monument End Date : 1725
Monument Start Date : 1716
Monument Type : Coastal Battery, Artillery Fort
Evidence : Structure, Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Modified 1750-80
Monument End Date : 1780
Monument Start Date : 1750
Monument Type : Coastal Battery
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Structure
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Major alterations 1862-9
Monument End Date : 1869
Monument Start Date : 1862
Monument Type : Coastal Battery
Evidence : Structure
Monument Period Name : First World War
Display Date : First World War
Monument End Date : 1918
Monument Start Date : 1914
Monument Type : Coastal Battery, Gun Emplacement, Coast Artillery Searchlight
Evidence : Structure, Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Mid 20th Century
Display Date : Disarmed 1956
Monument End Date : 1956
Monument Start Date : 1956
Monument Type : Coastal Battery, Gun Emplacement
Evidence : Structure, Extant Building
Monument Period Name : Second World War
Display Date : Second World War
Monument End Date : 1945
Monument Start Date : 1939
Monument Type : Coastal Battery, Gun Emplacement, Coast Artillery Searchlight
Evidence : Structure, Extant Building

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DV 947
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 12614
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : NBR Index Number
External Cross Reference Number : 97258
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : DoB Anti Invasion Database UID
External Cross Reference Number : S0015040
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SX 45 SE 72
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 1187775
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1187781
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1188355
Relationship type :
Associated Monuments : 1188360
Relationship type :

Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, PLYMOUTH DEFENCES SURVEY
Activity type : MANAGEMENT SURVEY
Start Date : 1991-01-01
End Date : 1995-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, THE DEFENCE OF BRITAIN PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1995-04-01
End Date : 2002-03-01
Associated Activities : Primary, DRAKE'S ISLAND, PLYMOUTH SOUND
Activity type : DESK BASED ASSESSMENT
Start Date : 1999-01-01
End Date : 1999-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, LANDSCAPES OF WAR RECORDING PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 2008-01-01
End Date : 2009-12-31