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Two Historic Naval Fortresses Auctioned Off for $1.3M Each

No Man's Fort Clarenco
No Man's Fort (Clarenco)

Published Jun 20, 2024 9:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two of the world's most remarkable maritime properties have sold at auction in the UK for about $1.3 million apiece - roughly a fifth of the price that it reportedly cost the previous owner to buy and refurbish them. Spitbank Fort and No Man's Fort, which once guarded the entrance to the Royal Navy's largest base, now belong to a new (undisclosed) buyer after several years of vacancy.

The forts date back to the 1870s, when Britain feared a French attack on the strategic dockyards at Portsmouth. Four  "Palmerston Forts" were constructed to ward off this threat: constructed out of solid granite blocks and reinforced with steel plate, they were fitted out with 12-inch guns to fight off the warships of the era. No Man's Land fort was one of two larger installations, and it cost about $500,000 to build (not counting inflation). Spitbank was smaller, about a third of the size of its bigger brothers.

Over the years, the forts were upgraded and retrofitted as the Royal Navy's needs required. They were in service and manned throughout World War I and World War II, and were never attacked. With the advent of antiship missiles in the early years of the Cold War, the UK decided that its coastal artillery batteries were no longer needed, and it closed all of the forts down. 

The sites were eventually auctioned off to private buyers. In 2012, three of them were acquired by Clarenco, a developer of novel and unusual hotel properties. At considerable cost, No Man's Fort and Spitbank For were refitted as luxury retreats for conferences, weddings and hotel stays. However, these miniature resorts were forced to close during the pandemic, shuttered by social distancing restrictions. 

In 2020, Clarenco put up No Man's Fort and Spitbank for sale. They remained unsold and on the market until earlier this year, when the owner decided to put them up for auction. The guide price was set for about $1.3 million, and the final bids came in at approximately the same amount. 

Spitbank Fort, with Portsmouth in the background (Clarenco)

Spitbank Fort (Amanda Retreats / CC BY SA 3.0)

The new owner now holds two designated historical sites in the middle of the Solent, about two miles offshore. Their future is as-yet unknown, but they are permitted for either commercial hotel or private residential operation. These are large and unusual properties: No Man's Land has four levels and nearly 100,000 square feet of interior space, and has been fitted out with bars, restaurants, dining rooms, a sauna, a library, a laser-tag arena, a lighthouse, luxurious common spaces, and 23 en suite bedrooms, all fortified to resist cannonfire. It has its own generators, sewage treatment plant and an artesian freshwater well.

Spitbank is smaller, but has charm of its own. It has three floors totaling 33,00 square feet, and a red brick interior with vaulted ceilings. Amenities include nine guest suites, a restaurant, sauna, hot pool, fire pit, crow's nest and a wine cave. It too has generators and a freshwater well.