It was built to defend the coast from invasion, was sold off as a private island, turned into a luxury hotel worthy of Dr. No, and was the site of strange business machinations that led to a property developer taking the only set of keys and barricading himself inside the island fortress.
Of the four forts constructed in the Solent straights to protect the shipyards at Portsmouth, No Man’s Land exemplifies the strange fates of “Palmerston’s Follies”, a series of mammoth fortifications built in Victorian times to defend the coast against perceived threats of invasion from France. The most expensive and extensive fortifications ever built in peacetime, the Palmerston Forts, which include No Man’s Land, Spitbank Fort, St. Helen’s Fort, and Horse Sand Fort, were outdated by the time they were completed. As a deterrent, perhaps they worked, for the French never did invade.
No Man’s Land was constructed over nearly 20 years for the not-small fortune of £462,500
Nearly 200 feet across, the cannon-laden armored artificial island was intended to host 80 troops and 49 cannons. The sunken center of the circular fort originally provided protection from the elements as well as a freshwater supply from a well dug into the seabed. Although it never saw action against the French, it served as a defense station against submarine attack in WWI and held anti-aircraft guns in WWII.
The fort was decommissioned in the 1950s and sold by the ministry of defense in 1963. In the 1990s it was transformed into a luxury hotel, replete with two helipads, 21 bedrooms, a roof garden, and restaurants. The lowered center was glassed in as an atrium for the heated pool. Unfortunately the remote hotel never really took off, and in 2004 the developer Harmesh Pooni bought for it £6 million, with the intention of renting it out for special occasions, perhaps evil henchmen’s conferences or doomsday device planning sessions. Unfortunately for Pooni’s plans, the contaminated water in the hotel pool caused an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, and his business went south as a result. In 2007 it was put up for sale for £4 million, but was not sold (although there were rumors that Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon was considering purchasing it as a hideaway).
Faced with financial troubles and the possibility of losing the island to creditors or new investors, Harmesh Pooni did the logical thing: he packed up his bags, grabbed the keys, and locked himself into the fortress. When he was interviewed in 2008, photos showed a marked decline in standards of the property: dead plants, dusty furniture, and a half-empty pool full of murky brown water. Mr. Pooni was finally evicted in early 2009.
Most recently No Man’s Land sold for the bargain price of £910,000 (just a little over twice what it cost to build 150 years ago - in un-adjusted pounds) in March 2009 to Swanmore Estates Ltd, who are based in Gibraltar. It is unclear what their plans for the fortress are, but they have renewed an application to build a floating breakwater and dock - as well as yet another helipad.
Update: Spring 2015
No Man’s Fort has just finished an extensive refurbishment and is now open as a events venue. The Fort is three times the size of Spitbank Fort and is hired out for corporate or large events. It has 22 huge bedroom suites, plus facilities including its own laser battle, sea golf, a hot house with fire pit, a large rooftop firepit, spa facilities, a cabaret bar, shops, and restaurants.
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