Millionaire's Lair--a Fort Complete With Lighthouse--for Sale


The ultimate millionaire's hideaway, a luxuriously refurbished fort two miles off the southern English coast, is for sale, complete with lighthouse, helicopter and fleet of power boats.

The asking price for No Man's Land Fort, built after the Napoleonic wars as a defense against the French, is $9.6 million and the owner is confident that he will find a buyer.

"It's a rich man's toy, the ultimate yachtsman's cottage," said property developer Roger Penfold, who spared no expense in refurbishing the man-made island after buying it from the Ministry of Defense in 1986.

"It may take a few months or even a year, but I am sure it will sell eventually.

"I see it going to a business tycoon or perhaps to a rock star who wants his own residential recording studio. He could tie his band up here till they produce the goods," Penfold said.

According to one of Britain's leading real estate agents, $9 million could buy a castle in Scotland with several thousand acres of land or an eight-bedroom country mansion near London with about 15 acres.

The fort, in the Solent Channel between the naval town of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, was in ruins when Penfold bought it.

"It hadn't been occupied since World War II and had been vandalized and looked a complete mess," said Penfold, 44, standing on the fort's imposing gun terrace.

The fort was built during a bout of "invasion panic" after Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Louis, declared himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1852.

Britain had feared French reprisals after the defeat of Bonaparte in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. But the government was torn between the prime minister, Lord Palmerston, who favored "gunboat diplomacy," and his chancellor of the exchequer, William Gladstone, who was reluctant to increase spending since he was attempting to abolish income taxes.

A Royal Commission was convened to settle the problem, and two large forts were built off Portsmouth to deter the French.

Work on No Man's Land began in 1861 and took 20 years to complete, by which time the French threat had evaporated. A second fort is still owned by the Defense Ministry.

So No Man's Land's 49 guns, each weighing 38 tons, were never used and were melted down for scrap before World War I. An anti-aircraft gun was mounted on the roof of the fort during World War II as a defense against flying bombs.

The fort stands more than 60 feet above the waves and is protected by 17-inch thick armor plate, weighing 6,400 tons.

No Man's Land boasts a music room with a grand piano, swimming pool, four guest bedrooms and a master bedroom with a bed that rotates 360 degrees to catch the finest views of the mainland, the Isle of Wight and the Solent.

Included in the price is a French Aerospatiale Gazelle helicopter worth around $284,000 and a fleet of five power boats and launches.

The fort has quarters for a staff of six. It is powered and heated by a diesel generator.

"The walls are so thick there is no way for the heat to escape in winter," said Penfold's wife, Carolyne, who is responsible for the interior decorating.

Penfold said he bought the fort for less than $167,000 and spent several million dollars renovating it. He declined to give precise figures.

He said that because the fort is unique it is difficult to settle on an asking price, "but some people whose opinion in this kind of thing I very much respect think the price we're asking is way too low."

The fort still has plenty of unrealized potential, for only half of it has been refurbished and 30,000 square feet remain unconverted.

Top London real estate agents Knight, Frank and Rutley say this could provide room for 24 more bedroom suites.

The fort is crowned by a lighthouse, which the Royal Navy is entitled to visit two or three times a year.

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