Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Palmerston Forts bought by Clarenco

A millionaire businessman who has spent £3.5m refurbishing a Victorian sea fort in the Solent has bought two more.

Mike Clare bought Spitbank Fort in 2009 but has now added Horse Sand Fort and No Man's Land Fort to his collection.

His company Clarenco will turn the forts, which were built to deter a French invasion, into hotels and a museum.

General manager Mark Watts said Spitbank Fort, off the Hampshire coast, offered a "place to escape".

He added that the Grade II listed island property would provide "complete seclusion".

The developer's architects worked with English Heritage to restore the property, which was one of Palmerston's Follies, a series of four sea-based forts designed to repel French warships, but was never put into action.

'Beautiful areas'

Horse Sand Fort, which is currently derelict, is to be turned into a time capsule to give visitors an idea of how it looked in the 19th Century.

No Man's Land Fort will be turned into a luxury hotel and spa.

Image caption The fort is being converted into a £800 per night hotel

Mr Watts said: "We've had a lot of interest from the corporate market but also from people who have sailed past them all their lives and have always wanted to visit them and see what the forts are about."

Spitbank Fort cost nearly £120,000 to construct between 1861 and 1878.

Its walls are 15ft (4.5m) thick at basement level, with 35ft (10.6m) thick sea foundations and a 8ft (2.3m) thick concrete roof.

Its base on the seabed is 162ft in diameter with armour plating on the seaward side.

During World War II it was installed with anti-aircraft guns to defend nearby Portsmouth harbour against German attack.

It was decommissioned in the 1960s and turned into a museum.

The fourth and smallest fort is St Helens, near the Isle of Wight, which has another private owner.

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