BBC News

Thorne Island's Napoleonic fort gets makeover

By Sarah Moore
BBC News


Work has started to renovate a historical Napoleonic fort off the Pembrokeshire coast which has been uninhabited for 17 years.

Thorne Island can only be reached by boat, which has created some challenges for its new owner Mike Conner.

The island also has no supply of running water or electricity.

Mr Conner has been using a helicopter to drop building supplies on to the island in the Milford Haven estuary.

image captionOwner Mr Conner said he was looking forward to the challenge of the renovation

The island's Grade II-listed fort was built in the 1850s as a garrison for 100 men, to protect Milford Haven from French invasion.

It was sold to a private owner just before World War Two and converted into a hotel.

But since 2001 it has been unoccupied and fell into disrepair, despite plans by former owners the Von Essen hotel chain to reopen it as a five-star retreat with a cable car.

The group went into administration in 2011 and Thorne Island was sold, but no major work was carried out and the island was put up for sale again in 2016, for £550,000.

Mr Conner bought it in May, and said although it was a complex project and he had never done anything like this before, he was very excited about bringing it back into use.

image captionThe building has been unused for 17 years

He said: "I guess another chapter gets written. Apparently it took 1,000 men two years to build this, and that's because it's massive, it's complicated, and everything's a bit different, even if you're just drilling through a wall.

"A five-foot thick wall takes a long time to drill through, and you need special kit, but we don't have mains electricity here or pneumatics. But I think that's part of the charm and the fun of the place."

Nick Wilkes has been living on Thorne Island since May, alongside visiting contract workers, but is due to come back to the mainland for the winter.

He said: "I'm the island caretaker, manager, boatman. I do anything and everything from gardening to cooking to getting the boat out of the water."

Mr Wilkes said he also stayed on the island during the recent storms, which caused damage to some of the equipment, including one of the boats and a telephone line which ran between the island and the mainland.

He said: "Being on the island is probably actually the safest place to be in a storm, because for 160 years it's survived every kind of weather you can possibly think of and it's still here."

image captionBuilders who are working on the island have been living in the original barracks
image captionThe position of the original guns is still evident on the highest point of the fort overlooking the Milford Haven estuary
image captionBuilding supplies have had to be dropped onto the island by helicopter from the mainland
image captionThorne Island is less than half a mile from the mainland but can only be reached by boat
image captionThe fort’s five-foot thick walls are more than 160 years old but said to be in good condition
image captionThe main entrance of the fort still contains the original doors

Related Topics

  • Listed buildings
  • Milford Haven

More on this story

  • Pembrokeshire's Thorne Island goes on the market again