Derelict gun tower on the Kent coast for sale for just £150,000 after it failed to sell previously for £1.9 million
In spite of hammering down a derelict Grade II listed sea fort in the Humber Estuary for £490,000 – a sum 880% higher than its pre-sale £50,000 guide price – in July 2022, auctioneers Savills will sell a similar property just off the Kent coast at the mouth of the River Medway with a guide price of just £150,000 on 20th September.
‘No. 1, The Thames’ (also known as ‘Grain Tower’) – which most definitely has the second-best address in the UK after the rather ritzy ‘No. 1, London’ on Hyde Park Corner – is situated 0.6 miles off the Isle of Grain and is being sold on the order of LPA receivers Kroll. It had previously been sold for £400,000 in October 2014 and was offered again for the far more punchy price of £1.9 million in August 2020.
“One of the last examples of a British gun tower” and accessible only on foot at low tide – or by boat or helicopter at other times – Grain Tower was constructed as a reaction to a potential French invasion of Britain in the 19th century. It was used in both the First and Second World Wars and was eventually decommissioned in 1956.
Sold by the Crown Estate in 2005 to a private buyer, the freehold building is situated near the Isle of Grain in Kent where the River Medway meets the River Thames. It could potentially be turned into a home, hotel or an event venue even and is being marketed as a “blank canvas.”
Editor’s note – Unlike as is the case in many publications, this article was NOT sponsored or supported by a third-party. Follow Matthew Steeples on Twitter at @M_Steeples and watch his current nightly show on YouTube at 9pm daily.
A message from our editorial team – Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus and the cost-of-living crisis impacts our advertisers.
If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by supporting our work via Patreon.
The Names & Numbers – Grain Tower, No. 1, The Thames, Isle of Grain, Kent, ME3, United Kingdom (grid reference TQ8986976037)
20th September 2023 – To be offered for sale at auction with a guide price of £150,000 ($187,000, €174,000 or درهم687,000) by Savills.
In a press release, Jeremy Lamb, auction director at Savills, remarked:
“There is always excitement when unusual lots come along as they have a special power to capture the imagination. We’ve had water towers and military sea forts in our sales in the past, but this gun tower is a first; a blank canvas with heaps of history and phenomenal sea views, not to mention its coveted No. 1, The Thames address.”
“Historically, rare lots like this have seen significant interest in our auctions. Last summer, the hammer came down on Bull Sand Fort in the Humber Estuary at nearly 10 times guide price after attracting bids from around the world and the year before that we auctioned a water tower in Essex which has since received permission for residential use and a chance to design a once in a life time property.”
July 2015 – Listed as “at risk” by English Heritage due to its “poor condition and ongoing decay.”
October 2014 – Sold by agents Riverhomes for £400,000 ($498,000, €464,000 or درهم1.8 million) to a new owner who wished to “remain under the radar.”
At the time, estate agent Nigel Day “said fervently” to The Guardian’s Maev Kennedy:
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s an absolute monster… It’s fabulous, but it is pretty scary. I thought I was OK on heights, but there are bits of it where I was clinging on to the walls: you realise if you fall you aren’t coming back in a hurry… It’s huge. You do get the sense that it really is bomb proof – but there are places where your legs turn to jelly a bit.”
“The interest has been absolutely phenomenal; we’ve had people talking about turning it into a hotel, a home, a recording studio or a club.”
Speaking to the MailOnline’s Steph Cockcoft, Mr Day added:
“I am in awe of what an amazing building it is and its potential, which would be subject to planning permission and negotiations with English heritage.”
“It could be transformed into something really special – a stunning home, a hotel, a sanctuary or something to do with outdoor pursuits. There are so many possibilities.”
“The seller has owned it for around ten years and he doesn’t have the time to do anything with it. I think you would probably look at spending a minimum of £1 million ($1.2 million, €1.2 million or درهم4.6 million) turning it into a home.”
Going further of the fort, owner Simon Cowper cautioned and added: “It didn’t work well as a home [given] the cost of doing it up.”
2010 – Placed for sale for £500,000 £500,000 ($623,000, €581,000 or درهم2.3 million).
2005 – Sold by the Crown Estate to a “private owner,” a “London builder named Simon Cowper.
1986 – Given a Grade II listed designation by English Heritage.
1956 – Decommissioned.
1944 – Reduced to “care and maintenance status.”
Second World War (1939 – 1945) – Addition of twin 6-pounder QF gun and Defence Electric Light Emplacement and further developments to enable the tower to become an anti-aircraft tower.
1929 – Grain Tower is disarmed.
1920s – Grain Tower is sold to the War Office “for the purpose of building a firing point for testing large weapons.”
Of the developments, in January 2014, Matthew Edgeworth for English Heritage observed:
“One of the names of the establishment, cited on early plans, was ‘Grain Island Firing Point.’ It was also referred to as the Yantlet Battery. The firing point was an ‘out’ battery of the experimental establishment at Shoeburyness on the other side of the estuary. It was used for firing long-range shells in a north-easterly direction across the estuary into shallow water on the mudflats along the Essex coast, known as Maplin Sands.”
“Facilities included two pairs of large velocity screen masts, an internal railway linked to the national network, a gun emplacement, a railway gun emblacement, domestic quarters and administrative offices, a gantry path for travelling crane and a wharf on Yantlet Creek for the unloading and loading of large guns and their mountings.”
“The firing point is an unusual monument type, further distinguished by the length of the range of which it was a part, the size of the guns that were tested there, and the state of preservation of its surviving structures.”
First World War (1914 – 1918) – Substantial alterations made to enable defence using two 4.7 quick firing guns against raids by fast moving torpedo boats. In addition, Grain Tower found an additional purpose as one end of a boom defence stretching across the Medway to Sheerness.”
1910 – Repurposed as a communications tower.
Mid-19th century – Becomes “effectively obsolete” as soon as completed due to “rapid improvements in artillery technology.”
17th November 1855 – Construction by Lincolnshire builders Kirk and Parry completed and the tower is handed over to the Ordnance authorities. The work had gone 50% over budget and had cost £16,798 ($20,940, €19,507 or درهم76,906) or the equivalent of £1.5 million ($1.8 million, €1.7 million or درهم6.8 million) today.
1848 – Construction of the tower commenced “in response to fears of a French invasion during the mid-19th century,” but “difficulties were soon encountered and construction was paused until 1853.”