1. Drake’s Island was originally called St Nicholas’ Island (the very first references call it St Michael's) but was renamed and dedicated to Sir Francis Drake in the late Tudor period in recognition of the town’s most famous patron. Although from Tavistock rather than Plymouth itself, Drake had done much for the town; he was responsible for building ‘Drake’s Leat’ - a fresh water supply running from Dartmoor - and building the Elizabethan fort (Drake’s Fort) on the Hoe.
Situated in the heart of Plymouth harbour, Drake’s Island has hosted a military fortification since at least the Tudor period. Initially housing an artillery battery it was latter augmented by a larger garrison and during the Civil War the island played a key role in ensure Plymouth held out against Royalist attack.
HISTORY OF DRAKES ISLAND DEFENCES
The first fortification on Drake’s Island was commissioned in the mid–sixteenth century as a result of war with France. A stone and turf wall was built capping the island and a garrison was installed in 1551 but in the 1580s, following disagreements between the people of Plymouth and the Government over who was responsible for paying for the defence of the island, it was taken into state ownership. By the 1590s the fortifications on the island had been strengthened. A garrison of 100 men and 40-50 guns had been installed and by 1599 this had been increased further as war with Spain continued.
Following the restoration of the monarchy after the Civil War and subsequent Commonwealth, the island was used as a prison for notable Parliamentary prisoners. Major General John Lambert, would be successor to Oliver Cromwell, was held here from 1670-84. Also incarcerated here was Colonel Robert Lilburn, one of the regicides.
The defences on the island were largely neglected until the late eighteenth century. Intermittent war with France(and later in the century Spain) led to various small scale constructions such as magazines and the armaments of the island were periodically updated.
The defences visible today largely date from the mid-nineteenth century when the large casemates were constructed complete with supporting magazines and accommodation. Finally the Island was garrisoned by just under 500 soldiers for much of WWII supporting coastal defence and anti-air operations.