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Drake's Island as seen from Mount Edgecumbe
...as seen from the southern end of Mount Edgecumbe


Drake's Island is a 6.5 acre (2.6 ha) island lying in Plymouth Soundmarker, the stretch of water south of the city of Plymouthmarker, Devonmarker, Englandmarker. The first recorded name for the island was in 1135, when it was referred to as St Michael's, after the chapel erected on it. At some later date the chapel was rededicated to St Nicholas and the island adopted the same name. From the latter part of the 16th century the island was occasionally referred to as Drake's Island after Sir Francis Drake, the English privateer who used Plymouth as his home port. Even well into the 19th century, maps and other references continued to refer to the island as St Nicholas's Island and it is only in about the last 100 years that this name has slipped into disuse and the name Drake's Island has been adopted.

It was from here that Drake sailed in 1577, to return in 1580 having circumnavigated the world, and in 1583 Drake was made governor of the island.

From 1549 the island began to be fortified as a defence against the Frenchmarker and Spanishmarker, with barracks for 300 men being built on the island in the late 16th century. For several centuries, the island remained the focal point of the defence of the three original townsmarker that were to become modern Plymouth. In 1665 the Roundhead Robert Lilburne died imprisoned on the island. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the Regicide of Charles I. A few years later John Lambert, a Roundhead General, was moved to Drake's Island from Guernsey, where he had been imprisoned since 1662. He never regained his liberty, dying on Drake's Island in the winter of 1683.

Following World War II Drake's Island remained under the administration of the War Officemarker, which, despite having announced in 1956 that it was no longer needed for defence purposes, did not finally vacate the island until 1963, when Plymouth City Council obtained a lease from the Crown with the aim of establishing a youth adventure training centre there. This centre was opened in 1964, the year in which a mains water supply finally reached the island.

On May 1st 1987 the island got its first telephone line, using a cable attached to the mains water pipe. The telephone number was Plymouth 63393. The warden had previously used the Ministry of Defence system. Shortly afterwards, on March 31st 1989, the Mayflower Trust surrendered their lease and sold off the boats and sports equipment. Ownership reverted to the Crown.

Drake's Island Adventure Centre, under the custody of the Mayflower Centre Trust, operated until the surrender of the lease in 1989.

Former Plymouth Argyle chairman, Dan McCauley bought the island for £384,000 from the Crown Estate in 1995. As of 2005 it contains derelict military barracks and buildings from the Napoleonic era, and a MoD radio mast. In 2003, Plymouth City Council turned down a planning application from McCauley to build a hotel and leisure complex replete with helipad.

In May 2005 the island attracted British media attention when one of the empty buildings on the island was squatted by a group of anti-nuclear protestors, Trident Ploughshares

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