Rare chance to own a piece of Britain's history

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, 12:00am

Two centuries ago, Britain faced a national debt crisis bigger than it does now. One of the reasons for those money troubles will be auctioned on July 7 in Framlingham, Suffolk. With walls three metres thick, Tower W was built in 1809 to defend against the French invasion during the Napoleonic wars.

Located on the Suffolk coast, the tower forms part of a chain of defences on England's eastern and southern coasts. Fortunately, its three cannons were never fired in anger because Napoleon thought twice about crossing the channel.

The towers were an expensive deterrent. Tower W cost GBP9,784 to build, a huge sum 201 years ago, and partly why Britain's national debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio was 250 per cent at the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, four times greater than today.

Known as a Martello tower, the building's design is inspired by French-built towers at Martello, Corsica. Following Napoleon's defeat, Tower W was used as a lookout post in the war against smugglers. Eventually it entered private hands and became a weekend retreat for its present owners, John and Suzanne Fell-Clark, who converted it into a three bedroom home in 1986. Over the past seven years they have rented out the property.

The tower's auction guide-price is GBP475,000 (HK$5.47 million). Valuing it has been problematic, because only 17 Martello towers remain, few have been converted into homes and are rarely sold.

'Valuing a property like this is almost impossible and I am quite sure that 10 valuers would come up with 10 different prices,' said Stuart Clarke, partner at auctioneer, Clarke and Simpson. 'This said, some other Martello towers have sold during the past 10 years and these were used as a basis of valuation.'

English Heritage said it would cost GBP5 million to move the tower and rebuild it elsewhere, an option considered 13 years ago, before the bay's sea defences were strengthened.

Built from 750,000 London stock bricks the tower's salvage value could start at GBP750,000, because construction companies will pay up to GBP1 per brick, not that dismantling the building is allowed, because it is listed.

Clarke said the tower appealed to creative people.

'We have, over the last few years, let the tower on behalf of the vendors,' Clarke said. 'Tenants included an artist and someone who wrote two books whilst in residence. We expect the purchaser to be a London or international buyer who wants something truly unusual.'

Clarke said the tower might appeal to an investor who wanted to let it out as a holiday home. 'I am quite sure this would prove popular for most of the year as people like to rent something unusual when it comes to their holidays,' Clarke said.