Drake’s Island

Some time around AD 1135, Walter de Valletorta granted the island, then called St Michael’s Island, together with all its rabbits, to the Prior of Plympton. It appears that during the Middle Ages the cult of St Michael was popular in this country but before long the little chapel that stood on the summit of the island was rededicated to St Nicholas and it is by that name that, until comparatively recently, the island was best known. Sadly no trace of that chapel, thought to be the first building ever to be erected on the grassy six-acre mass of hard volcanic rock.

In the mid-sixteenth century the island was given a new role as a defensive post and not long after the first phase of defensive works were completed a petition was sent to London from the Corporation requesting that one man be appointed “Captain of the isle of St Nicholas”. It is not clear whether Sir Francis Drake ever accepted the title but we do know that Drake had been keen to see a fort erected on the island and that he had offered £100 “for his parte at leaste” towards the cost. Whatever his actual involvement we find his name being linked with the Island from that time onwards, although some sources still recorded it as St Nicholas’s Island hundreds of years later.