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Binnewith Island in Canterbury bought by antique coin specialist Brett Hammond

The mystery bidder who snapped up one of the city’s most exclusive plots of land at auction can now be revealed.

Brett Hammond, an antique coin specialist, has bought a section of Canterbury’s Binnewith Island, a historic site flanked by the River Stour and accessible only by bridge.

Mr Hammond beat several interested parties to buy the property and says he is working with ecologists and conservation experts on a “staged clear-up” of the land.

Binnewith Island from above
Binnewith Island from above

He admits he would move to the island “in the blink of an eye” if he could get planning permission to build a house, but says his priority is to preserve the area’s wildlife.

“It would be a beautiful place to live, undoubtedly,” he said. “The site is unique, but I didn’t buy the land to make a profit. I’m not a property developer out to build a block of flats. I didn’t buy the site as some sort of treasure hunt, either.”

Binnewith Island runs parallel to Stour Street and lies between two sections of the river.

Greyfriars Chapel and Franciscan Gardens occupy half the island while the other half, containing a derelict single-storey shed, has been privately-owned for decades and was last used in the 1980s as an unofficial BMX track.

Conservation is a priority, says the site's new owner
Conservation is a priority, says the site's new owner

The two halves are divided by Franciscan Way, a public footpath accessed from Water Lane off Stour Street, next to the Canterbury Heritage Museum.

Mr Hammond, from Brentwood in Essex, said he saw the plot with concrete shed advertised in an auction catalogue.

“We came down to Canterbury and fell in love with the place,” he said. “It’s a beautiful city, and this is such a fantastic site.

“We decided we wanted it, but hadn’t thought at that stage what we’d do with it longer term.”

By the time the hammer fell, Mr Hammond had committed himself to a purchase price of more than £180,000.

Brett Hammond with Aaron, 15, Tanyia and Ethan, four
Brett Hammond with Aaron, 15, Tanyia and Ethan, four

He has since been on site at weekends with his wife and children.

In recent weeks the land, lying beyond a flint wall lining Franciscan Way, has undergone considerable change.

Mr Hammond says his primary objectives are preservation and conservation.

“This is not about wholesale clearance,” he said. “We’re working with the council’s conservation officer and with Canterbury Archaeological Trust and English Heritage.

“I’ve brought in ecologists to look at the site and they reported that the wildlife was being choked by ivy. What we’ve cleared is actually ivy and dead trees.

The owner is carrying out a 'staged' clearance of the island
The owner is carrying out a 'staged' clearance of the island

“We’ve only removed one living tree, which had to be done because it had fallen and was leaning on the building and was dangerous.”

Having cleared much of the ivy, Mr Hammond and his family were able to see the full extent of what lay beneath.

“The land had been left to rack and ruin over the last 30 years or so.

“It’s been used as a dumping ground and a haven for drug users.

“We’ve found about 500 syringes, 200 crack bottles. We’ve found scrap metal, dumped bicycle parts, hundreds of wheels, frames, forks.

The sheds and an old tank which were hidden by ivy
The sheds and an old tank which were hidden by ivy

“I think it’s a sheltered place at night because the park gates are locked, leaving it undisturbed. One morning we found a tent pitched on a part of the site we’d just cleared.”

Mr Hammond is yet to decide what to do with the 150 square metre shed on the land.

He admits that building a residential property on the site could be an option.

“It will be up to the council in the end,” he said. “The shed is not exactly nice to look at as it is, but I’ve no idea if we’ll be able to take it down.

“As for putting a building there, I think it would have to match the footprint of the current shed. It would be an incredible place to live. I’d move there in the blink of an eye.

“But realistically I don’t think that would ever happen.

“If not a residence, perhaps some form of tourism might be suitable. It’s too early to say.”

Bags of rubbish cleared from the plot
Bags of rubbish cleared from the plot

According to Mr Hammond, from the 1860s the site was home to a dye company, E Beasley & Sons, which supplied the tannery.

Mr Hammond has traced family members of the E Beasley firm and has negotiated the re-use of the company name.

A brass plaque bearing the company name now adorns the entrance to the site.

Some residents welcome Mr Hammond’s efforts to date.

John Ellaby, chairman of the St Mildred’s Area Community Society, maintains and improves the planting along Franciscan Way on behalf of the society.

He said: “Mr Hammond has made a very good contribution so far. He has done an immense job of clearing the rubbish from the site.

“Whatever he does there, provided he works in tandem with the relevant authorities, I would be happy with that.”

But some raised concerns about the clearance on the site.

Jan Pahl, chair of the Canterbury Society, said: “Some regard the loss of wilderness as disappointing. I hope that anything that is done is sympathetic to this historic site.”

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