Fort Nelson | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Fort Nelson

Fareham, England, United Kingdom

Luke Tomes

04 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Hunanuk / CC

About Fort Nelson

Fort Nelson in Hampshire comprises one of five defensive fortifications built on Portsdown Hill in the mid-19th century to overlook Portsmouth Naval Base and Dockyard.

Fort Nelson history

In the mid-19th century, despite the period becoming known generally as ‘Pax Britannica’ (when Britain experienced a period of relative peace in Europe), Britain was still concerned about a potential French invasion.

As a result, in 1859, a Royal Commission was formed to enquire into the ability of the United Kingdom to defend itself against an attempted invasion by a foreign power, and to advise the British Government on the remedial action required.

Resulting from this investigation was a plan, sanctioned by the British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, to build a series of five fortoifcations along Portsdown Hill protecting Portsmouth and its Dockyard.

A garrison of around 200 volunteers accompanied by regular army officers would have manned the fort in time of war. Construction was protracted and Fort Nelson wasn’t fully armed until the 1890s.

Although never used for its original purpose, the Fort played a significant role in both World Wars; as barracks for troops waiting to be deployed to the front line in the First World War, and as an anti-aircraft ammunition supply depot during the Second World War.

It was, nevertheless, abandoned in the 1950s.

Fort Nelson today

Today, Fort Nelson acts as a museum that is home to the Royal Armouries national collection of artillery and historic cannons – the big guns.

Although a cliché, the phrase ‘must see’ truly applies to Fort Nelson’s astonishing collection of different artillery and guns from different time periods. Over 700 items of artillery from many countries and spanning 600 years are brought to life whilst sensitively telling the unique stories behind them

Weighing the same as 17 double-decker buses, another object of great interest is the huge 18 inch, 200 tonne Railway Howitzer. Designed and built by the Elswick Ordnance company of Newcastle, in 1918, as part of a trend to build bigger calibre guns with more destructive shells, it is the world’s largest surviving military gun.

Set within 19 acres and featuring the Ramparts Parade eerie tunnels, restored barracks, museum galleries and Cafe 1871, the fort is an exciting day out whatever the weather!

Getting to Fort Nelson

Fort Nelson is located on Portsdown Hill Road, just outside the town of Portchester. If driving from Portsmouth, westbound along the M27, take junction 11 and follow brown tourist signs for “Royal Armouries”.

If travelling via public transport, the nearest train stations are Portchester (3 minute taxi ride away) and Fareham (10 minute taxi ride away).

Admission to the site is free and parking is available on site for £3. This site also has wheelchair access, ramps and lifts.

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