This very "summer", if indeed you are inclined to call it that, I had the pleasure to stay as a guest at Southampton for a few days. Next to the must-see sights around Portsmouth harbor and Gosport, I followed the recommendation of Ship Master Modeller Jim Baumann to pay Fort Nelson a visit.
As a defence strong point for the hinterland of the installations of Portsmouth it is well suited at the top of Portsdown Hill. The fortification of Portsdown Hill was started in early 1860 with some urgency when the strategic situation lead to the belief that foreign troops could easily circumvent the beach and harbour defences of Portsmouth by landing someplace outside their reach and attack the harbour and the RN installations from the surrounding high ground. To counter the threat, it was planned to build a chain of mutually supporting forts around Portsmouth. Fort Nelson, as the key installation, and the ring fortress system was completed and combat ready by the end of 1860.
Of course, history tells us that the continental invasion-threat evaporated, when Prussia invaded and defeated France. Thereafter the Fortresses with their guns pointing inland came to be known as " Lord Palmerston's Follies", named so after the most important exponent of British home fortification policy at the time.
Today, the fort stands almost completely restored under administration of the Royal Armouries and is home to a most impressive collection of guns, starting from replicas of Roman siege and battle tech right down to Desert Storm equipment of the Royal Artillery. You'll find Schneider guns, Crimean War Howitzers, 88's, Pheasants, various AA pieces, a Long Tom, to name but a few. Among the most peculiar things to see are parts of Saddam Husseinís ballistic super gun. There is a lot of acoustic background given in various parts of the fortress as well as multi-media gadgets to entertain the visitor. With a little luck and good timing you'll be able to observe a 25 pdr shooting practise on the center court.
The museum has a nice, not overly expensive coffee shop and an OK gift shop to bring home some memorabilia.
For most detailed information about this and other fortifications of the Royal Armouries please visit:
Fort Nelson website
Take your time to search the site as there is plenty of interesting things to see and read.
When in the area you should take 2-3 hours to check the installations and collection in detail. At many of these museums admission is free, so please donate to keep this most intriguing piece of history preserved.
Here are but a few pictures of the gun collection at Fort Nelson.