Tuesday, June 22

A visit to Fort Nelson

Due to the excellent weather this month, I decided to cycle from Waterlooville to The Royal Armouries Museum on top of Portsdown Hill. The museum is in Fort Nelson one of a string of forts built in the 1860s to defend against a potential French invasion.

Interestingly the attack on Portsmouth was expected to come from inland so the main defences of all the forts was on the land side, in the case of Fort Nelson pointing towards the North. The weaker defences are on the South side of the forts and these are visible from Portsmouth.

The route I took wasn't exactly the most direct, but it was probably the easiest to do without much thinking. I simply took the London Road up to Widley then took the route along James Callaghan Drive and Portsdown Hill Road. Quite a lot of gentle uphill work there, but nearly all downhill back!
In fact on the way back from the Widley Junction to Purbrook you can pick up a lot of speed.

The cycle/bus lanes are great for cyclists, road traffic is kept well away from you. The round trip was about 12 miles.

Near the fort is the Nelson Monument. This was finished in 1808, three years after the battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson.

Of course the fort was named Fort Nelson because of proximity to the monument. Many people don't even know the monument exists and even if they had seen it, wouldn't know why it was there.

This is the view of the fort near the main entrance. Behind the redan wall would be the officers quarters. Note the lower floor has sash windows, whilst the upper floor has positions for guns.

Each gun would be flanked either side by riflemen who would fire at attackers whilst the main gun was being reloaded.

Also remember this is the weaker side of the defences and it wasn't expected that an attack would come from this direction.

This is one of the North facing defences, effectively the main defences. Attackers would have to come down the ramparts into the dry ditch and would be faced by a huge thick wall.

I took the photo standing on top of one of the caponiers, below would be gun positions ready to fire along the length of the wall. Every wall has similar guns trained along them so there would have been no where for an attacker to hide. Also the design was such that no defender could shoot their own men.

These are the defensive mortar positions They are well protected behind the walls under a lot of earthworks held up by the brickwork and arches seen here. The light in front of the mortars shows where the gap in the roof is and where they would fire out. Up on top brave officers would see where the enemy were and call out instructions to adjust the trajectories of the mortars.

The mortars would drop their balls or bombs onto the enemy in the fields beyond the fort ramparts.

This is above the mortars shown in the previous photo. The brick work in the grass is actually the gap out of which the mortars would fire out.

The position I took this photo is where officers would be monitoring the enemy positions and giving instructions to the mortar crews.

I like this photo because the mortar looks really tiny and the Nelson Monument can be seen in the distance. Because I took the photo near the ground and there are no people near by, the mortar looks quite close to the camera and about knee high.

The reality is the mortar is huge, each of the balls in that stack is waist high!  It's a bit like the Father Ted scene, 'These are very small, those are far away...'.

It is called Mallets Mortar and is located at the front of the museum.

There is a lot to see at the fort, if you are really interested in armaments then you'll need 3 to 5 hours to take it all in. I also recommend the guided tour, even if you do know your stuff.
I haven't shown here the galleries with every conceivable artillery piece you could imagine, I haven't shown the mock ups of the fort kitchen, and officers quarters, I haven't shown the tunnels and magazines and I haven't shown the 20th century weapons that are on display.

For more info visit the Museum site or the Palmerston Forts Society which also has a detailed photo tour of the fort.

No comments: