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Posted on Dec 15, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Palmerston Forts – Part 4 – The Royal Armouries Museum

Armchair General




So far in this series we’ve been looking at the architecture and design of the Palmerston Forts in this region of England. This article is a little different since, although it includes a further look inside Fort Nelson, it also focuses on the modern use of the Fort.

Housed across three sites, the Royal Armouries has displayed exhibits since the 15th century. With a presence in the Tower of London and an additional Museum in Leeds, Northern England, the site at Fort Nelson houses just some of the many items restored and maintained by the institution.


The Museum at Fort Nelson was opened on the 1st of April 1995 by the Duke of Wellington and houses the artillery collection belonging to the Armouries. Thus, any visitor to Fort Nelson finds two attractions in one, the Fort itself and the exhibits.


Map courtesy of David Moore and the Palmerston Forts Society

This report covers the following:

1) Exterior grounds.

2) Covered artillery displays.

3) Interior displays.

4) Archery contest.

5) Gun firing demonstrations.

6) Main gun firing demonstration.

All pictures in this article were taken using a Sony DSC-H1 at 5.0 Megapixels, since resized for this piece. Click on the thumbnails for larger images.


The very first thing you see when you pull up outside the Fort are these two truly immense artefacts. Pictured on the left we have "Mallett’s Mortar" – the largest-bore artillery piece ever constructed. Firing 26-inch shells, the weapon was built in sections to allow easy transportation and repair. Only two were ever built, essentially prototypes, this example is the second one to be constructed. Requiring two cranes just to lift the shells into the barrel and designed to knock out enemy fortifications, the designers calculated that one shell would be enough to crack any fortified arched-vault of the period. Conceived in 1854 and built in 1857, the weapon weighs 12 tonnes and had a range of 1.5 miles. Next to it, something a little more conventional, this is a 14 inch Mark VII Breech Loading Naval Gun of the type built between 1937 and 1946 for Battleships of the King George V class.

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Ominously aimed at Portsmouth City Centre below Portsdown Hill, here you can see the intricate loading and firing mechanisms. And in the next picture, a somewhat smaller Naval turret.

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Atop the ramparts of Fort Nelson, a 64-Pounder RML gun dating from 1873 looks out to the North of Portsdown Hill. The gun is mounted on a replica "blocked up" carriage designed to allow the gun to fire over the high parapet. Although this design helped to protect the crew, it made reloading much more complicated. And leading us onto the next page, we see an array of artillery on the Parade Ground.

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[continued on next page]

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