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Posted on Nov 30, 2005 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Palmerston Forts – Part 3 – Fort Nelson

Armchair General




In parts one and two of this series we’ve been looking at the general exterior layout of these enormous structures and examining the significant obstacles that any attacker would have had to overcome to defeat them. This time around, I’ll be taking a trip inside one of the Forts and showing you what life might have been like for those who manned them.


This article focuses on Fort Nelson which sits to the North of Portsmouth Harbour, and which is flanked on either side by Fort Southwick to the East, and Fort Wallington to the West.

Fort Nelson really deserves two whole articles to itself, and that’s precisely why I’ve decided to split my commentary on Nelson in two. For in addition to being a fascinating place in its own right, it also houses the Royal Armouries Museum, and I’ll be looking at the exhibits within the Fort in the next piece in this series.


Map courtesy of David Moore and the Palmerston Forts Society

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.

As you’ll be able to see from the two pictures below, Fort Nelson has a magnificent view of the Harbour, the Royal Dockyard and the modern Portsmouth City centre. In the picture to the left (sorry about the slightly obscuring electricity cables), you’ll be able to see the lurking form of Spitbank Fort out to see, guarding the Harbour entrance. The picture to the right is a wide-angle view of the entire Harbour entrance.

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Here is the southerly-facing aspect of the Fort, the part overlooking the Harbour. Firstly, note the defensive ditch preventing direct access to this section. Secondly, note the distinctive "v" shape of the walls here. This section of the Fort was known as the "Redan" and housed the Fort’s Officers Mess, Quarters and associated areas. Although seemingly defenceless, this section of the Fort could be used to mount guns if necessary.

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There are two entrances to the Fort, here is the Western entrance, on a raised bridge which would allow entry to the Fort directly at Parade Ground level. Guns to the left, in the Redan, would have defended this entrance from assault if the Fort was under attack. Note the intricate brickwork to the right of the bridge. The grey areas of this wall are actually made from flint, the brickwork arches in the walls are not merely decorative, they were designed to support the flint sections.

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Here’s a view of the Redan from that bridge, right by the Western entrance itself. As with Fort Widley, anyone attempting access to the Fort would have had to enter the ditch, which would have meant certain death.


The second entrance to the Fort, and the one used by the public to enter the Museum is made through the Barrack area at a lower level. Access to this doorway is facilitated by a second ditch running through the main perimeter ditch. In the picture to the right, you can see one of the Museum exhibits poking through a window.

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Here’s a view to the West from atop the defensive ditch by the lower entrance.


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