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Fort Nelson

The Victorian defences of Portsmouth and the Great Portsdown Forts

Fort Talk | In-person lecture
27th July - 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

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Speaker: Michael Forrest – Member of the Palmerston Forts Society 

The great Victorian fortification programme began in 1852 with the construction of two forts at Gosport to guard the western approaches to Portsmouth Harbour – Fort Gomer and Fort Elson – but in 1859 Prime Minister Lord Palmerston instigated the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom because of serious concerns that France might attempt to invade the UK.

When the Royal Commission reported it recommended a new construction programme incorporating pre-existing forts, but proposing a complete ring of forts to guard the major dockyards of Portsmouth, Plymouth, Pembroke (Milford Haven), Portland, Dover, Cork, the entrance to the Thames and the Medway. In total, the Royal Commission recommended the building of 19 new forts and 54 new gun batteries, plus the need to upgrade around a 100 existing fortifications. This meant a full-scale construction programme of new forts and batteries plus significant modification to existing fortifications, resulting in more than 20 individual major projects surrounding Portsmouth, including the Isle of Wight.

Michael’s talk will focus on the great Portsdown forts, such as Fort Nelson which still has original examples of Victorian ordnance, and explain the defences and also the lives of the local volunteers tasked to fire the guns. Michael will be dressed in the 1880s uniform of the 2nd Hampshire Artillery Volunteers.  

Fort Talks will take place in person at Fort Nelson, starting at 2pm. Tickets cost £5. Your ticket includes parking, entry to the museum and light refreshments.

Why not make a day of it – explore the national collection of artillery, visit our cafe for a delicious light lunch, and enjoy an interesting and engaging lecture.