Naval Guns at Fort Nelson

COLIN BISHOP visits this museum

Mk.III 6 inch quick firing gun of 1893 as fitted to cruisers and battleships of the period. It could fire a 100lb shell to a range of 11,000 yards (9,900m). This example was originally fitted to the corvette HMS Calypso laid down at Chatham in 1881.

At the back of Portsmouth harbour lies Portsdown Hill. This chalk escarpment, some 400 feet high, enjoys commanding views over the harbour to the south and the Hampshire countryside to the north. With its strategic location it is a magnet for military installations. During WW2 the tunnels beneath were a command centre for the D Day invasion but much of what you can see above ground today dates back to the Victorian era when a series of forts were built under the guidance of the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, as a counter to the perceived threat of invasion from France. At that time, attacks on harbours by enemy navies were considered to be a major threat and the seaward defences of Portsmouth were strengthened by construction of the Solent forts which can still be seen today. However, the sea defences were not enough in themselves as it was envisaged that the French might land on one of the flanks and attack the naval base from the rear. Accordingly a series of defensive installations were built on the high ground overlooking the harbour to protect it from an assault on the landward side. Chief among these was Fort Nelson, a formidable example of Victorian military architecture, which survives in very much its original form despite being used for anti-aircraft purposes during WW2.

Today Fort Nelson is a military museum and part of the Royal Armouries. Visitors can tour the original facilities, but much of its current attraction derives from the extensive collection of artillery hardware on display. Just about every period from medieval times to the Gulf War is represented by examples or ordnance ranging from Turkish cannon to the Iraqi Supergun. Within this vast collection are some fascinating examples of naval ordnance, many of which are of particular interest to modellers building warships of various periods. At Fort Nelson you can see examples of the cannon carried by the Mary Rose, the last example of the 14 inch naval guns mounted by the King George V Class battleships and a lot more in between. The accompanying photos show some of the naval guns, many of which are common modelling subjects for both scratch built and kit based models.

Fort Nelson is open virtually all year although opening times vary with the season and day of week so check first before visiting. Admission and car parking is free and there is a cafe selling light meals and refreshments on site. Further details on the website: Tel: 01329 233734. Address: Royal Armouries Museum, Fort Nelson, Portsdown Hill Road, Fareham. PO17 6AN.