Royal Armouries, Fort Nelson, Portsmouth

Fort Nelson is a 19 acre Victorian gun fort, sited on Portsdown Hill and directly overlooking Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent. It is a designated Scheduled Monument and home to the Royal Armouries' stunning national collection of historic cannon and artillery. The process of redevelopment started some five years ago and involved close consultation with many stakeholders including English Heritage, The Palmerston Fort Society, Winchester Conservation Department, Natural England and various other local action groups. It needed first to bring together an understanding of the Fort and the requirements of the Armouries

The previous five years of rapid visitor growth at Fort Nelson highlighted key limiting factors that were starting to hinder both audience numbers and the ability to interpret the fort and its collection. Primarily, the physical layout and size of the key galleries and visitor facilities were no longer able to cope with the level of demand. Secondly, a large part of the collection was housed in a temporary tented structure with no environmental controls in which some of the main items of the collection where deteriorating.

The design involved turning the museum on its head by creating a new exciting entrance to the museum across an existing draw bridge that used to be only used as the staff entrance. The following headline improvements were achieved by this project:

  • A new earth covered Visitor Centre containing an information centre, shop, café and children’s play and activity area.
  • A new main glazed timber frame entrance building called the ‘Voice of the Guns Gallery’. This large orientation space was designed to contain some of the museums star attractions such as Saddam Hussein’s Super Gun, the great Turkish Bombard from 1453, English and German Second World War antiaircraft guns as well as many other guns that were previously kept in the tent. With its immediate views across the parade ground at the ramparts and glimpsing views of the Redan building his new gallery also allows a much improved visitor orientation and is able to meet the now increasing higher volumes of visitors.
  • A new car park adjacent to the Fort means that visitors can park there car on the same side as the fort and also appreciate the relationship the fort has with the original Nelson’s monument.
  • Different storylines to follow now allows visits to be made in easy ‘parcels’:
  • The Voice of the Guns Gallery
  • Tour of Fort Nelson – which explores the site and allows visitors to find out how the fort worked and what it was like to operate it
  • Story of Fort Nelson – new galleries within the existing barracks and redan building
  • Story of artillery – re-display of the existing galleries within the main barrack building
  • Enhance & improve the educational profile of the Fort including the creation of a Classroom of the future – a new education facility with more room and a separate entrance and orientation space.