A Folly No More

Damien Gregory on the use of Fort Nelson over Portsmouth, a fort known as a fine example of Victorian military architecture.

A disused nineteenth-century fort known as 'Palmerston's Folly', has been leased to the Royal Armouries and is being developed into an artillery museum as part of a major expansion programme. Set on Portsdown Ridge overlooking Portsmouth harbour, Fort Nelson launches the Armouries into a new era. It is the first time that Britain's oldest museum has expanded beyond the walls of the Tower of London, its home for the last 500 years.

Described as a superb piece of Victorian military architecture, Fort Nelson was one of a ring of forts built in the 1860s to protect Portsmouth from French attack. It was a development in the range of artillery which spurred Lord Palmerston, the then Prime Minister, to push through a programme of fortification. In many quarters, however, it was felt that a serious threat of French invasion did not exist. Strong resistance in particular came from Gladstone, who was also concerned that the cost of such a massive building programme would ruin his hopes of abolishing income tax.

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