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Fort Nelson invites visitors to experience the war that never happened

Friday, 5 January 2018

On the 2nd and 3rd February Royal Armouries Fort Nelson will be taking visitors on an immersive tour of the war that never happened.

Presented in association with interpreters from Griffin Historical, ‘1878: The War that Never Was’ will introduce visitors to a parallel version of history in which the French have successfully invaded and troops are nearing Portsmouth.

Time travellers will be led on an interactive tour where they can witness events as they may have taken place. Buoyed by its victory against Prussia in 1871, the French superpower is set on adding Great Britain to its empire. French troops have landed and are marching on Portsmouth and the home of the British navy must be defended at all costs.

Fort Nelson’s underground garrison is waiting nervously for news of the French invasion; fending off the first exploratory attacks, and discovering that not everyone within the walls of the Victorian fort are as trustworthy as they seem.

Fort Nelson was built between 1861 and 1870 as part of a network of defences intended to protect the key British naval base at Portsmouth. A French invasion had been considered a serous possibility in the 1850s and Fort Nelson was designed using cutting edge defensive technology as a response to this threat. Buried in the Downs, bristling with artillery, the Fort waited for a war that never happened.

Subsequently Fort Nelson has been used for a range of military purposes, but never the one it was intended to fulfil. It now houses and displays the Royal Armouries’ collection of artillery.
Commenting on the event, Tristan Langlois, Head of Education and Events, said: “When I first explored Fort Nelson, it struck me as a slightly sad place. There it sits, the pinnacle of Victorian military engineering, and never used for its intended purpose; like a battleship in dry dock never sent to sea. Some historians avoid speculative history. But as fascinating as the Fort’s actual history is, for me the site simply begs an answer to the question: ‘What if the French really had invaded?’

“This event will help visitors experience the answer to that question at first-hand. Not just the re-imagined historical events that might have led to invasion, but the real practicalities of getting the Victorian technology to do what it was designed for, and the hopes and fears of the soldiers and civilians inside.”

The event starts at 5.30pm on both evenings, with a tour every half an hour; visitors must pre-book their space on a tour in advance of the event.

Tickets for ‘1878: The War that Never Was’ are available from the Royal Armouries website. £15.75 per person, suitable for ages 14+, children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Find out more about on the Royal Armouries website:


Notes to editors

– Royal Armouries has two other sites at HM Tower of London and in Leeds.
– Fort Nelson in Hampshire houses the national collection of big guns and artillery. It underwent a major refurbishment in 2011, with new galleries and a state-of-the-art education centre. The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
– In 2014, it was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by TripAdvisor.
– The Royal Armouries Museum should not be confused with Royal Armouries International plc, the private sector corporate hospitality business based on the same site in Leeds.
– For further media enquiries and photo opportunities at Fort Nelson, please contact Katie Canning, Communications Officer:

About the Royal Armouries

Entry to the museum is free but some activities carry a small charge.