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Batten down the hatches! Experience ‘The War that never was’ at Fort Nelson this February

Thursday, 3 January 2019
British Redcoat soldiers charging with bayonets

1878 The war that never was

On the 8th and 9th February Royal Armouries Fort Nelson will be taking brave visitors on an after dark, time travelling tour of a Victorian Fort on the brink of war.

Presented in association with acclaimed interpreters, Griffin Historical, ‘1878: The War that never was’ will introduce visitors to a parallel version of history in which the French have successfully invaded Britain and enemy troops are closing in on Portsmouth.

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 when aFrench invasion had been considered a serious possibility. Buried in the Downs, designed using cutting edge defensive technology and bristling with artillery, the Fort waited for a war that never actually 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’ remarkable collection of artillery.

Time travelling visitors will be led on an interactive tour where they can witness events as they could have been had history taken a different course. Buoyed by its victory against Prussia in 1871, France 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 invasion; fending off the first exploratory attacks, and discovering that not everyone within the walls of the Victorian fort is as trustworthy as they seem.

The immersive event will give visitors an insight into all of the grit, blood and noise that would have occurred in the event of such an attack, including live-action gun firing demonstrations, dramatic acted pieces and a chance to meet lots of interesting characters along the way.

The Fort’s Café 1871 will also be open on both evenings until 8.30 pm serving a selection of snacks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Commenting on the event, Tristan Langlois, Head of Education and Events, said: “When I first explored Fort Nelson, it struck me as a remarkable place. There it sits, a pinnacle of Victorian military engineering, but 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.”

Tours will run at 6.30 pm, 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm on both evenings.

Tickets for ‘1878: The War that Never Was’ are available online. £16 per person, suitable for ages 12+, children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Participants are also advised to wear practical, warm clothing and footwear, as parts of the tour take place outdoors.


About the Royal Armouries

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