Calling all long-standing local residents – do you recall Fort Nelson during the dark days of the Second World War? Did your father, grandfather or other relatives reminisce about their days billeted at the Fort during the Great War, prior to leaving for France? Or did you play there as a child, when the Victorian building lay derelict in the 1960s-1980s?
The Royal Armouries Museum – which is currently revamping the Portsdown Hill Fort and transforming it into a visitor attraction fit for the 21st Century – is appealing for local people to get in touch and to share their memories and memorabilia. Your reminiscences and photos could be recorded, copied and be used to help tell the story of Fort Nelson in galleries and on the Royal Armouries’ website, as further development of the revamped museum continues over the next few years.
Sean Mannie, Head of Royal Armouries South, said, “We know from talking to our many visitors that local people hold Fort Nelson in great affection and it has played a major role in the life and defence of South Hampshire for over 140 years. We’re keen to talk to anyone who’s either served at Fort Nelson, or has any connection, memories and especially photographs to share. We are sure there are some fantastic, colourful stories out there, waiting to be told.”
One local resident who’s already got in touch is Shirley Weyman and her husband Derek, who were in their early 20s and courting when they first discovered Fort Nelson in 1965.
Shirley and Derek loved exploring the then-derelict site, and enjoying the Fort’s spectacular, sweeping views over the Meon Valley and spent hours there, planning their future life together. The pair married in 1967 and settled in nearby Portchester with their two sons, but always retained their close link with the Fort.
Shirley said, “We loved to come up here and imagine what it would have looked like if we could have gone back in time before the housing estates were built. The views are so amazing.”
Shirley also speaks fondly of the time in the 1980s and 1990s when the Fort was renovated and the Royal Armouries opened a museum there, housing the national collection of historic cannon and artillery.
She said, “I felt delighted to think that the old Fort was going to be put to such good use for the enjoyment of the public and not turned into a trading estate. I was most impressed on my first visit.”
“The Fort is one of those landmarks that make this area special. I am sure it will give lots of pleasure to many thousands of people. The new museum will be on a grand scale and we hope lots of people will come from far and wide – we think it’s a wonderful place.”
If you have a story to tell, please contact the Royal Armouries’ Curator of Artillery, Phil Magrath by calling 01329 233 734 or via our CONTACT page.
The £3.5 million Fort Nelson Redevelopment Project is part-funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of almost £2m and will see the Victorian Fort refurbished sympathetically into a modern visitor attraction, complete with a new visitor centre with catering, shop and parking facilities, new galleries and a brand new, state-of-the art education facility.
Work is due to complete during the summer of 2011. The Fort remains open during the construction period.