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Nicholas Hall was born in Norwich in 1951. He took his degree in the History of Art [Courtauld Institute, 1972] then joined the Armouries, HM Tower of London.
From 1978-88, he worked at Hampshire County Museum Service, taking responsibility for Fort Nelson in addition to local museum duties across Hampshire. He negotiated a lease for the Royal Armouries to occupy Fort Nelson in 1988. In the same year, he was appointed Keeper of Artillery. The task was to set up the museum of artillery at Fort Nelson; this opened in 1995.
He introduced ‘live interpretation’ using both volunteers and actors to explain and dramatise the history of the Fort and the artillery collection. He arranged regular firing demonstrations of artillery both original and replica, using visiting re-enactors, staff and volunteers ensuring H&S standards of all concerned and procedures and risk assessments for all guns and artillery used. Introduced daily blank firing at the museum, using a WWII 25 pounder.
Over the years, Nicholas added many artillery pieces to the collection, including the last 14-inch naval gun built in Britain. He has assisted with numerous documentary programmes for television, carrying out several trials using specially-constructed replica artillery pieces. These include:
‘What the Tudors did for Us’ [including casting a gun] ‘Elizabeth’s Lost Guns’ [including casting a gun] Nine Days to Save England [Armada] Time Team: Teignmouth Wreck and Battle of Bosworth
Siege of Constantinople [History Channel]
Research interests include the Victorian artillery revolution and Tudor ballistics: contributor to Alexzandra Hildred’s Weapons of Warre [Mary Rose Trust 2011]. This contains the results of a series of firing trials conducted on replica Tudor artillery with Dr Alexzandra Hildred, Mary Rose Trust, and Royal Armouries colleagues.
Before becoming Curator Emeritus in 2016, much of Nicholas Hall’s time was devoted to a major redevelopment of Fort Nelson. Known as a ‘Palmerston Folly’, this is one of the ‘Royal Commission’ forts’ built during the 1860s to defend Portsmouth in face of a feared French threat.
The collection contains fine 15th century pieces through to the late 20th century; the origin of the collection is from the arsenal displays at the Tower of London. The latest addition, on long loan from the Royal Artillery, was the biggest gun ever in British land service – the only 18-inch railway gun to survive, built in 1918.
When establishing the Royal Armouries Museum of Artillery at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, it was decided that regular demonstrations of artillery firing blank would be an essential component of our interpretative strategy. Re-enactment societies could provide a vital part of this. But in order to fire blank every day, we decided to train our own staff and to obtain the necessary licenses.
Having established the set-up, the question of firing projectile arose about twenty years ago as a result of the museum’s long collaboration with the Mary Rose Trust. This gave us the opportunity to construct two replica Tudor guns for ground-breaking trials.
These, and subsequent historic artillery trials, will be discussed.