HMS Lord Nelson was laid down by Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company at Jarrow on 18 May 1905 and launched on 4 September 1906. Her completion was greatly delayed by the diversion of her 12-inch (305 mm) guns and turrets to expedite completion of Dreadnought, and she was not fully completed until October 1908. Although she was not the last pre-dreadnought laid down for the Royal Navy, she was the last one commissioned.
On January 8, 1908 while navigating at South Shields, the ship collided with barquentine Emma Cook, anchored at Mill Dam and damaged her.
Lord Nelson displaced 17,820 long tons (18,106 t) at deep load as built, with a length of 443 feet 6 inches (135.2 m), a beam of 79 feet 6 inches (24.2 m), and a draft of 26 feet (7.9 m). She was powered by two four-cylinder inverted vertical triple-expansion steam engines, which developed a total of 16,750 indicated horsepower (12,490 kW) and gave a maximum speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph).
She was armed with four 12-inch guns arranged in two twin gun turrets, one turret each fore and aft. Her secondary armament consisted of ten 9.2-inch (234 mm) guns, eight in twin gun turrets on each corner of the superstructure, and a single gun turret between them. For defence against torpedo boats, Lord Nelson carried twenty-four QF 12-pounder 18 cwt guns and two 3-pounder guns. She also mounted five submerged 18-inch (457 mm) torpedo tubes for which 23 torpedoes were stowed aboard.
HMS Lord Nelson was first commissioned in reserve on 1 December 1908 at Chatham Dockyard, being attached to the Nore Division of the Home Fleet with a nucleus crew. She first went into full commission on 5 January 1909 to relieve the battleship HMS Magnificent as flagship of the Nore Division, Home Fleet, and in April became part of the First Division, Home Fleet. She was transferred in January 1911 to the Second Division of the Home Fleet, and in May 1912 to the 2nd Battle Squadron. She was temporarily attached in September 1913 to the 4th Battle Squadron. In April 1914, she relieved the battleship HMS Queen as Flagship, Vice Admiral, Channel Fleet.