- Royal Arsenal
Arsenal, Woolwich, originally known as the Woolwich Warren, carried out armaments manufacture, ammunitionproofing and explosives researchfor British armed forces. It was sited on the south bank of the River Thamesin Woolwich in south-east London, England. It was formally established as an Storage Depot in 1671 on a 31 acre (125,000 m²) site, the Warren in Tower Place. An ammunition laboratory (the "Royal Laboratory") was added in 1695, and a gun foundry(the "Royal Brass Foundry") was established in 1717. By 1777 it had expanded to 104 acres (0.4 km²). Shortly afterwards, convictlabour was used to construct an, approximately, 2.5 mile long brickboundary wall, generally eight-foot high. In 1804 this wall was raised to 20 foot near the Plumsteadroad, and to 15 foot in other parts. In 1814-16, convict labour was also used to dig a canal(the Ordnance Canal), which formed the eastern boundary.
In 1805, during the
reignof King George III, at the King's suggestion, it became known as the "Royal Arsenal". By this time, Woolwich was already a busy militarycentre, with the Woolwich Dockyardto the west of the Arsenal and the Royal Military Academyand the headquarters of the Royal Artillerynext to each other to the south. The Royal Military Academy had been originally based at the Royal Arsenal but it was moved to Woolwich Common in 1806, although some of the Cadetsdid not finally vacate the Arsenal until as late as 1882. The old Military Academy building then become part of the "Royal Laboratory".
Several buildings within the Arsenal are attributed to
architectSir John Vanbrugh.
The Arsenal was a renowned centre of excellence in
mechanical engineering, with notable engineers including Samuel Bentham, Marc Isambard Bruneland Henry Maudslayemployed there. Brunel was responsible for erecting the steam sawmills, part of the "Royal Carriage Department", Maudslay later expanded this buying more steam machinery. It also became a noted research facility, developing several key advances in armament design and manufacture.
Crimean War build-up
As part of the preparations for the
Crimean War(1854-56), Frederick Abel (later Sir Frederick Abel) was appointed the first War Department Chemistwith the aim of investigating the new chemicalexplosives which were then being developed. He was mostly responsible for bringing Guncottoninto safe use and for winning a patent dispute brought by Alfred Nobelagainst the British Government over the patent rightsto Corditewhich Abel had jointly developed with Professor James Dewar. A new Chemical Laboratory was built to Abel's requirements; this was numbered "Building 20". Abel was also responsible for the technical management of the Royal Gunpowder Factory. He retired from the Royal Arsenal in 1888.1854 also saw the installation of a Retorthouse for the Royal Arsenal's Gas Works.
By the time of the Crimean War the Royal Arsenal was one of three Royal munitions Factories; the other two being the
Royal Small Arms Factory, EnfieldLock, and the Royal Gun Powder Factory, Waltham Abbey, Essex. The Royal Arsenal greatly expanded its area eastwards outside its brick boundary wall onto the Plumstead Marshes.
In 1868 twenty workers at the Arsenal formed a food-buying association operating from a house in
Plumsteadand named it the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society. Over the next 115 years the enterprise grew to half a million members across London & beyond, providing services from funerals & housing to libraries & insurance.
In 1886 workers at the Arsenal formed a football club initially known as "Dial Square" after the
workshops in the heart of the complex, playing their first game on 11 December(a 6-0 victory over Eastern Wanderers) in the Isle of Dogs. Renamed "Royal Arsenal" two weeks later (and also known as the 'Woolwich Reds'), the club entered the professional football leagueas "Woolwich Arsenal" in 1893. Today it is known simply as Arsenal F.C., having moved to north London in 1913. Royal Ordnance Factories F.C.were another successful team set up by the Royal Arsenal but only lasted till 1896.
World War I
At its peak, during
World War I, the Royal Arsenal extended over some 1300 acres (5.3 km²) and employed around 80,000 people. The Royal Arsenal by then had the Royal Gun Factory, the Royal Shell Filling Factory (which closed in 1940), the Research and Development Department and the Chief Chemical Inspector, Woolwich (the successor to the War Department Chemist). The expansion was such that in 1915 the Government built the 1300-home 'Well Hall Estate' at Eltham to help accommodate the workforce.
In addition to both the massive expansion of the Royal Arsenal and private munitions companies, other UK Government-owned National Explosives Factories and National
Filling Factorieswere built during World War I. All the National Factories closed at the end of the War; with only the three Royal (munitions) Factories (at Woolwich, Enfieldand Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills) remaining open through to World War II.
It appears likely that up to the end of World War I, the Royal Arsenal would have been guarded by the Metropolitan Police Force, as they also guarded the
Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, in Dorsetand the Royal Naval Armaments Depotat Priddy's Hard, Gosportup to that time. Since then the Royal Arsenal would have been guarded, until its closure, by the War OfficePolice Force, who became in 1971 the Ministry of Defence PoliceForce.
During the quiet period after the end of World War I, the Royal Arsenal built
steam railway locomotives. The Royal Arsenal had an extensive standard gaugeinternal railway system and this was connected to the North Kent Linejust beyond Plumstead railway station. The Royal Arsenal also cast the Memorial Plaques given to the next-of-kin of deceased servicemen and servicewomen.
World War II
The build-up to
World War IIstarted in the late 1930s / early 1940s. Abel's old Chemical Laboratory was by now too small and new Chemical Laboratories were built in 1937 on "Frog Island", on a former loop in the Ordnance Canal.
Staff from the Royal Arsenal helped
design, and in some cases managed the construction of, many of the new second World War Royal Ordnance Factories (ROFs) and ROF Filling Factories. Much of its former ordnance production was moved to these new sites as the Royal Arsenal was considered vulnerable to aerialbombing from mainland Europe. The original plan was to replace the Royal Arsenal's Filling Factory with one at ROF Chorleyand one at ROF Bridgend. It was then realised that many more ROFs would be needed. Just over 40 ROFs were opened by the end of World War II, nearly half of them Filling Factories, together with a similar number of factories built and run by private companies, such as ICI's Nobels Explosives (although these explosive factories were not called ROFs). Even so, some 30,000 people worked at the Royal Arsenal during World War II.
The Royal Arsenal was caught up in
The Blitz; the staff of the Chemical Inspectorate, working with explosives, were evacuated in early September 1940. Shortly afterwards one of the Frog Island buildings was destroyed by bombingand another damaged. The Laboratories were partially re-occupied in 1945 and fully re-occupied by 1949. Masters (1995) reports 103 people killed and 770 injured, during many raids, by bombs, V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets.
During the quiet period after the end of World War II, the Royal Arsenal built and railway
wagonsfor export. Armament production then increased during the Korean War.
The Final Run down
The Woolwich Royal Ordnance Factories closed in 1967 and a large part of the eastern end was sold to the
Greater London Council. Much of it was used to build the New town; Thamesmead. A part, around what is now "Griffin Manor Way", was used for an Industrial Estate; the Ford Motor Companybeing its first tenantin 1955. Two of the roads on this estate "Nathan Way" and "Kellner Road" appear to have links with people connected with the Royal Arsenal: a Col. Nathan, at the Royal Gunpowder Factory; and, W. Kellner being the second War Office Chemist.
Shortly after the closure of the Woolwich Royal Ordnance Factories the "Frog Island" Chemical laboratories were moved into a new building erected in 1971, in what was to become the Royal Arsenal East. The old "Frog Island" area was then sold off and a relocated Plumstead
BusGarage was built on part of this site. This action separated what remained of the Royal Arsenal, some 76 acres, into two sites: Royal Arsenal West, at Woolwich; and, Royal Arsenal East, at Plumstead, approached via "Griffin Manor Way". It also led to breaking down of parts of the 1804 brick boundary wall. Part of it near Plumstead Bus station was replaced by Ironrailings and Chain linkfencing; later the public roadway (now the A206) was also changed at the Woolwich market area and the Royal Arsenal's boundary was moved inwards so that the Beresford Gate became detached from the site by the A206.
The Royal Arsenal site retained its links to ordnance production for almost another 30 years as a number of the UK Ministry of Defence,
ProcurementExecutive's, Quality AssuranceDirectorates had their Head Quarters Offices located there. These included the Materials Quality Assurance Directorate (MQAD), which looked after materiel, including explosivesand pyrotechnics; and the Quality Assurance Directorate (Ordnance), (QAD (Ord)), which looked after ordnance for the Army. MQAD being the successor of the old "War Department Chemist" and the "Chemical Inspectorate". There was a separate Royal NavyOrdnance Inspection Department that looked after the Royal Navy's interests.
QAD (Ord) was based at Royal Arsenal West together with a Ministry of Defence
Publications section and part of the British Library's Secure storage accommodation.
MQAD was based, until closure of the site at Royal Arsenal East; and all the buildings on this site were given "E" numbers, such as "E135". Belmarsh high-security prison was build on part of Royal Arsenal East, becoming operational in 1991.
The Royal Arsenal ceased to be a military establishment in 1994. The sprawling Arsenal site is now one of the focal points for redevelopment in the
Thames Gatewayzone, but the links to its historic past are not lost. Many notable buildings in the historic original (West) site are being retained in the redevelopment; the site includes Firepower - The Royal Artillery Museumtelling the story of the Royal Artillery, and Greenwich Heritage Centrewhich tells the story of Woolwich, including the Royal Arsenal.
The Royal Arsenal now
Royal Arsenal has now been transformed into a mixed use development by
Berkeley Homes. It comprises one of the biggest concentrations of Grade I and Grade II listed buildings converted for residential use, with over 3,000 residents already living on site. The latest phase of homes current for sale at Royal Arsenal is called "The Armouries" consisting 455 new-build apartments set in a six-storey building. The development has a residents' only gym, the Couture Food Hall, a Thames Clipper stop on site, a Streetcar-run car club and a 24-hour concierge facility for residents. Wellington Park provides open space and there is a Young's Pub due to open in spring 2009.
Plans have now been submitted for a new masterplan encompassing further land along the river. The new plans incorporate a further 1,200 new homes, along with 270,000 sq ft of commercial, retail, leisure space and a 120-bedroom hotel. Also included in the plans is the new Woolwich Crossrail station, which has been part-funded by Berkeley Homes.
Firepower - The Royal Artillery Museum
Royal Arsenal Railway
Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills
* [http://www.royal-arsenal.com/ Semi-official site about the history of the Royal Arsenal]
* [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/place_page.jsp?p_id=1000&st=Woolwich/ A brief description from 1887]
* [http://www.royalarsenal.com/ Official site about the redevelopment project]
* [http://www.royal-arsenal.co.uk/ A developer's site about the redevelopment project] .
* [http://www.ideal-homes.org.uk/greenwich/main/progress-estate.htm History of the Well Hall (Progress) housing estate for Arsenal workers]
*Hogg, Brigadier O.F.G., (1963). "The Royal Arsenal Woolwich" (Vol 1 & 2). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
*Masters, Roy, (1995). Britain in Old Photographs: "The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich". Strood: Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-0894-7.
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