Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Museums, Public Buildings and Galleries -Woolwich and Woolwich Arsenal

Woolwich.-Previous to entering on a description of Woolwich, the various means of reaching which will be found at page 148., it may be as well to premise, that parties intending a visit to that immense military depôt should go prepared to pass some hours there, the magnitude of the establishments, and multifarious objects of absorbing interest with which it abounds, requiring at least a summer's day: an opinion in which the reader will probably coincide, when informed, that each of the three great establishments here occupies a space of many acres, and that the distance between them is considerable. To a detailed account of the whole of them a volume might well be devoted, but, as an arrangement so diffuse, would render its admission into this, or any work of a similar kind, altogether impossible, and is by no means necessary, the editor has given, in a condensed form, a general description, which, omitting nothing of interest in his sketch, that he trusts will be though brief brings the principal features of each under review; found to contain all the requisite information. It may not be improper to add, that Woolwich, though abounding in houses of entertainment, is deficient in accommodation for the higher classes, who will, perhaps, best finish the day by dining either at Greenwich or Blackwall.
    Mode of admission.- On entering the gate of the Arsenal, two lodges present themselves, and, on applying to the bombardier on duty at the one on the left, the visitor, after writing his name in a book, will receive a card that contains a plan of the Royal Arsenal (to be returned on leaving it), and instructions for his guidance, to which he is expected strictly to conform. As this passport will, however, only permit him to traverse the ground, and view exteriorly the different departments, those who would visit the interior, and witness the operations of the various workshops, must provide themselves with an order from the commandant of the garrison at his office in the Royal Artillery Barracks; a regulation rendered necessary by the interruption that would otherwise occur to the operations of the artisans. The foundery erected by Sir John Vanbrugh, and completed in 1719, contains three furnaces, the largest of which will melt about 17 tons of metal; an operation of this nature is not however, as may be imagined, an every day occurrence, which, when it does take place, naturally attracts a host of visitors, who, provided with an order from the Master-general, are permitted to witness it. In its vicinity is a building for boring cannon, and at no great distance from it is a second devoted to the same purpose, and here also brass guns, having been previously proved at the butt, and found perfect, are turned and beautifully polished, while a third is appropriated to the boring and enlarging the calibre of iron ordnance. On leaving this last building, the Laboratory is next visited, where fire-works for time use of the Navy amid Army are manufactured, as are also bomb-shells, carcasses, and grenades. Here are two model rooms, in one of which may be seen all the articles used in the composition of gunpowder, with grinding mills, sifting machines, and all the necessary implements for its manufacture, with barrels and boxes for the preservation of that dangerous combustible on shipboard and on shore. Models of fire ships, moulds for casting balls of all sizes, with bar, chain, grape, and canister shot, and shells of various sizes, from inc pound to two hundred and thirty, together with every description of rocket used in the service. In the pressing room of this department may be seen the machine of Napier, for manufacturing muskets balls from leaden rods, which, far surpassing those cast in moulds, are here produced at the rate of 12,000 per day. Leaving the Laboratory, and proceeding in the direction of the Storekeeper's dwelling and office, in which vicinity are the receptacles of various military stores and accoutrements of cavalry, the visiter crosses the ground, a field covered with many thousand large guns destined for ships and batteries, with shot and shells of all sizes erected in pyramids that form altogether a magnificent spectacle. At no great distance from the storehouse for cavalry accoutrements and harness, is another building wherein fusees are made and fitted into shells, the shells themselves being proved as regards their uniformity of thickness, the final proof of fitness for use taking place under water. Much of the manual labour the heavy work in particular, in proving the shells, &c., is performed by convicts, who are daily brought on shore from the hulks for that purpose. At the north-east end of the Arsenal is a canal and various powder magazines, and in the vicinity a putt or mound of earth, into which, when cannon are proved, the balls are fired. A steam saw mill, of twenty-horse power, reduces trees with great rapidity to planks of the required size, which are subsequently converted into the proper form, by a planing machine, erected by Bramah, that greatly facilitates the operations of the carriage-maker, carpenter, and wheelwright. At a distance of about half a mile from the Arsenal gate, occupying a beautiful situation, are the Royal Artillery Barracks, an extensive pile that consists of six ranges of brick building, that, including stabling for a thousand horses, and barracks for an equal number of men, are united by an ornamental centre of stone, having Doric columns in front, and the royal arms and military trophies above, and four other lower buildings filling up the divisions between each range; the latter have also stone fronts, with Doric colonnades, and a balustrade above each. These contain a library and reading-room for the officers, a guard-room, and a chapel capable of containing a thousand persons. A short distance from the chapel is the riding-school, an elegant structure, erected from designs by Wyatt. The parade, a fine level, is in front of the barracks; and on the adjoining common, which affords ample space, the soldiers are frequently exercised in throwing shells, firing at a flag-staff, which they not unfrequently shiver, and in the acquirement of field practice with the guns of a park of artillery, always kept ready for immediate service; and near it is the mortar and howitzer battery, where, in fair weather, the bombardiers practise three times a week. The Rotunda* (*shown on application), always a great attraction here, was first erected by command of the Prince Regent, afterwards George IV., in Carlton Gardens, from a design by and under the superintendence of Nash, for the reception and entertainment of the allied sovereigns at a grand banquet given on the occasion of their visit to this country at the conclusion of the peace in 1814, and, after serving its original purpose, was thence transferred to Woolwich, and converted into a depository for models of various kinds; amongst which may be named the city of Quebec, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Deptford, Woolwich, and Chatham Dock-yards, St. James's Park, with the Horse Guards, and gardens of Carlton House, and the rock of Gibraltar, with models of mortars, bombs, guns, and howitzers, Congreve rockets, scaling-ladders, pontoons, ordnance shells, and various implements of destruction. The Royal Military Academy, an elegant and commodious structure, situate at the south-east corner of Woolwich Common, affords accommodation to about one hundred and thirty young gentlemen, the sons of military men, and the more respectable classes, who are here instructed in mathematics, land-surveying, with mapping, fortification, engineering, the use of the musket and sword exercise, and field-pieces; and for whose use twelve brass cannon, three-pounders, are placed in front of the building, practising with which they acquire a knowledge of their application in the field of battle. This department is under the direction of a lieutenant-general, an instructer, a professor of mathematics, and a professor of fortification; in addition to which there are French, German, and drawing masters. The whole of the military, as well as civil, establishments at Woolwich, are under the immediate superintendence of the Master-general and Board of Ordnance, and all the works carried on there are under their immediate control.
    Woolwich Dock-Yard, supposed to be the oldest in the kingdom, has been progressively enlarged from the time of its establishment, and in its present state includes an area of about five furlongs in length by one in breadth, surrounded, save on the river side, by a lofty wall. Within this space are several slips, dry- docks, and mast-ponds; a smith's shop, with forges and ponderous hammers, moved by steam-power, for making anchors of the largest size, and bolts for ships of greatest burthen, a model-loft, store-houses of various descriptions, a mast-house, sheds for timber, dwellings for the different officers, and other buildings. The landing place, on the wharf, is the point where foreigners of distinction generally disembark on their arrival in this country, and embark when quitting it. The largest ships in the British navy have been built here; in particular, the Sovereign of the Seas, of 176 guns, in the reign of Charles I. ; the ill-fated Royal George; the Invincible, 74; the Venerable, 74; the unfortunate Boyne, 98; in later times, the Lord Nelson, 110; and, recently, the Trafalgar, 120. An additional basin, of capacious size, has been recently added to this establishment, and a manufactory for the formation, fitting, and repairing of the engines of the different steam vessels belonging to the British navy. A considerable space is here appropriated to the reception of anchors, some of which are of the largest size, weighing 45 cwt. The offices of the establishment occupy a neat building opposite the principal entrance, on right of which is the Dock Yard Police Office, where visiters having entered their name and address in a book kept for the purpose, are then permitted to view the Yard, but must quit it an hour before the artificers leave work. An order from the Admiralty will alone entitle the visiter to inspect the interior of the different departments.

Woolwich, a market town of Kent, about nine miles from London, is situated on the south bank of the Thames. It is celebrated for its dockyards, in which the largest ships in the British navy have been built. The arsenal, including nearly sixty acres of land, is the grand national dépot for every species of ordnance, whether military or naval, and within its boundaries are several furnaces and machines for boring cannon, as well as workshops for finishing the ordnance, and storehouses for its protection. Here is a Royal Military Academy, for the education and instruction of young gentlemen intended for engineers. The Royal Artillery Barracks, a noble structure, is 400 feet in length; here, also, is a riding school, an ordnance and a veterinary hospital, with barracks and an hospital for the marines. Woolwich is well deserving of a visit, and is recently rendered more easy of access than heretofore, by means of steamboats, that in the summer season start from Hungerford Market daily, at different periods, and also from Old Swan Pier, near London Bridge; but the readiest way to reach Woolwich, which may now be accomplished in little more than an hour, is by the Blackwall Railway, from the London station of which, in Fenchurch Street, trains start every quarter of an hour for Blackwall (performing the distance, 3½ miles, in about 15 minutes), and from whence steamboats leave about every half hour for Woolwich.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844 

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Woolwich, in Kent, situated on the Thames, nine miles from London-bridge—Can be reached by South-Eastern Rail way, trains from Chanting-cross, Cannon-street, and London-bridge stations, every half-hour; or by the Great Eastern Railway from Fenchurch-street and Liverpool street stations (also from stations on North London line) to North Woolwich, crossing there by steam ferry to Woolwich Town (for the Arsenal and Artillery Barracks). Steamers run from Westminster, Blackfriars, and London-bridge to Woolwich Town-pier every 20 minutes, the time occupied being1 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, according to the tide; fares, 6d. and 4d. There is no good hotel accommodation in Woolwich, but on the other side of the river dinners are well served at the North Woolwich Gardens Hotel. Woolwich is celebrated for its arsenal (3 minutes’ walk from the South- Eastern Railway-station, and ten minutes from the steam-boat pier). Visitors must be furnished with a ticket from the War Office, obtained by personal application, or by letter to the “Secretary of State for War, War Office, Pall Mall, S.W.,” stating names and addresses, and declaring that they are British subjects. Visitors with tickets are admitted on Tuesday or Thursday between the hours of 10 and 11.30 a.m and 2 till 4.30 p.m. Foreigners must have special tickets, obtained through their ambassador in London. Strangers without passes are refused admission. The four principal departments of the arsenal, which covers 350 acres of ground, are the “Gun” Factory the “Laboratory” the “Carriage,” and “Control” Departments. A Torpedo Department, not open to the public, has recently been added. In the Gun factory the whole of the ordnance for the naval and military services—from the monster 80-ton gun to the the 7-pounder mountain cannon—are manufactured. All the guns are constructed on the Fraser system a modification of the “coil” plan introduced by the eminent engineer, Sir William Armstrong. The toner tubes of these guns are of steel, and instead of using several short coils and a forged breech piece, as was originally the case with the Armstrong gun, M Robert Fraser, the Deputy-Superintendent of the Gun Factory, devised the system known by his name, of using a few long double or treble coils, forming jackets of remarkable strength, the cost of production being at the same time reduced. In welding the coils, the great steam-hammer weighing 40 tons, is employed. The iron bed on which it stands weighs altogether 650 tons, with timber and concrete to 30 feet beneath. The Gun Factory comprises also the coiling, rifling, and boring mills, the forges, annealing furnaces, and pattern room. In one large plot of ground is the so called “Cemetery,” a collection of unsuccessful experimental guns of every possible form and description, the majority submitted for trial by inventors. Names, date and other details are recorded on each gun, or on the fragments of those which have burst. The “Control,”’ or Military Store Department has charge of all military stores. Ten thousand sets of harness are always ready for immediate use, and in the sheds adjoining the wharves are warlike materials of every kind ready for shipment. The grounds are filled wish shot and shell. Everything from guns to brooms, must be issued through this branch of the service. In the Carriage Department are the timber field, saw mills, machine shop, main and scrap forges, platform and main factory: the wheel factory being specially attractive. The pattern room contains many interesting objects. The Laboratory Department contains the largest workshop in the world. There are 500 lathes and 1,200 men can work in it, if required. The lead-squirting room, the bullet, fuse, and cap factories and the shot and shell foundries and workshops are full of elaborate machinery. In the Chemical Department all articles supplied for the use of the army, including food, are tested, as a check on the contractors. It conducts all experiments with gun powder and gun-cotton, and in the photographic branch photographs of all patterns are sent to the War Office and to foreign stations, in order to ensure uniformity. The proof butts, where the guns are experimented on and tested, are at the east end of the Arsenal The cannon are mounted at a short distance from the butt, which is solidly constructed in the form of a high wide bank of earth, with timber frames and supports; a large quantity of sand being placed in front in order that the fired shot may be more easily recovered. The guns are fired by electricity, the firing party and all other persons being under cover, in case of accident. Shot have been known to penetrate as much as 30 feet into the butt. Near the proof butts is the East Laboratory, or Composition Department, where the small-arm cartridges are made, also the Rocket Factory Detonating Sheds, and Cannon Cartridge Factory. Rifles and rifle ammunition are tested at the practice range adjoining. Three millions of small-arm cartridges with a corresponding number of any other articles required, can be produced in the arsenal weekly The Artillery Barracks, the head quarters of the Royal Horse an Foot Artillery are about fifteen minutes’ walk from the steam-boat pier, and ten minutes from the South-Eastern Railway-station These barracks are admirably situated, facing the common where all the artillery exercises and the great reviews take place. The band of the Royal Artillery plays frequently, in the Repository Grounds or on the common, about 5p.m., from May till October. The Rotunda, an interesting military museum, near the barracks, is open from 10 till 6 in summer, and from 10 till 4 in winter. The Royal Military Academy, where cadets are trained for the Royal Engineer and Artillery services, is situated on the common, about one mile from the arsenal. Woolwich Dockyard was formerly used for the construction of ships for the Royal Navy, but was closed in 1869, on the recommendation of a parliamentary committee. In 1878, in anticipation of the possibility of hostilities with Russia, the yard and warehouses were filled with military stores, ready for shipment to the east. In old Woolwich Churchyard are buried Maudsley, the eminent engineers, and Tom Cribb, the well-known pugilist. The name “Woolwich” is believed to have been derived from “Wulewich,” meaning in Anglo-Saxon “the Village in the Bay,” the Thames making a curve near the town. From the Woolwich steamboat-pier may be seen the point of the Thames facing the Beckton Gas Works, where the steamer Princess Alice sank in 1878, with upwards of 600 persons, after collision with the steamer Bywell Castle. A “Guide to Woolwich and the Vicinity” price 2s., is published by Jackson, Kentish Independent Office, Woolwich. From Fenchurch-street and Liverpool-street (60 min.), 1st, 1/-, 1/6; 2nd -/9, 1/2; 3rd -/6, -/10, for North Woolwich 1d. more. Chalk Farm, 1st, 1/-, 1/6; 2nd -/8, 1/-, for North Woolwich, same fares. The Arsenal from Charing-cross, 1st, 1/6, 2/6; 2nd 1/-, 1/8; 3rd -/10, 1/2; par., -/8. Cannon-street and London-bridge. 1st, 1/4, 2/2; 2nd 1/-, 1/8; 3rd -/9, 1/2; par., -/8. Trains run also to the Dockyard from these stations at same rate.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

North Woolwich Gardens.  - On the left bank of the river, adjacent to the North Woolwich Station of the Great Eastern Railway, about half an hour from Fenchurch-street. Almost the only survivors of the open-air places of amusement, which were once so numerous, are now Rosherville and North Woolwich. The latter, though by no means so picturesque as the lofty and tree-crowned crags of Rosherville, are prettily laid out, and in the summer time are a pleasant enough place of resort. A variety of entertainments of the usual class are given here during the season: in fine weather the gardens are generally thronged. The price of admission is 6d., and the fares from Fenchurch-street are: 1st, 1/1, 1/7; and, /10, 1/3; 3rd, -/7, -/11.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames, 1881

ROYAL MILITARY REPOSITORY, WOOLWICH. Models of fortifications, cannon and warlike appliances. Daily, 10 to 4, free.
WOOLWICH. Famous for its great Arsenal, Mititary Repository, &c. Is situated on the Thames, 10 miles below London Bridge. Adjoining is a spacious open common, upon which are occasionally held military reviews. The Arsenal may be visited on Tuesdays and Thursdays, by tickets to be obtained only at the War Office, Pall Mall, London. Trains from Charing Cross, &c. Steamers from Westminster Bridge about every half-hour. North Woolwich Gardens, on the opposite bank of the Thames, offer some attractions in summer. Admission, 6d. Trains from Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street. Steam Ferry to and from Woolwich.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - The Royal Military Academy, Woolwich

The Royal Military Academy, Woolwich - photograph


 In the south-west part of Woolwich Common, to the left of the road leading to Shooter's Hill and Eltham, is the Royal Military Academy, established by George II. "for instructing persons belonging to the military portion of the ordnance in the several branches of mathematics, fortification, etc., proper to qualifying them for the service of artillery and the office of engineer." The Academy, as a matter of fact, was founded in 1719, but it hung fire until 1745, and in 1745 it was transferred from within the Arsenal to the present site. Sir J. Wyatt designed the building, which consists of a central quadrangle (the original has been destroyed by fire) with wings. Among the cadets educated here was the Prince Imperial, to whose memory his fellow-students have erected a bronze statue.

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Woolwich, from the river

Woolwich, from the river - photograph


For several centuries Woolwich has been a place of great importance. Henry VIII. established here the Royal Dockyard, which was closed in 1869; and in these days the town is chiefly famous for its Arsenal, where thousands of men are employed in the manufacture of the munitions of war. There are separate departments for the making of guns, gun-carriages and waggons, cartridges and other projectiles. The Arsenal chimneys are prominent features of our view, while on the common to the right rises the Royal Military Academy (see page 242). At Woolwich also are the Royal Marine and Royal Artillery Barracks. Half obscured by the smoke from the passing pleasure-steamer returning from a trip to the estuary of the Thames, may be seen the parish church, dedicated to St Mary Magdalene.