1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Woolwich

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WOOLWICH, a S.E. metropolitan borough of London, England, bounded W. by Greenwich and Lewisham, and extending N., E. and S., to the boundary of the county of London. Pop. (1901) 117,178. Area, 8276·6 acres. Its N. boundary is in part the river Thames, but it includes two separate small areas on the N. bank, embracing a portion of the district called N. Woolwich. The area is second to that of Wandsworth among the metropolitan boroughs, but is not wholly built over. The most populous part is that lying between Shooter’s Hill Road (the Roman Watling Street) and the river, the site falling from an elevation of 4l8 ft. at Shooter’s Hill to the river level. To the E. lies Plumstead, with the Plumstead marshes bordering the river to the N., and in the S. of the borough is Eltham. A large working population is employed in the Royal Arsenal, which occupies a large area on the river-bank, and includes the Royal Gun Factory, Royal Carriage Department, Royal Laboratory and Building Works Department. The former Royal Dockyard was made over to the War Office in 1872 and converted into stores, wharves for the loading of troopships, &c. The Royal Artillery Barracks, facing Woolwich Common, originally erected in 1775, has been greatly extended at different times, and consists of six ranges of brick building, including a church in the Italian Gothic style erected in 1863, a theatre, and a library in connexion with the officers’ mess-room. Opposite the barracks is the memorial to the officers and men of the Royal Artillery who fell in the Crimean War, a bronze figure of Victory cast out of cannon captured in the Crimea. Near the barracks is the Royal Artillery Institution, with a fine museum and a lecture hall. On the W. of the barrack field is the Royal Military Repository, within the enclosure of which is the Rotunda, originally erected in St James’s Park for the reception of the allied sovereigns in 1814, and shortly afterwards transferred to its present site. It contains models of the principal dockyards and fortifications of the British empire, naval models of all dates, and numerous specimens of weapons of war from the remotest times to the present day. On the Common is the Royal Military Academy, a castellated building erected from the design of Sir J. Wyatville in 1801, where cadets are trained for the artillery and engineer services. There are a number of other barracks. At the S.E. extremity of the Common is the Herbert Military Hospital. Among several military memorials, one in the Academy grounds was erected to the Prince Imperial of France, for two years a student in the Academy. Other institutions include the Woolwich polytechnic and the Brook fever hospital, Shooter’s Hill. The parish church of St Mary Magdalene was rebuilt, in 1726–1729, near the site of the old one dating from before the 12th century. Woolwich Common (142 acres) is partly within this borough, but mainly in Greenwich. South of it is Eltham Common (37 acres), and in the E. of the borough are Plumstead Common (103 acres) and Bostall Heath (134 acres). Behind the Royal Military Academy is a mineral well, the “Shooter’s Hill waters” mentioned by Evelyn. Near Woolwich Common there are brick and tile kilns and sand and chalk pits, and there are extensive market-gardens in the locality. The parliamentary borough of Woolwich returns one member. The borough council consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 60 councillors. It was only by the London Government Act 1899 that Woolwich was brought into line with other London districts, for in 1855, as it had previously become a local government district under a local board, it was left untouched by the Metropolis Management Act.

Woolwich (Wulewich) is mentioned in a grant of land by King Edward in 964 to the abbey of St Peter at Ghent. In Domesday the manor is mentioned as consisting of 63 acres of land. The Roman Watling Street crossed Shooter’s Hill, and a Roman cemetery is supposed to have occupied the site of the Royal Arsenal, numerous Roman urns and fragments of Roman pottery having been dug up in the neighbourhood. Woolwich seems to have been a small fishing village until in the beginning of the 16th century it rose into prominence as a dockyard and naval station. There is evidence that ships were built at Woolwich in the reign of Henry VII., but it was with the purchase by Henry VIII. of two parcels of land in the manor of Woolwich, called Boughton’s Docks, that the foundation of the town’s prosperity was laid, the launching of the “Harry Grâce de Dieu,” of 1000 tons burden, making an epoch in its history. Woolwich remained the chief dockyard of the English navy until the introduction of iron ship building, but the dockyard was closed in 1869. The town became the headquarters of the Royal Artillery on the establishment of a separate branch of this service in the reign of George I. Land was probably acquired for a military post and store depôt at Woolwich in 1667, in order to erect batteries against the invading Dutch fleet, although in 1664 mention is made of storehouses and sheds for repairing ship carriages. In 1668 guns, carriages and stores were concentrated at Woolwich, and in 1695 the laboratory was moved hither from Greenwich. Before 1716 ordnance was obtained from private manufacturers and proved by the Board of Ordnance. In 1716 an explosion took place at the Moorfields Foundry, and it was decided to build a royal brass foundry at the “Tower Place,” as the establishment at Woolwich was called until 1805. Founders were advertised for, and records show that Andrew Schalch of Douai was selected. In 1741 a school of instruction for the military branch of the ordnance was established here. It was not until 1805, however, that the collection of establishments at Woolwich became the Royal Arsenal.

See C. H. Grinling, T. A. Ingram and B. C. Polkinghorne, Survey and Record of Woolwich and West Kent (Woolwich, 1909).