Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Victorian and Edwardian Miscellany: Royal Arsenal, Woolwich

During the latter part of the nineteenth century the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, was one of the largest (if not THE largest) manufacturing plants in the world. It was so large that it had its own railway system (with 120 miles of track!), part of which was 18-inch gauge, part of it 'standard' gauge (i.e. 4 feet 8½ inches), and part mixed so that both 18-inch and 'standard' gauge locomotives and rolling stock could run over it.

A map of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (1877).

The Arsenal produced the majority of the artillery used by the British Army and Royal Navy as well as the ammunition, powder, and gun carriages they required. It was also the original home of the Royal Artillery and the Royal Military Academy (which trained young men to become Artillery and Engineer Officers), and until recently it housed the offices of the Quality Assurance Directorate (Ordnance) (the organisation that oversees ordnance procured and produced for the Army), the Royal Navy Ordnance Inspection Department, and the Ministry of Defence Publications section.

Probably the most famous type of gun produced at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, was the 'Woolwich Infant' The first of these large muzzle-loading guns was made in 1872, and it weighed thirty-five tons. This was followed by bigger guns of up to eighty-one and even one hundred and ten tons.

This photograph was originally captioned 'Largest and Smallest' and was supposed to show the size of the largest and smallest artillery pieces produced at that time by the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.

This photograph was originally captioned 'The 38-ton Gun and 7-pounder Abyssinian Gun'. They appear to be the barrels of the artillery pieces shown in the previous photograph.

One of the large muzzle-loading guns built at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. Some idea of the size of the gun can be gauged by the man standing to the right of the gun barrel. The original photograph was not captioned, but it appears to be a 16-inch 80-ton Gun. The largest muzzle-loading gun produced in the UK was the 17.72-inch 100-ton Gun, but that was manufactured by the Elswick Ordnance Company and not the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.


  1. I think my table would crack open if I fielded one of these 'babies'.


  2. Jim Duncan,

    They certainly knew how to make big guns in those days!

    All the best,