Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Woolwich Barracks to close

It was announced this morning that Woolwich Barracks is to close and the buildings are to be sold off. Assuming that all the ancillary buildings that are included in the complex are also sold off, this will sever links between the British Army and Woolwich that date back to the mid seventeenth century.

The first military presence in the area was a result of the decision by the Board of Ordnance to create an Ordnance Storage Depot at The Warren in 1671. This was used to store powder and shot, and the nearby marshes were used to proof-test guns.


In 1695 the ammunition laboratory (i.e. the workshop where ammunition was manufactured) that had previously been based in Greenwich was moved to The Warren, and the building was named the Royal Laboratory. This was followed in 1717 by the building of a Board-owned gun foundry (the Royal Brass Foundry) after there was a devastating explosion at the private foundry the Board of Ordnance had previously used in Moorfields, London.

This complex of military buildings in Woolwich continued to expand as time went on:
  • 1716: Two companies of artillery were formed at The Warren by Royal Warrant.
  • 1720: Royal Military Academy was set up to train officers for the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers.
  • 1722: The number and size of the artillery detachments based at The Warren had grown and they were organised into the Royal Regiment of Artillery.
  • 1750s: Gun carriages began to be built onsite; this led to the setting up of the Royal Carriage Department in 1803.
  • 1770s: Royal Military Repository was created for the storage of military machinery.
  • 1776: Construction of the Royal Artillery Barracks began; they were completed in 1802.
  • 1806: Royal Military Academy moved to a new site off Woolwich Common.
  • 1855: The Royal Brass Foundry was renamed the Royal Gun Factory.
  • 1865: Royal Herbert Military Hospital was built to the south of Woolwich Common.
1867: A map of The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
Since the Second World War, the military presence in Woolwich has slowly declined.
  • 1939: Royal Military Academy closed; its functions were absorbed by the new Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, that was set up in 1947.
  • 1967: Royal Arsenal Woolwich begins to close down and a large part of the eastern end of the site was sold to the Greater London Council, who used it to build the new town of Thamesmead.
  • 1967 - 1994: The Royal Arsenal is run down and its functions are transferred to other sites and/or establishments.
  • 1977: Royal Herbert Military Hospital was closed; it was later redeveloped into luxury housing.
  • 1977: Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital (a replacement for the Royal Herbert) opened; it closed in 2001 and was handed over to the NHS.
  • 1994: The Royal Arsenal ceased to be a military establishment. After a period of hiatus the site began to be developed to provide housing.
  • 2001: Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum, which was based in part of the Royal Arsenal site, opened.
  • 2006: Second Royal Military Academy building was sold for redevelopment as luxury housing.
  • 2007: The last Royal Artillery unit left Woolwich.
  • 2012: The King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery moved to new quarters in Woolwich.
  • 2016: Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum, closed.
  • 2016: Ministry of Defence announced that Woolwich Barracks are to be sold for redevelopment ... probably as luxury housing!

16 comments:

  1. Shame I've never visited as I've discovered my family has links back to Woolwich and the Royal Artillery.

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    1. Will McNally,

      Every Gunner I have met has memories of Woolwich. In my family, both my father and maternal grandfather were Gunners ... and one paternal aunt served as an ATS anti-aircraft gunner.

      Try to pay a visit before the link between the British Army and Woolwich is finally broken.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. You missed August 1964 when Cpls Clark and Burkin called in and persuaded the on site tailor to sew their new stripes to their number two uniforms. Cpl Burkin went to become a Conductor in the RAOC and Cpl clark bought himself out shortly after marrying :) Then there are the hours spent in the Rotunda as a kid. I have fond memories of Woolwich.

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    Replies
    1. Nobby,

      Sorry for missing out the events of 1964. They sound like they were quite interesting for the two Corporals. (I assume that they weren't Gunners, otherwise they would have been Bombardiers.)

      I loved to visit the Rotunda. It was used to house Firepower's larger items and reserve collection until the Royal Horse Artillery moved to Woolwich. It now houses the unit's gym.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Oops. Sorry that should have been 1967 not 64. Age shall not wither excepting the memory. We had both passed out of Army Apprentices the previous month as full corporals in the RAOC. Rather full of ourself because we had skipped private and lance jack unlike the RE apprentices who all passed out as privates.

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    3. Nobby,

      You did very well indeed! My father managed to go from recruit to Sergeant in six months ... but that was during wartime and because he had been to Grammar School and knew how to do trigonometry.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    4. It's good to hear that trigonometry is good for something :0)

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    5. Nobby,

      It got him a job working as a member of a forward observation team attached to 6th Airborne Division.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. When did the engineers leave? I presume it was when the RE base in Chatham was established.

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    Replies
    1. Nigel Drury,

      The headquarters of the Royal Engineers moved to Chatham in 1856, but they maintain a barracks in Woolwich until much later.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. There used to be some artillery in Chatham though at some point they moved to Woolwich.

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    3. Nigel Drury,

      The site of the old Royal Engineers Barracks in Woolwich is now occupied by a huge Tesco superstore and housing development. It was given an award when it was built ... for being an example of bad architecture!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    4. The offices built the site of the Marines barracks in Chatham have now been listed. (Built for Lloyds of London, now occupied by the council)

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    5. Nigel Drury,

      It sounds as if they have not gone down the route of 'knock it down and build something ugly on it'. Good for them!

      All the best,

      Bob

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    6. The Grade II listing was a bit of a surprise. http://www.kentonline.co.uk/medway/news/70s-civic-centre-gets-grade-30840/
      Next time you visit the dockyard you can decide for yourself.

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    7. Nigel Drury,

      I'll certainly look out for it when I next visit that part of Chatham.

      All the best,

      Bob

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