BUILDINGS OF THE ARSENAL
PAPER CARTRIDGE FACTORY
Erected 1855-6 to designs by Lt Col R.S.Beatson, R.E. Has a 2-storey cast iron frame within brick walls. Some of the internal frame has been removed but most of it survives as a good example of robust mid-19th century iron construction. Converted to metal cartridge production circa 1884. By 1932 it was in use as an R.A.F. Bomb Shop. It has been extended to the rear and much altered, with most of the floor to the upper storey removed .
In 1852 the Board of Ordnance set up a committee to make the Royal Laboratory more efficient. It introduced steam power to the production of small arms on a large scale and
devised a process for the machine manufacture of small arms bag cartridges, probably originally destined for New Laboratory Square. This plan was disrupted by the outbreak of the Crimean War and it was decided instead to
erect a separate building, which was in use by 1857. Beatson had earlier been responsible for innovative use of structural iron at Portsmouth Dockyard: a two-tier cast iron water tower in 1843 and trussed cast iron floor beams in Boat House No. 6 in 1845-8. The Paper Cartridge Factory reflects some features of these buildings.
The contractors for the iron work are not known. Benjamin Hick & Son supplied the machinery and supplied iron elsewhere in the Arsenal at this period, as also did Henry Grissell [who had worked with Beatson at Portsmouth] and Fox & Henderson. The floor framing is of iron. No original flooring survives. It seems likely that this was of timber boarding, so the factory would not have been "fireproof", perhaps a low priority with a process requiring large volumes of water. The roof is in two 12.6m. spans, each framed in iron with elegant composite trusses.
Rags, the major raw material for paper making before 1860, would have been brought to the rag store in the separate north east block. These would have been cut and boiled, probably by women and children, either in the room over the rag store or at the east end of the main block. The main part of the ground floor of the main block was given over to large vats of water, possibly 10 or 15 in number. The rags would have been pulped by beating engines in the vats. The paper was made into cartridges by drying machines over the vats.
The west end of the ground floor to the north was given over to the engine house and, possibly, a water tank. The engine powered line shafting for all the building's machinery and perhaps also pumped water along pipes through the central row of columns to the pulping vats.
From at least 1866 percussion caps, which had been made at Woolwich from 1841, were manufactured in the western bays to the south on the ground floor.
THE GRAND STORE [Buildings 36, 37, 46 & 49].
An imposing complex of two and three storey warehouses overlooking the Thames. Originally comprised three quadrangles of which the great central group survives largely in its original form. The north and south ranges of the West Quadrangle survive as part of Building 45 [q.v.} but the East Quadrangle was demolished in 1967.
It was built in stages between 1806 and 1813 by the Board of Ordnance for the Arsenal Storekeeper's Department. The design has been attributed to James Wyatt, architect to the Ordnance Board, and his brother Lewis. The elevations are expensively built, with stock brick generously dressed with stone. Constructionally the buildings are conservative, looking back to the naval storehouses of the 18th century, making no use of structural iron [which was beginning to be employed at this time by Rennie and Alexander in the major warehouse complexes at the London and West India Docks only a few miles away upstream]. Architecturally the elevations adopt an idiosyncratic classical language employing giant pilasters with distinctly unusual fluted capitals. The buildings were erected on piled foundations and started to suffer from settlement almost immediately, requiring partial rebuilding and repairs throughout their operational lives. Further underpinning work is currently being carried out.
The Grand Store served as the general depot for the army and navy for items such as entrenching tools and harnesses as well as gun carriages and shot and shells. In 1855 it became the HQ of the Ordnance Store Department. The storage capacity of the complex proved insufficient, leading to the covering over of the outer quadrangles in 1856-8 and the erection of four farther ranges, including the two storehouses. Buildings 47 & 48, built 1888-9 and c.1890, on the former shot yard of the central quadrangle.
BUILDING 4 [Formerly a timber shed].
Erected circa 1856 as a timber storage shed for the Ordnance Store Department. Single-storey, iron-framed. A good example of the iron framing techniques being used in the Arsenal at this period. It has seven bays, with octagonal-section cast iron columns. The columns were cast with brackets to receive four rails, possibly relating to racking for storing or seasoning timber. Open-spandrel eliptical-arched girders span between the columns and the original composite iron roof trusses survive. Possibly originally open-sided. Later walling and fenestration has recently been removed, as has a 3-bay 20th. Century extension to the south.
MIDDLE GATE HOUSE & THE MIDDLE GATE.
Built 1809 for the Arsenal's Storekeeper, who had formerly lived in the Royal Military Academy. Located close to the timber yards that then occupied that part of the site. A double-fronted, stock brick building of three storeys, with a central Greek Doric porch, now enclosed. The top storey may be a later 19th. Century addition. The house takes its present name from its proximity to a now disused entrance to the Arsenal opened in 1843 as the Plumstead Gate. This was later renamed the Middle Gate
when the Arsenal expanded eastwards. The south boundary wall in which the gateway is formed dates possibly from circa 1800. The gateway has four large piers of rusticated masonry flanking two pedestrian side gates and a wider central opening. The gates, until recently hidden behind steel sheeting , are now, disappointingly, revealed to be of modern steelwork.
TELEPHONE EXCHANGE [Building 21].
A three storey polychrome brick building erected as Naval Offices in 1890. The upper storey was added in 1903. The windows are round-arched and the elevational treatment is
very similar to the Chemical Laboratory. Subsequently converted to serve as the Arsenal's telephone exchange but the telephone equipment has been removed.
BUILDING 19 [Formerly Mounting Ground, later Carriage Inspection Shed].
Built 1887 for the Royal Carriage Department. Replaced an iron mounting and painting shed of circa 1856-7 on the same site. This is the building in which guns were mounted onto their carriages.
Drawings for the building are signed by Colonel H. Crozier, Inspector of Works, and George Munday & Sons, building contractors. A single storey shed with three separately roofed ranges. The stock brick exterior has pairs
of round-arched window openings in relieving arches further articulated by plain pilaster strips. The slated roofs have gable ends and skylights along the ridges.
Internally the ranges are separated by tall hollow cylindrical cast iron columns bearing the name of John Lysacht Ltd of Bristol and the date 1887, which support the valley girders.
The two main ranges have clear floors served by overhead travelling cranes. These run on the original gantries though the cranes themselves are replacements. The roofs have steel principals and struts and wrought iron ties.
BUILDINGS 47& 48 [formerly Storehouse and Sea Store].
Two large warehouses forming part of the programme of enlarging the Grand Store's capacity, located on what was formerly the shot yard of the central quadrangle
Building 47: Warehouse, built circa 1890. Three storeys, of stock brick. 17 bays by 4, with giant pilaster strips. In the central 3 bays of the long elevations are two 2-storey
round-arched carriage entrances, reduced in 1967 when the building was adapted as a book store. The 4th and 14th bays on each side originally contained loopholes but the loading doors have been replaced with windows and the hoists removed. The windows are mostly replacements of 1967. The interior has timber floors on cast iron columns.
Building 48: Warehouse, built 1888-90 as a Sea Store. Three storey , yellow stock brick structure with hipped, slated roof. 17 bays by 3, with giant pilaster strips and round-headed window openings on the ground and first floors with cast iron window frames. Timber floors on hollow cylindrical cast iron columns.