Saturday, 2 November 2019

Royal Arsenal Woolwich - update December 1999

The view at December 1999

 by Jack Vaughan

The physical state of the above may be observed from three vantage points external to the site:

Point One - Walk from Beresford Square down Warren Lane and turn in at the Warren Gate. Entry to the site is not possible but the general layout may be discerned albeit that it resembles a vast bomb site left over from World War II.

This is the result of:
a.A general massacre by the owners , English Partnerships, carried out with tacit Council approval. This work to provide services for future use, drains, electric supplies, etc.  has resulted in theneedless loss of fine buildings and all the contents thereof. This means that there has been a wholesale disappearance of Arsenal artefacts both from inside the buildings andexternally. Fine structural ironwork, railway lines and associated control gear, cranes, hydraulic hoists and even an ancient fossil bed have been spirited away. Enquiries as to the fate of these items are met with evasion.
b. Archaeological exploration, while welcome, has also contributed,especially on the sites of the Royal Laboratories (1696) and of Dial Square (1717). The two portions of the former are still standing but in woeful condition, as is the front block of Dial Square including the sundial added in 1764.


The straight road running east from this gate is Wellington Avenue. 

On its right side
1. Royal Laboratory Pavilion (1696)
2. Royal Brass Foundry (front of 1716)
3. Dial Square Front Block (rear of 1717)
4. New Carriage Store (1728)
Later Main machine shop of the Royal Carriage Department.

On its left side
1. Tower Place (1716)
2. New Laboratory Square
3. Paper Cartridge Factory. (1810)
Later Metallurgy Branch of the DQA.
4. Gun Mounting Shop (1887)
5. Central Office (1905) The only surviving Edwardian building and under threat.
6. Statue of the 1st Duke of Wellington. (on a clear day!)

No.2. on the Right is listed Grade I
No.1. on the left is listed Grade II star
Nos.1, 3 & 4 in the right are listed Grade II
Nos. 2 & 6  on the left are listed Grade II
Nos. 3, 4 & 5 on the left are not listed but may be retained.

Point Two
At  Beresford Square, behind the former Main Gate (Grade II but now divorced from the main site. 1825 & 1891). The general site destruction is equally visible from here and need not be elaborated on.


Behind the railings there is a plate showing some of the buildings.

To the left
1. The Main Guard House (1758)
2. Side view of the Royal Brass Foundry(1716)

Straight ahead
3. Front view of Dial Square block (1717)

To the Right
4. Verbruggen’s House (1772)
5. The Officers’ Quarters (birthplace of the Royal Artillery) (1720)
All have Grade II listing

Point Three
From Beresford Square walk east towards Plumstead, turning left at Marshgate Path which leads to the ‘East Gate’ end of the site.

At the start of Marshgate Path
1. Middle (or Second Gate) 19th century
2. Middlegate House (1808). Built for the storekeeper and later HQ of the Inspector of Naval Ordnance. Now occupied by the Council’s Leisure Services Department.

From the East Gate
3. Rear of Armstrong Gun Factory (1856)
4. Gate (two storeys) of Rifled Shell Factory (1896)
5. Distant view of the Grand Storehouses, on the river side (1806)

Listed buildings not visible from any of the three points given are the two Riverside Guard Houses and front view of the Armstrong Gun Factory.

This external perambulation gives glimpses of most of the buildings but emanates absolutely no atmosphere or nostalgic feelings for ex-Arsenal habitues or relatives of same.

Loss of artefacts as outlined and removal of the many guns, shells, etc. by the Tower Armouries shows a disregard for local feelings that is quite unforgiveable.  Some of the remaining buildings are subject to vandalism, shattered windows, etc.

Apprecation of the importance of industrial artefacts, both on the part of the owner, and the Borough Council is zero, and we must continue to criticiseat every opportunity in the faint hope that enlightenment will come.

This piece dates from the January 2000 Newsletter.  Jack Vaughan was the first GIHS Chair and  already in his 90s when he wrote this. He had worked in the Arsenal for most of his career.  Jack was devoted to trying to preserve Woolwich's industrial heritage from developers and Government Agencies who he saw as vandals - but who of course would be unable to understand  his point of view, writing him off as an awkward old curmurgeon.
In working through the print copies of the GIHS Newsletter I will one day include a long printed dicussion which Jack had with David MacCullom, then Greenwich's Director of Regeneration.  Jack spared no one - for instance, also as yet unreproduced here, is Jack on the Greenwich Society! 

However many of the issues raised here - both about the Arsenal and other developments - could well do with discussion now, twenty years later. 

Ray Fordham is still collecting and recovering Arsenal history - but, to quote him "Well, Jack! Jack's Jack, isn't he?'

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