Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Royal Arsenal - English Heritage Archaeological Assessments

English Heritage Archaeological Assessments

The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Building 46 undertaken by Oxford Archaeology

The Grand Store complex at the Royal Arsenal is of national importance comprising a set of Grade II* listed buildings and it is among the architectural highlights of the historic military site. The complex was constructed between 1806 and 1813 due to the high on-going military demands of the Napoleonic Wars and formed part of a wider development at the Arsenal during this period which expanded the site's productive capacity. The Grand Store was constructed to meet the greater storage capacity required and although it was slightly scaled down from the original grandiose designs, the complex was still a magnificent architectural composition facing onto the river. It originally comprised three quadrangles but only the main (central) one survives in anything like its original form. It was designed by James and Lewis Wyatt with a plain Georgian classicism and is described by the list description as 'architecturally one of the most distinguished of the large late 18th and early 19th century warehouses erected in both naval and civil docks'. However, the external grandeur of the complex masked fundamental flaws in the construction of its foundations and in the decades after its completion parts of it suffered greatly from subsidence and much patching and rebuilding work was undertaken to counteract this. The southern range (Building 36) and the east quadrangle were particularly affected by subsidence but Building 46, the subject of the current study, appears to have suffered little.

Building 46 foils the west range of the central quadrangle and although from the exterior it broadly retains its original form and elegant design, the inside has been much more altered the other two main surviving ranges and it retains fewer historic features. The internal structural name of the south half has been substantially rebuilt in the mid 20th century (possibly due to wartime bomb damage) and the surviving primary timber came in the central section has been substantially damaged by a fire, presumably related to rebuilding of the south range. The primary timber frame survives in the north range and it is very similar to the construction throughout the rest of the main Grand Store ranges.

The first floor was converted to offices, possibly in stages from the late 19th century, and most of the ground floor was similarly converted to offices in the 20th century. The ground floor of the north range is the least altered part of the building but even here it retains far fewer historic features than the other ranges of the complex. It does contain some evidence of the former use and layout of the building, particularly in the form of mortices against each post which indicate that there would have been a pair of mezzanines within the current tall ground floor area, either side of a double height central aisle. Similar mezzanines survive in the other Grand Store ranges and mortices show that in Building 46 these would have extended into the central block. 

Evidence within the building suggests that there would have been small stoves at ground and first floor, again similar to evidence in the other ranges, and there are various other minor features of interest. However, there is no surviving evidence of former hydraulic lifts in Building 46 whereas three such hoists survive in-situ in the other ranges and only one of the very impressive primary double doors survives, whereas again many more of these survive in the other ranges. In addition far fewer primary windows survive in Building 46 than in the other ranges. 

Fortunately, as the Grand Store complex is known to have been of such consistent layout and construction, the surviving features and layout in various parts of the other ranges provides a good indication of the historic form of Building 46. In return, there are clues relating to Building 46 which also add to our understanding of the other ranges and among these is a surviving plan and section through part of the building dating to 1856. This details the insertion of the mezzanine through the building (including the now reconstructed South Range) and provides the only concrete date for these features which were also added throughout the other Grand Store ranges and some of which survive in-situ. The insertion of the mezzanines can therefore be seen as part of the massive Crimean-period expansion at the Arsenal when there was a flood of investment at the site due to the chaotic response of the military establishment to the crisis. 

Although the surviving primary structure of Building 46 and the other Grand Store ranges has a monumental grandeur and is still impressive in scale today, it was structurally relatively conservative when compared to other contemporary buildings and can now be seen to represent the end of the building tradition. It was constructed a decade after the first iron-framed, fire-proof textile mills were constructed and although this type of construction was yet to be widely adopted it did spread and develop in the early decades of the 19th century, particularly for large structures such as the Grand Store. In a historical context there is no doubt that the construction of the complex has much more in common with storehouses of the second half of the 18th century (particularly naval storehouses) rather than the commercial warehouses of the first half of the 19" century  which comprised cast iron columns, iron beams and brick jack arches. The contrast is even greater with the light-weight iron roof trusses and open floor spaces of various buildings at the Arsenal dating to the second half of the 19th century.

The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich undertaken by Pre- Construct Archaeology

The remains of walls relating to the Cartridge Establishment of The Royal Arsenal were found. Evidence was seen for the Pilkington Canal within the excavated trenches.

Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (Zones 17, 21 & 23). Undertaken by Pre-Construct Archaeology 

A watching brief over Zones 21 and 23 revealed substantial industrial remains of the Royal Arsenal. The natural and made ground sequence was recorded. The remains of the Boiler House and Rolling Mill, and its successors Buildings D71, D72 and D74, were found in the north of the site. In the centre and south of the site expansive remains of the South Boring Mill were recorded including superstructure and machinery. External features associated with the building were found. Other structures included Buildings C33, C47 and D80, and peripheral buildings. The route of Street No 10 was visible across the site, as was the remediated Pilkington Canal.

The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich: Greenwich Heritage Centre (Building'41) undertaken by Oxford Archaeology 

Made ground comprised of building rubble associated with the military history of the site. Two iron cannons were recovered from within these deposits. They had iron rings set in their muzzled 6or reuse as mooring points along the Thames.

Docklands Light Railway, Woolwich undertaken by AOC Archaeology (London).  
The extension of the Docklands Light Railway to link with Woolwich Arsenal overland station requires the demolition of two blocks of buildings that largely date from the 19th century. None of the buildings predate 1790. The majority seems to be early or mid 19th century structures which have been modified by the addition of facades. 

Some of these facades are very decorative, notably Lloyds Bank and 21-24a Greens End. There are two buildings which merit no recording i.e. 6 Woolwich New Road and 2-4 Spray Street. Both of these are modern buildings of low architectural and artistic merit. These do not require further recording, but there may be basements of previous properties below. The potential earliest buildings at 4, Woolwich New Road, 8 Woolwich New Road and 21 Greens End all merit further examination to determine their age

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