ENGLISH HERITAGE REPORTS ON ARCHAEOLOGICAL WORK ON THE ARSENAL SITE
From: English Heritage
Article from GIHS Newsletter 2006
Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (Building 49) undertaken by Oxford Archaeology
Building 49 forms the east range of the main central quadrangle of the Grand Store complex, a vast Grade II* listed range of store houses which were constructed between 1806 and 1813 as part of a major expansion at the Arsenal due to the high military demands of the Napoleonic Wars.
The east range of the Grand Store, building 49, appears to have escaped the worst of the subsidence that the rest of the complex suffered. However, whilst the other main ranges of the Grand Store buildings appear to have remained partly in use until at least the closure of the Royal Ordnance Factory in the late 1960's, Building 49 was largely abandoned in the mid-20th century. Consequently its structural condition is now the worst of all the Grand Store ranges even though it has retained a large proportion of its historic fabric.
Among the interesting surviving features which provide an indication of the use of the building are a number of elements of a former hoist at the east end of the central block. The clearest external feature is an external hoist arm adjacent to a pair of first-floor loading doors at the centre of the east wall but there are also a number of surviving internal features. Adjacent to the ground floor doorway is a largely surviving hydraulic hoist (or jigger) fixed to the wall which would have powered the external hoist as well as internal lifts to move items between floors.
At roof level above the first-floor doors is a secondary timber frame between the easternmost primary tie beam and the external wall which would probably have supported an internal hoist. The jigger was inserted as part of a refit and expansion at the Arsenal during the Crimean War.
Another interesting feature which is in the central area is an iron frame, sunken within the ground floor slab, with rail tracks running over the top of it. Directly above it there was a large hatch in a mezzanine and there would have possibly been a hoist to raise items up from a wagon, which would have been pushed onto the tracks on the frame, to the mezzanine.
Another feature of interest in the general area is the base from a former rail turntable which was aligned with and directly south from the tracks on the frame. This was also in line with the double doors to the centre of the east elevation and there would have been a set of tracks which entered through the doors. Another set of tracks are also visible at the southern end of the building immediately inside from the external doorway.
Another interesting feature is a large sump beneath the very centre of the building and a surviving section of the stone-block flooring at the north west corner of the central block.
The most impressive general feature is the internal timber frame which survives but is in poor condition. The frame is arranged with pairs of Samson posts which rise through the building with load spreading 'pillow block' heads and bases sandwiched and bolted together immediately below each floor.
There is also evidence that there would have originally been a series of small stoves in the building which would probably just have been to provide some warmth. The evidence includes small recesses at ground floor in the main internal piers with smoke-darkened flues within the piers that link to the main chimney. At first floor there are some stone hearths which would probably have supported free-standing stoves and circular holes directly above into which circular iron flues would have fed.
There are also known to have been a number of mezzanines inserted throughout the Grand Store ranges during the Crimean War and these partly survive in building 49.
Although the surviving primary structure of building 49 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 a 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 rather than the commercial warehouses of the first half of the 19th 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.
Royal Arsenal, Woolwich (Building 45) undertaken by Oxford Archaeology
Building 45 at the Royal Arsenal forms part of the Grand Store complex, a nationally important set of warehouses constructed between 1806-1813 due to the military demands of the Napoleonic Wars. The ranges of the main, central quadrangle of the Grand Store are listed grade II and are among the architectural highlights of the Arsenal. Building 45, however, is a much simpler structure and is unlisted. Building 45 forms part of the Western Quadrangle which would originally have comprised three main ranges, with the fourth side formed by Building 46. Now only the North and South ranges survive and are considerably different to their original structure. The two ranges would have originally been single storied brick structures (Flemish bond) with hipped roofs and sash windows to either side with fan lights and arcading. Despite being single-storied, documentary evidence suggests that the North and South ranges were large storehouse buildings with external walls. They would have been typical Napoleonic-period structures similar to many such buildings constructed in the Royal dockyards and military complexes in the early 19th century.
The three originally detached ranges were linked by a vast shed which filled the quadrangle and which was constructed in 1855-6 during the Crimean War. These infill ranges were pulled down in a major reconstruction undertaken in the 1890's which saw the construction of a new three storey structure which filled the footprint of the previous building and which incorporated the original single storey North and South ranges. In the current development, the central 1890's infill block is being demolished and a new west range added to return the footprint of the quadrangle closer to its original form. The North and South ranges are being retained with primary brickwork at ground floor, 1890's extension at first floor and a new structure at 2nd floor.
Building 45 is of interest because it provides a fuller understanding of the original form of the Grand Store and is the only surviving element of the two original side quadrangles. Secondly, it is of interest as a piece of building's archaeology due to its complex development which reflects a number of phases of the Arsenal's history. Thirdly, it contributes to the overall group value of the buildings at the Arsenal, which is one of the principal interests of the site.
Evidence had indicated that the eastern wall of the building had many doorways at ground floor and that this was the principal access route into and out of the building for vehicular traffic. Much of the eastern third of the interior is likely to have been for loading and unloading and the main storage would have been in the western half. The investigation has confirmed that the second floor of each of the two primary ranges was a secondary addition, shown by the subtle difference in bonding between the brickwork on the two floors, and the demolition of the 1890's block has revealed that a number of bull nose bricks used in this block were stamped to their upper face with‘Diamond Jubilee', most likely referring to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee of 1897 and as these bricks are believed to be primary to the central range this provides a good indication of the date for this building. It was previously dated to c1890.
The work has also confirmed that the water tower was a later addition, (probably Edwardian) and that it was almost certainly never a hydraulic accumulator as has previously been considered possible.
Among specific features of interest identified in the investigation have been a series of military storage bays painted on the first and second floor and a single surviving fanlight which may be original (Napoleonic).
The roof of building 45 has similarities with various roofs constructed at the Arsenal in the very late 19th and early 20th century and lacks the elegance or structural sophistication of the slightly earlier metal roofs in Arsenal Buildings of the 1870's and 1880's. Another historical pattern which the work has contributed to has been the difference in brick bonding between the buildings of the very early 19th century, which tend to be of Flemish bond and those of the later 19th century which tend to be of English bond.
Understanding of the building has been enhanced by a plan which was found within the building during its clearance which details works undertaken in c1970-1 after the closure of the Arsenal when Building 45 was converted to a British Library bookstore. This identifies which windows were replaced in the works, what the layout of shelving racks for the books was, where the former staircases and lifts were located, and where former doorways had been replaced.