1902 Encyclopedia > Woolich, Kent, England

Kent, England

WOOLWICH, a parliamentary borough and garrison town of Kent, England, is situated chiefly on the south bank of the Thames, on the declivity of Shooter's Hill, which slopes downwards to the river, 10 miles from Charing Cross by rail and 12 by steamer. The town is irregularly built, with narrow streets, and for the most part mean-looking houses. The spacious level at the summit of the hill is known as Woolwich Common. The feature of Woolwich is the Royal Arsenal, at which the number of men usually employed is about 10,000. It occupies an area of 333 acres, and includes four departments : - the royal gun factories, employed in the manufacture of rifled wrought-iron and steel ordnance, the principal divisions being the rolling and puddling furnaces, the coiling mills, the boring mills, the tanneries, and the steam-hammers, including one of 40 tons ; the royal carriage department, for the manufacture of gun carriages, pontoon trains, baggage and store waggons, and ambulances for the sick and wounded ; the royal laboratory department, for the manufacture of shot and shell, caps, fuzes, ar,c. ; and the ordnance store department of the army, for the supply of every kind of military equipment. Separated from the other portions of the arsenal are the laboratories for the manufacture of rockets and cannon cartridges. The Royal Artillery Barracks, facing the Common, originally erected in 1775, has been greatly extended at different times, and now consists of six ranges of brick building, each over 400 feet in length. It includes a church in the Italian Gothic style erected in 1863, a theatre, and a library of 40,000 volumes in connexion with the officers' mess room. Opposite the barracks is the memorial to the officers and men of the royal artillery who fell in the Crimean War, a bronze figure of Victory cast out of cannon captured in the Crimea. Near the barracks is the Royal Artillery Institution, with a fine museum and a lecture hall. On the western side of the barrack field is the Royal Military Repository, where all officers of artillery pass a term of instruction. Within the Repository enclosure is the Rotunda, originally erected in St James's Park for the reception of the allied sovereigns in 1814, and shortly afterwards transferred to its present site. It contains models of the principal dockyards and fortifications of the British empire, naval models of all dates, and numerous specimens of weapons of war from the remotest times to the present day. On the Common is the Royal Military Academy, where cadets are trained for the artillery and engineering services, erected in the castellated style from the design of Sir R. Wyatville in 1801. Within the grounds is a memorial erected to the prince imperial of France, for two years a student in the academy; while near the Rotunda is a monument erected in 1882 to the memory of the members of the royal artillery who fell in the Zulu and Afghan wars of 1879. In addition to the great barracks of the royal artillery there are a number of other barracks, and a permanent camp of huts. At the southeast extremity of the Common is the Hubert military hospital. The parish church of St Mary Magdalene was rebuilt, in 1726-29, near the site of the old one dating from before the 12th century. The other parishes are Holy Trinity, St John the Evangelist, and St Michael's and All Angels. The Goldsmiths' almshouses, originally founded by Sir Martin Bowes, who was lord mayor of London in 1545, and rebuilt in 1771 by the Goldsmiths' Company, are (1888), on the appropriation of the charity to pensions, to be purchased by the trustees of the present parochial almshouses, built by private benevolence.' Behind the Royal Military Academy is a mineral well, " the Shooter's Hill waters" of Evelyn. Near Woolwich Common there are brick and tile kilns and sand and chalk pits. In the neighbourhood are extensive market-gardens. The town is governed by a local board of health, and is within the jurisdiction of the central criminal court and the metropolitan police. The population of the entire parish of Woolwich (area 1126 acres) in 1871 was 35,557 and in 1881 it was 36,665. The population of the district now included in the parliamentary borough, which comprises the parishes of Woolwich, Eltham, and Plumstead, was 74,963 in 1881.

Woolwich (Wnleoieh) is mentioned in a grant of land by King Edward in 964 to the abbey of St Peter at Ghent. In Domesday, where the manor is mentioned es consisting of 63 acres of land, it is named Hulviz. The Roman Watling Street crossed Shooter's Hill, and a Roman cemetery is supposed to have occupied the site of the Iloyal Arsenal, numerous Roman urns and fragments of Roman pottery having been dug up in the neighbourhood. Woolwich seems to have been a small fishing village until in the beginning of the 16th century it rose into prominence as a dockyard and naval station. There is evidence that ships were built at Woolwich in the reign of Henry VII., but it was with the purchase by Henry VIII. of two parcels of land in the manor of Woolwich, called l3oughton's Docks, that the foundation of the town's prosperity was laid, the launching of the "Harry Grace de Dien," of 1000 tons burden, making an epoch in its history. Woolwich remained the chief dockyard of the English navy until the introduction of iron ship building, hut the dockyard was finally dosed in 1870. The town has been the headquarters of the royal artillery since the establishment of a separate branch of this service in the reign of George I. An arsenal existed at Woolwich in tho reign of Henry VII., and the laboratory is mentioned in 1695. On account of an explosion at Moortields, the gun foundry was removed to Woolwich in 1716, but the establishment was of minor importance until the commencement of the Napoleonic wars. In 1860 the arsenal was greatly extended. Formerly Woolwich was included in the parliamentary borough of Greenwich, but in 1865 it was made a separate borough returning one member.

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