Woolwich & Districts
Arsenal History - Woolwich, Kent, England
This is an excerpt from a Woolwich Arsenal History that was
published on the Internet in 1997. The original document and
link no longer exist. I am presenting this excerpt only as a
source of information for others who, like myself, are seeking
knowledge of the Woolwich Arsenal's history so they may better
understand their own family genealogy. I can add nothing
more. If you find a link and/or additional historical information
about the Royal Arsenal please share them with me.
The long association of artillery with Woolwich began with the
setting up of a gun depot there in the reign of Elizabeth I.
In the latter part of the 17th (later the Royal Carriage Department)
was opened in 1664 at Tower Place in Woolwich and, in the following
year, the gradual removal of gun proof from the Artillery Garden
to Woolwich took place. Some thirty years later, in 1695, a
laboratory was established (subsequently known as the "Royal
Laboratory ") for the manufacture of ammunition and pyrotechnics
at The Warren in Tower Place, and in 1716 a foundry for casting
brass guns was built there. This formed the nucleus of the "Royal
Gun Factory ". Thus the pre-eminence of London as a centre
of artillery development was lost in the 17th Century.
When the Royal Artillery was formed in 1716, Woolwich became
its headquarters and its officers, together with the teaching
staff of the nearby Military Academy, came to exert considerable
influence on the manufacture of guns and ammunition.
The establishment at the Warren which had been named the "Royal
Arsenal " by George III in 1805, included the Royal Carriage
Department, the Royal Laboratory, the proof butts and the Royal
Brass Foundry, the fore-runner of the Royal Gun Factory. With
the addition of the laboratories of the Chemist to the War Department
- a post created in 1854 - this organisation of the Arsenal
persisted throughout the 19th Century.
No separate establishments existed specifically to do research,
design and development. Nevertheless, from the earliest days,
epoch making advances were made, such as the transition from
solid round shot fired from a muzzle loader to the explosive
filled shell fired from a breech-loading gun, the replacement
of gunpowder by cordite as the propellant and the early 19th
Century experiments with artillery rockets.
By the beginning of the 20th Century, the increase in activity
in the armament world, the growing complexity of weapons and
in particular the serious faults in the ammunition used by the
British Army on the Boer War led to the establishment of the
Chemical Research Department, Woolwich in 1907. This organisation
was the first in the country to be entirely devoted to armament
research; it covered explosives and pyrotechnics, propellants,
ballistics and materials for armaments. It was the direct and
recognisable fore-runner of the Armament Research Establishment.
In 1915, the engineering design and development of weapons was
concentrated progressively into a separate department but the
unified Armament Design Establishment began to assume its final
shape in 1922 when the design facilities of the three factories
at Woolwich ( the Royal Gun Factory, The Royal Carriag Department
and the Royal Laboratory) and one at Enfield were amalgamated
into the Design Department.
Jerry England 1989 - 2003