Woolwich

First published in Towns and Villages

The town of Woolwich has been shaped by the presence of the military over hundreds of years.

The name Woolwich derives from an Anglo Saxon place name meaning "trading settlement or harbour for wool", though there has been a community on the riverside at Woolwich since at least the Iron Age and many Roman remains have also been discovered.

Bizarrely, no connection between Woolwich and the wool trade has yet been discovered. The name could originate from North Woolwich on the other side of the Thames which would have had access to and from the grazing lands of Essex.

North Woolwich was part of Woolwich from at least the time of the Domesday Survey in 1086 until 1965 when North Woolwich transferred to the new borough of Newham. Until this Woolwich had the unique characteristic of being bisected by the River Thames. Woolwich was part of Kent, despite laying partly to the north of the Thames, until the creation of the county of London in 1889.

In 1512 Henry VIII decided Woolwich would be where his flagship the "Henri Grace a Dieu" would be built and a distinguished royal dockyard was established. The dockyard remained until 1869.

The Royal Arsenal was founded in 1671 and grew into Britain's largest centre for the manufacture and storage of military equipment.

The Regiment of Artillery was formed in the Arsenal in 1716 and in 1741 the Royal Military Academy was set up. The Artillery moved to new barracks on Woolwich Common in the late 18th century and the Academy also moved to the common in 1808.

These institutions led to the rapid development of Woolwich, with the focus of the town moving from the riverside to fields to the south as Woolwich became the principal shopping centre in the area and a busy garrison town.

The Royal Arsenal ceased manufacturing armaments in 1967 and the closure a year later of the Siemens factory led to a downturn in the town's economy.

Since its final closure in 1994 the Royal Arsenal site has been at the centre of a Woolwich revival plan, which has seen the building of houses, shops and leisure facilities.

The next challenge facing Woolwich will be to cope without the Army. The Ministry of Defence is working with a consortium of developers on plans to sell off large sections of the Royal Artillery Barracks. The Artillery will leave Woolwich Barracks by 2008.

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