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MARKET TOWNS OF KENT (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Woolwich in 1848

WOOLWICH, a market town in the county of Kent, on the south bank of the Thames, 8 miles below London by the road, 9½ miles by the river, which is there three quarters of a mile wide. A tract of land in Essex, on the north bank of the Thames, is included in the parish of Woolwich, the entire area of the parish being 840 acres.

The town consists chiefly of a street nearly a mile long, on the bank of the river, with other streets diverging from it chiefly to the south. In this long street and the other streets immediately connected with it, which constitute the most ancient and lowest part of the town, many of the houses are old and small, and the arrangement of the streets is irregular and inconvenient, but in the higher and more modern part of the town there are several new streets of handsome houses. The streets are lighted with gas. The church is a plain brick building with a square tower : it is large enough to accommodate 1500 persons. The living is a rectory, in the gift of the bishop of Rochester, of the net annual value of £740, out of which £100 is paid to a curate. The Ordnance Chapel, on the road to Plumstead, and another chapel in the Royal Artillery Barracks, are both in the appointment of the Board of Ordnance. There are places of worship belonging to the Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and other classes of dissenters. There is a national school and a school under the patronage of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

The population of the town and parish of Woolwich, in 1801, was 9,826; in 1811, 17,054; in 1821, 17,008; in 1831, 17,661; in 1841, 25,785, of whom 14,063 were males, and 11,722 females. This return of population includes all the naval and military establishments. There were, in 1841, 3034 houses inhabited, 85 uninhabited, and 38 building. The following is the list of the government establishments, with the number of persons in each when the census was taken it, 1841 :-

Royal Artillery Barracks, 2354 males, 508 females.
Royal Marine Barracks, 336 males, 70 females.
Royal Sappers and Miners' Barracks, 123 males, 33 females.
Roysal Arsenal, 55 males, 101 females.
Her Majesty's Dockyard, 50 males, 49 females.
Royal Ordnance Hospital, 281 males, 12 females.
In the hulks Warrior, Unite, and Justitia, 1153 males, 12 females.

The town has no trade, except such as arises from the wants of the resident population.

The importance of Woolwich has arisen from its Dockyard, from the government foundry for cannon having been established there, and from its having been made a great depot for naval and military stores. Of these and the other government establishments at Woolwich the first was :-

The Royal Dockyard, which was formed in the reign of Henry VIII. The Harry Grace a Dieu, the largest vessel which had then been constructed, was built there in 1515. The Dockyard was greatly enlarged and improved by Queen Elizabeth and by Charles I. It now commences at the village of New Charlton on the west, and extends along the south bank of the river almost a mile to the east, very near to the Royal Arsenal. It contains two large dry docks, a basin 400 feet long by 300 feet wide, capable of receiving the largest vessels, extensive ranges of timber-sheds, storehouses, mast-houses, &c., and a large building provided with powerful steam-engines for manufacturing every article of iron used in ship-building, as well as anchors of the largest size. Each department is under the superintendence of a separate officer, and the whole under the direction of the Board of Admiralty.

Royal Arsenal - The government foundry for casting cannon was formerly in Moorfields, and was removed to Woolwich soon after a great explosion in 1716, occasioned by moisture in the moulds. Andrew Schalch, a young German founder, who had been allowed to look at the moulds, gave warning of this explosion, and induced Colonel Armstrong, surveyor-general of the ordnance, and others to leave the ground; the operations proceed withstanding. the explosion took place, much damage was done, and several lives were lost. The government had resolved to remove the royal foundry to a distance from London, and Schalch, having been examined as to his qualifications, was appointed to select a suitable place. He chose the warren at Woolwich, the new works were erected under his superintendence, and he was appointed Master-Founder to the Board of Ordnance, an office which he held during sixty years. He died in 1776, at the age of 90, and was buried in the churchyard at Woolwich.

The foundry for cannon forms one of the principal departments of the Royal Arsenal. It has four air furnaces, the largest of which can melt at once 325 cwts. Of metal. In 1809, a year in which war was carried on with great activity, 385 guns were cast, and 343 in 1810. The guns are cast solid, and bored and turned in a separate buildings : the gun is made to move round on its axis on a centre-bit applied to the mouth, and the operation of turning the exterior is performed at the same time. After being minutely examined by magnifying glasses and mirrors directed to the inside, in order to detect any flaw, the gun is ultimately proved by firing it on the banks of the canal, near the great storehouse.

Another department of the Royal Arsenal is the Pattern-Room, which is near the foundry. It contains a pattern or model of every article used in the artillery service ; of the machinery for granulating gunpowder, and for trying the strength of powder; of Congreve and other rockets ; chain, bar, and other shot ; fire-ships, fire-works, &c. Connected with the Pattern-Room is the Laboratory, in which cartridges, rockets, fire-works, and other articles of chemical manufacture are prepared. In other parts of the Arsenal are about three millions of cannon-balls and bomb-shells, arranged in pyramidal groups.

The Storehouses of the Royal Artillery are to the north of the Royal Arsenal ; they generally contain complete outfittings for 10,000 men - saddles, bits, bridles, swords, pistols, horse-shoes, whips, &c. From the upper part of the storehouses may be seen in the field below about 24,000 pieces of ordnance arranged according to their sizes.

The Royal Artillery Barracks are on the north side of Woolwich Common. The principal front, which consists of six ranges, is 1200 feet long, with an elegant entrance-tower in the centre. A spacious chapel in the east wing has accommodation for 1000 persons. The other parts of the building consist of the library and reading-rooms, and a splendid suite of apartments, in which balls and other entertainments are given. The interior is divided into two quadrangles, with stabling and barracks for the horse-artillery and a large riding-school. The whole establishment can accommodate from 3000 to 4000 men.

The Royal Military Academy is at the south-east edge of Woolwich Common, towards which it present a handsome front : the central tower, with its four domed turrets is a picturesque object in the distance. The Academy was established as early as 1719, but the present building was not erected till 1805. There are generally from 120 to 150 young men under instruction in whatever is requisite to qualify them for artillery officers and engineers. The Master-General of the Ordnance for the time being is the governor. The resident officers are, a lieutenant-govenor and inspector, a professor of mathematics, a professor of fortification, masters of drawing, languages, &c.

The Rotunda, south of the town, on the west side of Woolwich Common, is a depository for models connected with military and naval architecture, specimens of firearms, military machines, and a variety of other things connected with military and naval affairs. The building is of tent-like form, with 24 sides, the diameter being 120 feet. It was originally erected in Carlton House Gardens by George IV when prince regent, for the reception of the allied sovereigns when they visited England in 1814, and was afterwards presented by him to the garrison at Woolwich. The centre of the cone which forms the top of the building is supported by a pillar, round which are ranged specimens of old English weapons, such as matchlocks, wheel-locks, bills, partizans, old swords, &C. In other parts of the building are cannon, howitzers, models of fortified places, Indian arms, and a variety of other military and naval curiosities.

The Ropeyard is at the east end of the town, in which cables of the largest size are made.

Besides the buildings above described there are the Royal Marine Barracks, the Barracks of the Royal Sappers and Miners, and the Royal Ordnance Hospital.