Dial Square FC Win the FA Cup
Woolwich Warren and a Rather Famous Football Team
The Woolwich Arsenal used to be called the Woolwich Warren, due to being built on a Tudor house which had a warren (as in, a place that rabbits were raised for food). It then became the place gunpowder was made, and is now a swanky place to live. I popped in there for a quick inspection, and decided it was a rather lovely place to be.
The original Tudor house was defined by a tall tower, which feels appropriate now the site has several high-rise buildings which are seen as you approach Woolwich. The owner of the original mansion was later Lord Mayor of London. There are now several very new, rather exclusive apartment blocks, with balconies and views across London, mingled with some ancient squares and old army buildings. It is one of those places that England does best—modern architecture muddled up with ancient history. I was interested to learn a little of the history, so after wandering through squares with bubbling fountains and past yuppy pubs and wine bars, I stopped to read a few of the signs.
After the mansion was demolished, the Woolwich Warren was built to make armaments. In 1695, an ammunition factory was set up, making gunpowder, shell cases, gun cartridges. One of the original pavilions still exists:
By 1777, the warren covered 104 acres, conveniently placed next to the River Thames. In the 1700s, convicts were used to build a high wall (8ft high) around the boundary, and later (1814) they dug a canal along the eastern border. There were hexagonal guard rooms either side of the main entrance from the river. We walked past them, but there were no signs, so we had to guess what they were. They look a little like over-sized kiosks that sell newspapers (so I clearly guessed wrong.)
In 1886, the men working in the workshops around Dial Square formed a football team. They were called the Dial Square club, and their first game was against the Isle of Dogs club in December 1886. The club still exists today, is now known as Arsenal FC — even I have heard of that one!
By the time of the First World War, the warren had expanded, and now employed 80,000 people. I love thinking of the secret manufacture of cannons and gunpowder, all guarded by the military. Did the people living nearby have any idea how explosive the area was? After the war, most factories closed, and they produced steam engines for the railway instead.
The arsenal no longer produced gunpowder in the second world war, which is probably good as it was a target during the Blitz, and lots of buildings were destroyed. It was still involved in the manufacture of weapons, but mainly guns and bomb cases. After the war, the machines were modified to manufacture the knitting frames for silk stockings (bit of a change then!)
Gradually, the arsenal ceased to be an arsenal. The wall was dismantled, the buildings sold to the council—one was even used by the British Library to store books. (Note: I rather resent these books stores, as if you publish a book, you are required, by law, to send a copy to the library, so it can be placed into a store and never seen again. Rant over.)
Today, as you wander around the area, you can still see many of the historical buildings, and many have signs, explaining what they were. It’s a nice place to visit, you wander through squares, and walk next to the Thames, staring at the muddy banks looking for treasure (and finding washed-up shopping carts!) The other side of the main road, is the bustle of real life, with small shops and tiny markets and people from every corner of the world. Not a bad place to visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Thanks for reading.
Counting Stars continues on Wednesday.