Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created. It is a river crossing point, with the Woolwich Ferry and the Woolwich foot tunnel crossing to North Woolwich. The district was the original home of the Woolwich Building Society.
In 1796 Daniel Lysons wrote, "this place in old charters is called Hulviz, Wolwiche, Wollewic, &c. I can find nothing satisfactory relating to its etymology." But it is now generally believed that the name Woolwich derives from the Anglo-Saxon name, "trading place for wool". Woolwich has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age, and a Roman fort was found in the current Riverside park.
Woolwich remained a small Kentish village until it started to become a leading military and industrial town. It was home to the Woolwich Dockyard (founded in 1512), the Royal Arsenal (dating back to 1471), the Royal Military Academy (1741) and the Royal Horse Artillery (1793); the town still retains an army base at the Royal Artillery Barracks (although 16 Regiment Royal Artillery left in 2007, Woolwich Barracks still house the Royal Artillery Band and more recently Second Battalion Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment and Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery), and the Royal Artillery Museum, Firepower. The nearby Greenwich Heritage Centre also houses exhibits relating to the Royal Arsenal.
Arsenal Football Club were founded in Woolwich in 1886 by workers at the Arsenal – the club were initially known as Dial Square, then Royal Arsenal and then became Woolwich Arsenal in 1891. They moved to Arsenal Stadium, Highbury in north London in 1913, and dropped the Woolwich prefix the following year. This is a rare example of a British football team moving from its local area, albeit relocating within the same conurbation. Royal Ordnance Factories F.C. was founded in response to Woolwich Arsenal joining the League but only lasted several years.
In 1889, Woolwich became part of London, with the formation of London County Council. In 1900 Woolwich, Eltham and Plumstead became the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich until the current Borough of Greenwich came into being in April 1965 following implementation of the London Government Act 1963 and subsequently became Royal Borough in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year, 2012.
Woolwich Polytechnic, founded in 1892, merged with other local colleges and became Thames Polytechnic in 1970. In 1992 it was granted university status as the University of Greenwich. In 2000, the University began a relocation to the Old Royal Naval College, several miles to the west in Greenwich town centre, leaving only an administrative presence in Woolwich.
Woolwich was the start of the route of the last London tram, on 5 July 1952. A scheduled Route 40 tram, restricted to just a nominal number of fare paying passengers, was driven through enormous crowds to New Cross, finally arriving at New Cross depot around 1am on the 6 July.
Woolwich was home to the experimental Auto Stacker car park. Built on the site of the Empire Theatre, it was officially opened in May 1961 by Princess Margaret. It was never actually used by the public and was demolished in 1962, after the council could not get it to work.
Woolwich is the location of the United Kingdom's first branch of McDonald's (the 3,000th in the world), which opened on 13 November 1974. Woolwich was chosen because it was considered to be a representative English town at the time.
Woolwich once had four cinemas. Today, one, the former Granada cinema (which once hosted Buddy Holly in 1958, and later Roy Orbison and The Beatles in 1963), is a bingo hall; another, the former ABC (previously Regal) is a nightclub, while the former Odeon, later Coronet, is now a Pentecostal church. The Century cinema, which faced Beresford Square, was demolished for redevelopment in the late 1960s.
Woolwich was used as a location for the 2006 film Children of Men.
Woolwich declined as a town in the late 20th century, starting with the closure of the Siemens factory in 1968 and continuing as the Royal Arsenal scaled back operations and finally closed in 1994. Without major local employers, the local economy was affected and the demographics of Woolwich changed. In the town centre, department and chain stores closed and the sprawl of the town centre shrank. The focus of shopping activity was limited mostly to Powis Street and the area around the market. By the early 1990s, the town centre had the typical appearance of a town in decline—discount retailers and charity shops using the empty stores. The local council used several properties as offices. The last cinema, the Coronet, closed and in general Woolwich seemed to have lost its previous vigour.
However, once residential redevelopment of the former Royal Arsenal site began, Woolwich started to enjoy a renaissance. Several High Street chains previously absent from Woolwich opened branches, and longer-established shops were refurbished. The new terminus of the Docklands Light Railway's London City Airport branch, Woolwich Arsenal station, opened on 10 January 2009.
A large-scale redevelopment of the area around Love Lane, near the eastern end of Powis Street, started in 2011, following local consultation which started in 2009. The project eventually involved demolition of several buildings including the Director General public house, the Post Office, Crown Building, Peggy Middleton House and Thomas Spencer Halls of Residence. New buildings included council offices (the Woolwich Centre, opened in August 2011), housing, local shops and a large branch of Tesco. Woolwich's main square (General Gordon Square) was also re-landscaped and included a new water feature. The development was largely completed in 2012.
Nearby regeneration of Powis Street included a Nando's restaurant, opened in June 2010, and new offices above shops. The former Woolwich Building Society building is also in use again.
Planning for further development around the "Woolwich Triangle" area at the other end of town is ongoing. It envisages demolition of the old art deco Co-op/"Scottley's" building at the west end of Powis Street, which some locals opposed, raising a petition to save the building. Earlier, in October 2008 a fire in the Woolwich Triangle area left the upper storeys of an empty Victorian shop building severely damaged, contributing to the decline of the area. The cause of the fire was not known.
Some redevelopment of the Riverside end of Woolwich has taken place. In June 2008 the derelict Crown and Cushion pub (next to the Waterfront leisure centre, and the last remnant of the "old" riverside) was demolished. A residential block on the site of the old Union Tavern, next to Riverside House, was completed. Buildings by the junction of Beresford Street and Warren Lane were demolished for residential redevelopment.
The 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics included Woolwich as a venue for shooting events, held in temporary facilities constructed in the Barracks and on Woolwich Common (though Woolwich's selection was not universally welcomed).
On Wellington Street the Woolwich Grand Theatre (formerly the ABC Regal Cinema and Flamingo's Nightclub) has recently reopened as an arts centre with a cafe. There is currently an art and craft market on Saturdays; as well as live entertainment, talks and film shows during the week.
During the 2011 England riots Woolwich, on Monday 8 August, was one of the areas affected. Several buildings were attacked, with a few being destroyed. Blue Inc. in Powis Street had to be demolished following a major fire. The Great Harry Wetherspoons' Pub was also set on fire, leaving it a burned-out shell. The Wimpy burger restaurant and Coral bookmakers were also damaged by fire. Several other shops were looted or damaged, including Nando's, Charles Dance (the oldest jewellers in Woolwich) and other shops in Powis Street and Hare Street. Many local residents felt that the destruction of Woolwich was under-reported by local and national media, and on Saturday 13 August local residents began writing their thoughts on the hoarding around the shell of the Great Harry. This writing was later deemed to be graffiti, and painted over by Greenwich Council.
2013 Woolwich attack
On 22 May 2013, two British men armed with knives and meat cleavers murdered soldier Lee Rigby, close to his base at the Royal Artillery Barracks. The men, suspected Islamic extremists, asked bystanders to take pictures of them and made efforts to justify their actions to the crowd, making no effort to escape. When the police arrived, the attackers were still armed and were shot and wounded by police. They were then taken to two different hospitals.
- Afrikan Boy, grime music MC
- William Barefoot, born to Plymouth Brethren family, became the first socialist mayor of Woolwich in 1925.
- Peter Barlow, mathematician, taught at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich and his son Peter W. Barlow, civil engineer, was born there in 1809.
- Hubert Bland, early socialist and co-founder of the Fabian Society, born in Wood Street, now Woodhill in 1855.
- Tom Cribb, bare-knuckle boxing champion in the early 19th century, retired to, died, and was buried (1848) in Woolwich.
- Bernardine Evaristo, novelist, raised in Woolwich, 1960-1978, attended Notre Dame Convent and Plumcroft Primary School
- Andy Fordham, 2004 World darts champion, was publican of the Queen's Arms public house in Woolwich, although he has since moved to the Cutty Sark pub in Thamesmead.
- Julius Francis, heavyweight boxer
- General Charles George Gordon of Khartoum was born at 29 Woolwich Common and educated at the Royal Military Academy.
- John Henry Hayes, politician, born in Woolwich
- Frankie Howerd, comedian, was educated at Shooter's Hill Grammar School in Woolwich.
- Marvin Humes, singer JLS, born in Herbert Road, Woolwich.
- Colonel George Thomas Landmann, military and civil engineer, was born in Woolwich.
- Richard Lovelace, poet
- Merveille Lukeba, actor, born in D.R. Congo, raised in Woolwich
- Scott Maslen, actor who plays Jack Branning in BBC's EastEnders, born and raised in Woolwich.
- Henry Maudslay, engineer and tool-maker, was born in Salutation Alley (now demolished) and buried in the parish churchyard of St Mary Magdalen's.
- Gareth Murdock, bass player of Alestorm, lives in Woolwich
- Thomas Paine, author of the Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, spent a short time living in Woolwich.
- Samuel Pepys lodged in Woolwich during 1665 to escape the Great Plague of London.
- William Ranwell (1797–1861), artist and Army Drawing Master lived at 8 Beresford Terrace (now 42 Hillreach), from 1849-1861.
- Oswald Hope Robertson, medical pioneer who invented blood banks, born in Woolwich in 1886.
- James Joseph Sylvester, mathematician, taught at the Royal Military Academy from 1855-1869.
- John A T Robinson was Bishop of Woolwich from 1959-1969.
- David Sheppard, former England cricket captain, was Bishop of Woolwich from 1969-1975.
- Sylvia Syms, actress born in Woolwich.
- Glenn Tilbrook, singer, songwriter & guitarist of UK pop/rock band Squeeze, born there.
- Ian Wright, former Arsenal footballer and later a television personality, born and raised in Woolwich.
- For education in Woolwich see the main Royal Borough of Greenwich article
Sport and leisure
Transport and locale
Nearest railway stations
Nearest tube station
- North Greenwich tube station is the only Underground station in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. It is located on the Greenwich Peninsula close to The O2 and can be reached from Woolwich by bus.
Docklands Light Railway
- A new Docklands Light Railway station for central Woolwich opened on the 10th January 2009, linked to Woolwich Arsenal railway station. Frequent trains run to Bank Station.
- King George V station is close to the north side of the Woolwich foot tunnel in North Woolwich. This station is on the same line as Woolwich Arsenal DLR station.
The DLR link to Woolwich Arsenal has proven a success. Over 15,000 passengers use the station every weekday. The line is on track to carry over 5 million users in its first 12 months - 5 per cent above projections. Since its launch in January 2009, Woolwich Arsenal station has become the seventh busiest station on the DLR network.
Woolwich is served by 18 Transport for London bus routes, including one dedicated night-only route and two 24-hour services. All routes serve the town centre; some also serve the south of the town, the Dockyard area and/or the Woolwich Common area. Three routes serve the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and another three terminate there. Some services use central Woolwich as a terminus.
The routes serving Woolwich are as follows:
- 51 (Orpington-Woolwich via Sidcup, Welling)
- 53 (Plumstead-Whitehall via Charlton Village, New Cross, Elephant & Castle) - 24hr service
- 54 (Elmers End-Woolwich via Blackheath, Lewisham, Beckenham) - links with Tramlink at Elmers End
- 96 (Bluewater-Woolwich via Welling, Bexleyheath, Crayford, Dartford) - non-stop between Dartford and Bluewater
- 99 (Bexleyheath-Woolwich via Erith, Slade Green)
- 122 (Crystal Palace-Plumstead via Eltham, Lewisham)
- 161 (Chislehurst-North Greenwich via Eltham)
- 177 (Peckham-Thamesmead via Greenwich, Charlton, New Cross)
- 178 (Lewisham-Woolwich via Kidbrooke)
- 180 (Belvedere-Lewisham via Greenwich, Abbey Wood)
- 244 (Abbey Wood-Queen Elizabeth Hospital via Thamesmead, Shooter's Hill)
- 291 (Woodlands Estate-Queen Elizabeth Hospital via Plumstead Common)
- 380 (Lewisham-Belmarsh Prison via Charlton)
- 386 (Blackheath Village-Woolwich via Greenwich, Queen Elizabeth Hospital)
- 422 (Bexleyheath-North Greenwich via Charlton)
- 469 (Erith-Queen Elizabeth Hospital via Belvedere, Abbey Wood)
- 472 (North Greenwich-Thamesmead) - 24hr service
- N1 (Tottenham Court Road-Thamesmead via Waterloo, Greenwich, Charlton, Abbey Wood)
These routes provide a variety of links to locations within the Royal Borough of Greenwich, nearby and neighbouring boroughs including Bexley, Lewisham and Bromley, plus links into Central London and to Bluewater which is across the London boundary in the Dartford borough of Kent. Some locations are only served directly from Woolwich by the N1 and thus not served directly during the run of daytime routes - these include Aldwych, Holborn, Waterloo and Surrey Quays.
The free Woolwich Ferry service operates across the River Thames to North Woolwich in the London Borough of Newham carrying trucks, cars, cyclists and pedestrians during the day until 8pm on Weekdays. A two boat service runs on Mondays to Saturdays and Sundays only has a one boat service. Woolwich foot tunnel is also available for use by pedestrians (and cyclists pushing their cycles) at any time. It is served by lifts during traditional shopping hours.
London River Services, operated by Thames Clipper, provide a peak hour, seven days a week service to central London (Savoy Pier) from Woolwich Arsenal Pier (adjacent to the Royal Arsenal residential development).
The Thames flood barrier is located a mile upstream from the tunnel and ferry.
- Royal Ordnance Factory
- Princess Alice – a passenger steamer sunk off North Woolwich pier on 3 September 1878 (a memorial to those lost can be found in Woolwich Old Cemetery, Kings Highway, Plumstead)
- The Auto Stacker
- 2013 Woolwich attack
- Mayor of London (February 2008). "London Plan (Consolidated with Alterations since 2004)". Greater London Authority.
- "Woolwich | The Environs of London: volume 4 (pp. 558-569)". British-history.ac.uk. 2003-06-22. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- [dead link]
- BBC on this day: 6 July accessed 23 April 2007
- Greenwich Guide, day by day accessed 23 April 2007
- Interview with McDonalds UK CEO Evening Standard 16th December 1991 accessed 23 April 2007
- "1958 Tour Dates". Buddy Holly Online. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
- "Live: Granada Cinema, Woolwich, London". Beatles Bible. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
- "Man dead in suspected Woolwich terror attack". English Heritage list. BBC News Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
- DLR service change from 10 January 2009, accessed 13 January 2009
- "Local resident concerns". Connaughtmews.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Fancyapint Ltd (2010-04-06). "Director General public house". Fancyapint.com. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Coop site redevelopment". Icsouthlondon.icnetwork.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Index". We Love Woolwich. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Crews battle Woolwich shop fire". Newsshopper.co.uk. 2008-10-19. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Andrew Gilligan (2008-08-28). "Olympics minister orders rethink over 2012 plans for Greenwich park - Olympics - Evening Standard". Thisislondon.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Pictures of the destruction on Woolwich streets following a night of violence and looting". Newsshopper.co.uk. 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Woolwich attack: Suspects known to security services". BBC News. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
- "Landmann, George Thomas". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- "Central Woolwich TfL map PDF" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Woolwich (South) TfL map PDF" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Woolwich Dockyard TfL map PDF" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- "Buses from Woolwich Common until mid-September 2012" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-29.
- Hidden London page about Woolwich
- History of the Royal Artillery Theatre, Woolwich
- We Love Woolwich
- Woolwich Royal Borough of Greenwich website
- History of Woolwich Ideal Homes: a history of South-East London Suburbs website.
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