Woolwich Arsenal Ordnance Factory
Woolwich - Home of the Royal Artillery since the year 1716. A chosen spot (possibly)due to the discovery and development of gunpowder coming to Europe/England from China at around 1200 onward? This area on the river Thames would eventually expand its Ordnance factory from the Warren into Plumstead Marshes and beyond.

The records of the Woolwich district compiled by; W.T. Vincent clearly show the importance of a riverside dock and town as far back as Roman times: With the advent of gunpowder as a destructive force it is temp- ting and encouraging to think that maybe this was the first place too (in Britain) to experiment its usage as a weapon for war.

There is however a stained glass interpretation of cannon being celebrated as far back as King Edward the thirds reign(1327-1377). It is given the title - Inspecting his Artillery:
Vincent records show that the stained glass image was taken from an ancient tapestry and then it was placed in the pattern room of the Royal gun factories - It is now with the Greenwich Heritage Centre. There is more detailed information about this beautiful, Lunette in 'Survey of London' vol 48.


This image has been taken from 'Survey of London' vol 48

Key to the figures as recorded in Vincent Records:
1. King Edward111.................8. A Soldier with the match.
2. Sir James Audley...............9. A Soldier with Gunpowder.
3. Sir Guy Bryan.................10. Supposed to be the Master founder
4. The Banner of England............ explaining the advantages of the
5. Lord Henry Percy................. Bombard over the Battering-Ram.
6. Lord Thomas Beauchamp.........11. Sir Godfrey de Harcourt.
7. A Soldier showing one of the..12. The Earl of Salisbury with the
cannon balls to the King............ Pennon of the King.

I remember first seeing it in the Arsenal in what was then Bld 22 - admin block, sometime in the late 1970' and excited at the suggestion that this could have been a 'snapshot' taken on the Woolwich marshes at around the time of the Battle of Crecy (1346) when 'Ribaldis' (cannon) were first used by England, in battle. As we can see, its pedigree is underlined by many historic figures of the past, that were also serving their country at war. Vincent's records appear to show its inventor? instructing and about to demonstrate the destructive power of a cannon to Edward 111 and his military officers.

There is no historical evidence for this 'idea' of a snapshot being taken at Woolwich, yet, no other area can claim it either. I therefore, consider accordingly, a logical view:
Edward may well have been the first King/Statesman to visit the Arsenal in its foundling state. At that time, when the Tower of London was the Ordnance and gunpowder store under Edward 111 reign, (1327-77)the method and evolution of Weapon technology had gained pace and had to be developed and tested somewhere, while in its infancy: Why not at Woolwich? Where eventually great battleships would be built.

There were, possibly many bell foundries in and around London; namely Moorfields that cast cannon for the crown. Records show that as late as 1716 both father and son died in an explosion at that foundry. It is curiously interesting to note here, that according to John Stow; the historian stated:
"This fen or Moorfield, stretching from the wall of the City......
continued a waste and unprofitable ground a long time ago.......but in the year 1415 (Henry v) etc.,

Clearly then, we can assume that there was no foundry in this part of London around the year of 1346 as the historian Stow then informs us further:.....the barren region of Moorfields and Finsbury was drained...in(1527)
We could then consider the Whitechapel Bell foundry.(which would be more feasible as it is nearer to the Tower and Woolwich)At least we can go back as far as 1420, to Robert Chamberlain of Aldgate for its sure existence (and still going strong today) But, here I cannot find any connection with Woolwich Military.

Henry V111 who was born at Greenwich in 1491, had created the Naval Dockyard(1512)at Woolwich. Claimed to be the 'Mother Dock of England' where the Tudors had built the first real Battleships. Namely the iconic: Henry Grace a' Dieu(1512-14)the largest Battleship of its day.
Deptford; Blackwall and other Docks on the river Thames followed on too with great importance expanding under the crowns directive.

Henry Grace a' Dieu armaments were intimidating: It had twenty(20)heavy bronze cannon and some forty three(43)cannon in all, plus there were one hundred and forty three(143)swivel guns - could a bell foundry produce this amount of cannon? Where would they proof it?

There were other major shipyards such as Potsmouth that built the early Battleships: Grace Dieu(1416-18)Henry V, with only three modest cannon to arm it. There is no record where they were cast yet, again it is apt to note - quoting from: 'Naval Dockyard Society'(online)
.......newly built and repaired Warships would have to be eventually bought into the Thames, so that they may receive their Guns and their powder from the Ordnance store that then existed in the Tower of London Indeed, the guns and powder may well have been supplied from the Tower but forging, developing and proofing of such heavy weaponry must surely have taken place elsewhere - somewhere convenient.

Historical records show that the Regiment of Royal Artillery was created in 1716 at Woolwich. Yet long before this the Royal Artillery had its own crest(1574)hanging on the wall at the Tower of London. At around this date the Arsenal got even bigger, although not every thing was meticulously recorded. What we do know is that weaponry had become even more sophisticated during the 1600'.
Royal Military Academy; Royal Gun Carraige; Dial Arch; the Royal Laboratories; Brass Foundry; all indicate the vast, scientific and significant, advances of artillery pieces from the year of 1346.

Yet, there appears to be a 'dark ages' in this hiatus from 1346-1600'. There appears to be no credible records of any real development of arms at Woolwich.

Samuel Pepys(1633-1703)- Member of Parliament and Chief Secretary to the Admiralty: In this capacity he would visit and often mention the trips to Woolwich Dockyard, that he recorded in his diary.
During his time: Sovereign of the seas (1637) ninety guns(90).
HMS Woolwich (1675) fifty four gun(54). To mention just a few of the war ships he would witness, built at Woolwich.

This concentration of arms (for all shipyards in the Kingdom)was to become colossal so I am not alluding to it all coming from Woolwich in these later years. Just the evolutionary seed of ordnance, planted on the warren is enough during Edward the third's reign.

It would then seem to me, that from the beginning Woolwich was to be the first, most convenient and obvious place to develop and proof cannon - in England, which would later become the Royal Arsenal Ordnance Factory. This for me then would also support the supposition that King Edward 111 christened Woolwich with the blessings of Empire celebrated in this historic stained glass window.

References:

British History (online)
Evolution of British Naval Guns
1911 Encyclopedia.org/Woolwich
Woolwich Kent in 1848
Vincent records of the Woolwich District
Survey of London Vol48 Woolwich
Survey of London John Stow 1525-1605