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The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868

"WOOLWICH, a parish, market town, in the hundred of Blackheath, lathe of Sutton-at-Hone, county Kent. It is a Royal naval yard, and principal military arsenal in the kingdom. It is 2½ miles E. of Greenwich, within which borough it is included, and 8½ miles S.E. of St. Paul's, London, by land, or 9½ by water, owing to the windings of the river Thames, which is here crossed by a steam ferry to North Woolwich. There are two lines of railway : the North Kent on the Kentish side of the river, and a branch of the Great Eastern on the Essex side, to North Woolwich, besides which the steam packet companies, called the Waterman and the Woolwich, ply constantly between London, Gravesend, Southend, Sheerness, and Harwich. The parish of Woolwich lies chiefly on the S. bank of the Thames, but extends across the river to the Essex side, where it comprehends the suburb of North Woolwich, and certain lands running along the N. bank of the river, but included in the county of Kent. The town, which has rapidly increased of late years, extends over a mile in length, and in 1861 had a population of 41,693. The upper portion contains many good houses, rising gradually up the gravel ridge known as Shooter's Hill, extending from Erith to Greenwich, while the lower and more densely-populated portion occupies the district between the ridge and the river, and extends to the adjoining parish of Plumstead. The principal street runs nearly parallel to the river, and is crossed by numerous others, which are all paved and lighted. The most interesting objects in Woolwich are the arsenal, the dockyard, and other government establishments unequalled for their importance. The Royal arsenal, which lies to the E. of the town, includes the gun factories carriage department, royal laboratory, and military stores department, said to be the largest depot for army stores in the world; within the arsenal is the ordnance yard, where 28,000 pieces of ordnance, and upwards of 4,000,000 of shot and shells are kept in constant readiness, with fittings and harness for 10,000 artillery horses. Admission to see these establishments is obtained by an order from one of the heads of departments; for foreigners by an order signed by the Secretary at War, obtained through the intervention of their own ambassador; to some other portions of the works the public are readily admitted, especially to the Rotunda, which contains models of all her Majesty's dockyards, the principal fortifications in the world, and the various kinds of arms, both ancient and modern; also to the pontoon ground on the W. side of the Artillery barracks, where experiments are occasionally made with boats on certain large sheets of water, which serve for exercise in pontooning, and in transporting heavy ordnance over rivers. On the E. side of the barracks, facing the Military Train barracks, is the Royal Artillery Institution, with museum, theatre, laboratory, and reading-rooms for the use of the officers of the Royal Artillery, and a small observatory adjoining; S.E. of the Repository grounds is the Royal Military Academy, founded in 1719, for the education of cadets intended for the Artillery and Engineers, and between the arsenal and the dockyard are the Royal Marine Barracks, with the Naval and Marine Hospital, the latter erected in 1859. The dockyard, which is supposed to be the most ancient royal dockyard in the kingdom, occupies the narrow strip of land extending along the S. bank of the river, about a furlong in breadth, and rather more than half a mile in length. The outer and inner basins are both of the largest dimensions, and have been recently much enlarged and improved by the construction of granite docks, capable of containing the largest ships in the royal navy. The dockyard is under the charge of a Commodore-Superintendent, and is one of those which are to be surrounded with lines of circumvallation, under the Fortifications Act. A practice-range of nearly three miles in extent has been formed towards Erith, and the Plumstead marshes also serve as an artillery practising ground, where all the government ordnance are first proved. At the south-western corner of the common, adjoining the Shooter's Hill road, are ranges of new buildings called the Camp, for the service of the military train, and an extensive hospital. The town is governed by a local board of health, and is under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who meet here on Monday and Friday, and hold petty sessions for the division on the first Thursday in every month, at Blackheath. It is included in the Woolwich branch of the Greenwich county-court district, and, under the Reform Act, joins with Deptford and Greenwich in returning two members to parliament for the borough of Greenwich. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Rochester, value £740, and in the patronage of the bishop. The parish church of St. Mary, overlooking the river and dockyard, was rebuilt in the reign of George II., under an Act of parliament. There are besides the new parish church of St. Thomas, St. John's and Holy Trinity chapels-of-ease, and the Garrison, Ordnance, and Dockyard chapels. The Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Independents, Baptists, and other Dissenting congregations, have chapels. There are several higher class schools, and National, Sunday, and government schools, the last for the education of soldiers' children. Market-day is on Friday. Garrison races take place in July."

[Transcribed from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland 1868 by Colin Hinson ©2010]