Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum
|Established||27 May 2001|
|Dissolved||8 July 2016|
|Location||Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, South East London|
|Public transit access||Woolwich Arsenal|
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum was a military museum in Woolwich in south-east London, England, which told the story of the Royal Artillery and of the Royal Arsenal. It closed in 2016. It had been launched as a renewal of the Royal Artillery Museum, with roots in Woolwich stretching back to the eighteenth century.
The museum was located in some of the former buildings of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, which was Britain's principal ordnance manufacturing facility from the late 17th century until the mid-20th century. The Royal Regiment of Artillery was formed in the Arsenal in 1716 and the regiment had its home in Woolwich for over 290 years. More than two million men and women have served in the RA since its formation and human stories of bravery and sacrifice were told throughout the museum.
The Royal Artillery Museum was originally established within the Royal Arsenal, as a training collection and to preserve Royal Artillery (RA) history.
The forerunner of the Royal Artillery Museum was the Royal Military Repository, which was established on the Royal Arsenal site in May 1778. After a fire in 1802, the surviving artefacts were rehoused in the Old Royal Military Academy. In 1820 the main collection was moved to the Rotunda on Woolwich Common where it was opened to the public for the first time; the museum remained in the Rotunda for the next 180 years.
The collection then moved back into the Arsenal, where Firepower opened to the public in April 2001. All of Firepower's buildings were once part of the Royal Laboratory Department, which controlled the manufacture of ammunition; they are for the most part grade II listed. The adjacent Greenwich Heritage Centre tells the story of the local people of Greenwich who worked in the Arsenal and made the guns.
Gallery of buildings
The following buildings were leased to Firepower by Greenwich London Borough Council, or were previously used by the museum's predecessor:
Building 40 once housed the Royal Military Academy. It provided an early home for the Royal Artillery Museum between 1802-1820, prior to its move to the Rotunda.
To the right of the main entrance, the former Paper Cartridge Factory (Building 17, 1855-6) housed the main Gunnery Hall as well as the History Gallery and other exhibitions.
To the left of the main entrance, the former Royal Laboratory Offices (Building 18, 1855-6) housed museum offices and archives (James Clavell Library).
Closure and future of the collection
Firepower closed in July 2016 and its buildings were acquired by Greenwich Council, which has hopes of establishing a "significant new cultural and heritage quarter" on the site. The closure of the museum was perceived as a great loss for Woolwich. Greenwich Heritage Centre tried to fill the gap by creating a new permanent exhibition Making Woolwich: The Royal Regiment of Artillery in Woolwich. The project was supported amongst others by the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Royal Artillery Museums Ltd, Friends of the Royal Artillery Collections and the Royal Artillery Historical Trust.
It is planned that the Royal Artillery Museum collection will be displayed as part of a Salisbury Plain Heritage Centre in Wiltshire in 2020 (the Royal Artillery's regimental headquarters having itself moved in 2008 from Woolwich to Larkhill Camp, on the Plain). Until then, the exhibits are being stored and conserved in a museum store in Wiltshire, but there is no public access.
Future of the buildings
In 2017 it was announced that the Royal Borough of Greenwich has acquired five historic buildings around No 1 Street to create a £31 million cultural district. This includes Building 17, 18 and 41, which were all used by Firepower. The plan includes a 450-seat black box theatre that will be built on the site of the former museum entrance. Building 17 (and other listed buildings nearby) will house rehearsal studios for resident companies such as Academy Performing Arts, Dash Arts, Chickenshed Theatre, Protein Dance, Greenwich Dance and Greenwich+Docklands International Festival. The Greenwich Heritage Centre will move to the former James Clavell Library, until 2016 part of Firepower.
In Firepower they were displayed as follows:
- Field of Fire
An interactive exhibit with sound, smoke and screens to give visitors an idea of what it is like to be a modern gunner in war time.
- The Gunnery Hall
The museum's main display of 20th-century weapons.
- The History Gallery
The history of artillery from its earliest beginnings, with examples of artillery from around the world.
- Medals Gallery
Some of the museum's collection of thousands of medals won by members of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, telling the stories behind them.
- Modern Gunner
Bringing the story of the Gunners right up to the present day.
Gallery of exhibits
A Section of the 1990-1991 Iraqi supergun
Other Artillery museums
- "Press release" (PDF). Firepower museum. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
- Survey of London vol. 48: Woolwich. Yale. 2012.
- "Royal Borough of Greenwich launches London's newest cultural destination". Royal Borough of Greenwich. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
- "Woolwich Firepower Royal Artillery Museum 'to leave by 2017' – former board member hits out". Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "A statement by the Chairman of the Royal Artillery Museum Board". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- ‘Making Woolwich’ - A New Permanent Exhibition, 2016. greenwichheritage.org. Accessed: 22 February 2017
- "New creative district for London in the heart of Woolwich". Royalgreenwich.gov.uk. 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2017-04-04.
- Hill, Liz (2017-03-30). "Go-ahead for Woolwich creative district". Artsprofessional.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-04.
- "Designated Outstanding Collections" (PDF). Arts Council England. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
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