Greenwich Heritage Centre
Artillery Square with the Old Royal Military Academy and Greenwich Heritage Centre
|Location||Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, South East London|
|Public transit access||Woolwich Arsenal|
Greenwich Heritage Centre is a museum and local history resource centre in Woolwich, south-east London, England. It was established in 2003 by the London Borough of Greenwich and is run since 2014 by the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust. The museum is based in a historic building in Artillery Square, in the Royal Arsenal complex, which was established in the 17th century as a repository and manufactory of heavy guns, ammunition and other military ware.
History of the building
The Greenwich Heritage Centre is situated in the western and southern range of a quadrangle of buildings known as New Laboratory Square or Building 41, a former storehouse designed by James Wyatt, dating from 1783-85. The storehouse was built by the Board of Ordnance as a "sea storehouse" (a repository for naval ordnance supplies). Further storehouses were added to form the north and east sides of the square in 1808-10. By 1860 the whole complex had been taken over by the Royal Laboratory department and converted into a factory to make boxes and barrels for the storage and carriage of ammunition, powder, cartridges, fuses and other items; the west range contained the wood store, the east range had a sawmill with a cooperage above it, the north range contained a steam engine, which powered the machinery by way of line shafting.
The entrance of the Greenwich Heritage Centre is in the south wing of the quadrangle, a former carpenters' workshop of 1877-78 where boxes and barrels were machine-assembled. By the time of the First World War this space had been given over to the manufacture of ammunition for small arms. At the end of the war many women were at work here. In the years leading up to the closure of the Arsenal in 1994, much of the building was in use as Customs and Excise stores.
History of the museum
The Greenwich Heritage Centre was established in October 2003, combining collections from the Greenwich Borough Museum and the local history library, previously at Woodlands House in Westcombe Park. The establishing of a museum of local history in this area was motivated by the council's desire to support the refurbishment of the Royal Arsenal and make it a desirable place to live and visit. It was preceded in 2001 by the move of the Royal Artillery Museum from its historic location at the Rotunda to a disused building at the Arsenal where it took the name Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum.
New Laboratory Square was restored by English Partnerships and the London Development Agency in 1999-2002, after plans by Llewyn-Davies architects. Initially the museum only used the west range of the building, while sharing the south range with Firepower. The rest of the building was used as storage by Firepower until its closure in 2016.
In 2014 a new charity, the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust (RGHT), was formed to manage the museum and archives as well as Charlton House, The Tudor Barn in Eltham and certain other heritage assets in the Borough. The RGHT is supported by the Friends of the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust.
In 2017 it was announced that the borough has plans to create a £31 million cultural district around the riverside end of No 1 Street. The plan includes a 1200-seat auditorium for concerts and events in Building 41. This means Greenwich Heritage Centre will have to move to new premises, probably to Building 18, the former James Clavell Library, until 2016 part of the Firepower Museum.
From the opening of the museum there has been a permanent exhibition named Inside the Arsenal, which tells the history of the Royal Arsenal (and the nearby Woolwich Dockyard). A section of this exhibition is entitled Here Come The Girls, celebrating the role of women in wartime Woolwich, particularly during World War I.
In 2016, following the closure of the Firepower museum across the road, a second permanent exhibition Making Woolwich: The Royal Regiment of Artillery in Woolwich has been set up to fill the gap. This exhibition in the south wing of the building marks the 300th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Regiment of Artillery in Woolwich in 1716. Even though the main theme is the Royal Artillery, some of the objects on display relate to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (1741-1939). The project was supported by Greenwich London Borough Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Royal Artillery Museums Ltd, Friends of the Royal Artillery Collections and the Royal Artillery Historical Trust (which owns most of the objects on display).
Apart from these, the museum usually has one or two changing exhibitions per year. These generally focus on a specific area in the borough, an historic event or other topics of local interest. The temporary Berkeley Gallery, which was sponsored by Berkeley Homes and promoted the arts in the Royal Arsenal Riverside development, has been replaced by the Making Woolwich exhibition.
Notes and references
- Saint, A., Guillery, P. (ed.), Woolwich – Survey of London, Volume 48, Yale Books, London, 2012. ISBN 978 0 300 18722 9
- Saint & Guillery (2012), pp. 158-161
- Combined Services, 30 July 2003. This is Local London. Accessed: 23 August 2015
- Saint & Guillery (2012), p. 161
- "New creative district for London in the heart of Woolwich". Royalgreenwich.gov.uk. 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2017-04-04.
- Greenwich Heritage Centre website
- ‘Making Woolwich’ - A New Permanent Exhibition, 2016. greenwichheritage.org. Accessed: 22 February 2017
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