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For other uses, see Woolwich (disambiguation).
Woolwich royal arsenal gatehouse 1.jpg
Woolwich Royal Arsenal gatehouse
Woolwich is located in Greater London
 Woolwich shown within Greater London
Population 71,526 (Woolwich Common, Woolwich Riverside, Plumstead and Glyndon wards 2011)
OS grid reference TQ435795
   – Charing Cross 8.5 mi (13.7 km)  WNW
London borough Greenwich
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district SE18
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Greenwich and Woolwich
London Assembly Greenwich and Lewisham
List of places

Coordinates: 51°29′17″N 0°03′47″E / 51.488°N 0.063°E / 51.488; 0.063

Woolwich (/ˈwʊlɪ/ or /ˈwʊlɪ/) is an area of south east London within the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Woolwich, also formerly known as Woolwich Saint Mary, became part of the London metropolitan area in the mid 19th century, although remaining part of Kent until absorbed by the County of London in 1889. In 1965, most of the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich became part of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, while North Woolwich on the other side of the Thames was attached to former Essex neighbourhoods in a different borough, Newham, and is now considered separate from Woolwich.

Woolwich is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.[1] It is a river crossing point, with the Woolwich Ferry and the Woolwich foot tunnel crossing to North Woolwich.



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."[2] But it is now generally believed that the name Woolwich derives from the Anglo-Saxon name, "trading place for wool".

Early history[edit]

Woolwich has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age, and a Roman fort was found in the current Riverside park.[3]

Urban development[edit]

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 1671), the Royal Military Academy (1741) and the Royal Artillery (1716); 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 King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery). Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum (which itself dates from 1748) is within the old Royal Arsenal (the original home of the regiment).[4] 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.

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.[5] 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 6 July.[6]

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.[7] Woolwich was chosen because it was considered to be a representative English town at the time.[8] In the same year the Provisional IRA bombed the Kings Arms pub in the town, killing two.

Woolwich once had four cinemas. Today, one, the former Granada cinema (which once hosted Buddy Holly in 1958,[9] and later Roy Orbison and The Beatles in 1963[10]), 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 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.

Local government[edit]

Woolwich town hall dates from when Woolwich was a borough in its own right

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. In April 1965, following implementation of the London Government Act 1963, Woolwich was merged into the Borough of Greenwich, now the Royal Borough of Greenwich.


The likely to be demolished art deco Co-Op on Powis Street (Nov 2008)

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.[11]

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.[12] The project eventually involved demolition of several buildings including the Director General public house,[13] 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 includes 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,[14] which some locals opposed, raising a petition to save the building.[15] In September 2012 Greenwich Council approved a plan to convert the building into apartments and retail.[16]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.[17]

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).[18]

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.

London riots[edit]

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.[19] 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.[20] This writing was later deemed to be graffiti, and painted over by Greenwich Council.

Murder of Lee Rigby[edit]

Further information: Murder of Lee Rigby

Lee Rigby, one of the British soldiers based at the barracks, was murdered by two Islamic extremists, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, on 22 May 2013.[21]

On 22 May 2013, two men armed with knives and meat cleavers murdered British soldier and drummer Rigby, close to his base at the Royal Artillery Barracks. The men 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.[22] They were then taken to two different hospitals.[23]

On 19 December 2013 Adebolajo and Adebowale were found guilty of Rigby's murder.[24] On 26 February 2014, both men were sentenced to life imprisonment. Adebolajo was given a whole life order excluding the possibility of parole, and Adebowale, the younger of the two, was given a minimum term of 45 years in prison.[25]


Below is a table comparing Woolwich and the wider borough of Greenwich:[26]

Woolwich compared 2011 White British Asian Black
Woolwich Population 71,526 36.1% 20% 27.1%
London Borough of Greenwich 52.3% 11.7% 19.1%


Nearest places are:


Ferry departing north terminal

Woolwich Arsenal station serves the area with services to London Charing Cross via Lewisham, London Cannon Street both via Greenwich and via Sidcup, Barnehurst, Dartford and Gravesend. Woolwich Dockyard station also serves the area. There are Docklands Light Railway services from Woolwich Arsenal station to Canning Town, Stratford International and Bank. Woolwich is served by many Transport for London bus services connecting it with areas including Abbey Wood, Beckenham, Bexleyheath, Central London, Charlton, Chislehurst, Crystal Palace, Dartford, Eltham, Erith, Greenwich, Lewisham, New Cross, Orpington, Peckham, Plumstead, Sidcup, St Mary Cray, Thamesmead and Welling. An additional railway station serving Woolwich is scheduled to open in 2018 as part of the Abbey Wood branch of Crossrail, which will eventually provide the area with faster and more direct access to Central London and onwards to Heathrow Airport via Canary Wharf.

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.


Woolwich has two museums, both at the Royal Arsenal: Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum and Greenwich Heritage Centre. The old Grand Theatre, which briefly reopened in the 2010s, closed in 2015. The University of Greenwich's dramatic arts department is based in the historic Bathway Quarter in the centre of Woolwich.

The town has a number of public sculptures: one of Roman origin, six statues and reliefs from the 19th and early 20th century, and a number of modern sculptures. One of the Woolwich Arsenal station entrances features a large mural by Michael Craig Martin. Woolwich was used as a location for the 2006 film Children of Men.

Sports and leisure[edit]

Although Arsenal F.C. has its roots in Woolwich, the town does not have a professional football club to date. Woolwich has two Non-League football clubs Bridon Ropes F.C. and Meridian F.C. who both play at Meridian Sports & Social Club.

Greenwich Council has plans to demolish the 1980s Waterfront Leisure Centre next to the Woolwich Ferry and build a new leisure centre in Wilmount Street.

Notable people[edit]

  • Tom Cribb, 19th century bare-knuckle boxer, born in Bristol but resided and died aged 66 in Woolwich in 1848, he was buried in St. Mary's cemetery.
  • Charles George Gordon (1833-1885), general, born in Woolwich.
  • Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), pantomime clown, lived in Woolwich during the early 1830s before moving to Islington.
  • Richard Lovelace (1618-1657), poet, born in Woolwich.
  • Scott Maslen (1971-present), actor and model, born in Woolwich.
  • William Ranwell (1797-1861), artist, lived and died in Woolwich.
  • Ray Richardson (1964-present), painter, born and lives in Woolwich.
  • John Tapner (c. 1823 – 10 February 1854), last person executed in the island of Guernsey, came from Woolwich.
  • Glenn Tilbrook (1957-present), guitarist, born in Woolwich.
  • George Whale (1849–1925), solicitor and bibliophile, Mayor of Woolwich, founded the Samuel Pepys Club In 1903.
  • Ian Wright (1963-present), former professional footballer, born in Woolwich.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mayor of London (February 2008). "London Plan (Consolidated with Alterations since 2004)" (PDF). Greater London Authority. 
  2. ^ "Woolwich | The Environs of London: volume 4 (pp. 558-569)". British-history.ac.uk. 2003-06-22. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  3. ^ [1] Archived 28 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ http://www.firepower.org.uk/index.php/about-us/ Museum website
  5. ^ BBC on this day: 6 July accessed 23 April 2007
  6. ^ Greenwich Guide, day by day accessed 23 April 2007
  7. ^ Neate, Rupert (18 November 2014). "UK fast-food workers get US lesson in protesting against poverty wages". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Interview with McDonalds UK CEO Evening Standard 16 December 1991 accessed 23 April 2007
  9. ^ "1958 Tour Dates". Buddy Holly Online. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  10. ^ "Live: Granada Cinema, Woolwich, London". Beatles Bible. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  11. ^ DLR service change from 10 January 2009, accessed 13 January 2009
  12. ^ "Local resident concerns". Connaughtmews.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  13. ^ Fancyapint Ltd (2010-04-06). "Director General public house". Fancyapint.com. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  14. ^ "Coop site redevelopment". Icsouthlondon.icnetwork.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  15. ^ "Index". We Love Woolwich. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  16. ^ http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/greenwich/9946365.Former_Woolwich_Co_Op_to_be_converted_into_flats/
  17. ^ "Crews battle Woolwich shop fire". Newsshopper.co.uk. 2008-10-19. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  18. ^ Gilligan, Andrew (2008-08-28). "Olympics minister orders rethink over 2012 plans for Greenwich park - Olympics - Evening Standard". Thisislondon.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  19. ^ "Pictures of the destruction on Woolwich streets following a night of violence and looting". Newsshopper.co.uk. 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2012-09-29. 
  20. ^ [2]
  21. ^ "Man dead in suspected Woolwich terror attack". English Heritage list. BBC News Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  22. ^ "Woolwich attack: Suspects known to security services". BBC News. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  23. ^ Woolwich machete attack leaves man dead
  24. ^ "Two guilty of Lee Rigby murder". BBC News. 19 December 2013. 
  25. ^ "Lee Rigby murder: Adebolajo and Adebowale jailed". BBC News (BBC). 26 February 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2014. 
  26. ^ Woolwich is made up of the Glyndon, Plumstead, Common and Riverside wards http://ukcensusdata.com/greenwich-e09000011#sthash.wkP5XgTF.dpbs

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]