|Woolwich Common and Royal Artillery Barracks||Greenwich|
Woolwich Common originally covered an extensive area, and from the late C18th was used by the military. In 1802 the Board of Ordnance enclosed part of the common and it remains largely owned by the Ministry of Defence. Building of the Royal Artillery Barracks in the north of the common had begun in 1776 and in 1806 the Regiment moved here. Barrack Field was a setting for the Military Repository, a mortar battery and the observatory, with married quarters bounded to the south by a ha-ha. The Rotunda was moved here from St James's Park in 1819 and became a military museum. The land south of Ha-Ha Road is mostly accessible, open commonland.
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Woolwich Common originally covered an extensive area, meeting Charlton Common to the west. Today it is only partly accessible to the public. The Royal Military Academy had been established in Woolwich in 1741 to the east of the common, and eventually closed in 1939. The historic buildings are being converted into private housing by Durkan Estates. From the late C18th the land began to be used by the military and in May 1802 the Board of Ordnance enclosed part of the common for use as a drilling ground. It was purchased for a sum of £3,000 by the Government, and the various cottages and small plots located here were then cleared. In 1806 the Royal Regiment of Artillery, which had been founded in 1716, moved from Woolwich Royal Arsenal, where they had become overcrowded, to Woolwich Common where they had already built the Royal Artillery Barracks overlooking the common from the north. The buildings were commissioned in 1772 and have an impressive 1000 ft long facade with a central arch; construction of the Barracks took place in stages. The chapel of 1808 was used as the Garrison Theatre between 1863-1954.
In the north of Woolwich Common, Barrack Field was a designed landscape setting for the Military Repository, a mortar battery and the observatory, with married quarters built in the early C19th, bounded to the south by a ha-ha (now Ha-Ha Road). To the west is Repository Woods (q.v.), an area of woodland and a landscaped lake, now used for private fishing, which was landscaped from 1804 to provide a military training ground. The Commandant's House in Rush Grove Street dates from the early C19th and has an octagonal gardenhouse in the grounds. Today military buildings are set in and around a landscaped bowl, scattered with C20th married quarters (Green Hill), with The Rotunda set among trees on the skyline. There are limes along footpaths and clumps of oak. Repository Road is lined with horse chestnut and the east boundary along Hill Reach has C19th walls.
The Rotunda was originally a polygonal tent with a festive tall Chinese concave lead roof, housing a ballroom designed by John Nash and erected in St James's Park for a fete in honour of the allied sovereigns in 1814 duriing Peace Celebrations. It was brought to Woolwich in 1819 when the central pillar was put up, and in 1822 converted by Nash into a military museum containing the gun collection of the Royal Artillery Museum. It was restored in 1975; many of the exhibits are now displayed at the new Royal Artillery Museum at Firepower at Royal Arsenal. Near The Rotunda is the Afghan and Zulu War Memorial of c.1881, with copper trophies of arms.
Although the Royal Artillery left the Barracks in July 2007, Woolwich Common is still designated a military training area and the land to the north of Ha-Ha Road remains in private use by the Ministry of Defence. The land to the south of Ha-Ha Road is mostly open commonland with grassland and it is now no longer mown so that flowers and butterflies have returned to the common. In the south east corner is the remains of an old filter bed. The shooting events at the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics are to be held at a temporary venue at the Barracks.
Colvin, H. A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, London 1978 p581; Aitcheson, Map of Woolwich, 1845. Pevsner p289/292, Greenwich millennium history; Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Sue Swales, Meg Game, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Greenwich', Ecology Handbook 10 (London Ecology Unit), 1989; K D Clark, 'Greenwich and Woolwich in Old Photographs'; 'Battles for the Commons in South London' Past Tense Publications, 2004