In Danskin’s footsteps: an Untold away day to Woolwich
On Saturday, given the lack of football and wishing to escape the seemingly endless transfer rumour roundabout, I decided to pack my camera, oyster card and sense of adventure, and set off on a bit of pilgrimage. My destination was the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. For those that have never been, I thought you might like to hear about it.
Now of course the Royal Arsenal no longer exists, there are some of the original buildings alongside newer apartments and converted businesses, but it’s laid out along the lines of the old factory and you certainly get a real sense of place. And the first thing that struck me was just how far out of London (and from Highbury) it really is.
I took a combination of bus and tube down to Embankment and caught the Thames river boat (surrounded by excitable children and tourists for the Eye and Greenwich) up to the O2 before swapping on to another vessel to Woolwich. It’s the best way to get around London in my opinion, especially on a hot day when the last place you want to be in underground. The cost with an Oyster is just under £6. You can also get to Woolwich Arsenal on the Dockland Light Railway (DLR) as I did on my way back. It’s a short (less than five minutes) walk from the quay to the museum.
The Royal Artillery museum is well worth a visit even if (unlike me) you are not fascinated by history, guns and war. There are cannons from the medieval period to rocket launchers from the present, and well organized displays with good information. Check out the website here http://www.firepower.org.uk/. There’s a little bit about the factory’s association with The Arsenal and some interesting film footage of the workers – the first fans as Tony, Andy & Mark’s excellent history of the club shows.
If you leave the museum and walk up the slight hill you come to Dial Square, the birthplace of the modern Arsenal FC. This imposing building with its cannon dominates the view and is a surviving part of the old Royal Arsenal complex.
Dial Square now is really just a small park with nice planting and a series of old cannon dotted about. But the old Dial Arch which marks the entrance to the old turning and engraving shop (where guns would have been machined) still exists – even if it’s now a rather trendy London pub. This is me outside it – beer’s not bad J
The Sun Dial was erected in 1764, but the gates were probably designed by the famous architect Vanbrugh in the early 1700s. I like to think the dial is the earliest manifestation of the Highbury clock but Tony might argue with that.
Opposite the pub entrance is a moment to the club with a plate to explain its history.
I would have gone on to Plumstead common but by then the weather – glorious all morning – was beginning to turn and I had a long journey north to do. I’d really recommend any one with an interest in Arsenal’s history to take the trip to Woolwich if only to better appreciate why Henry Norris thought it so important to relocate the club in N5. Woolwich is a nice place, near the river and looks like it’s on the up. But it is also – even today – a good hour to hour and a half from the crowded streets of north London where such a large potential fan base existed. It will also remind you – if you need reminding – of the very strong ties between Arsenal and the forces. Woolwich has a very long association with the military – on land and sea – as the tragic death of Fusilier Lee Rigby will testify – and that was very evident from my brief visit.
Next week Football returns and I’m taking my step children to the Emirates Cup – this season starts once more with people questioning Arsenal’s future; well I’m glad that I’ve got a slightly better idea of our past.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early