What’s Woolwich like: thinking back to our origins

As we build up to Tottenham v Arsenal in 2010, so 100 years ago fans were getting ready for the first ever Tottenham v Arsenal league game at Tottenham, played on 15 April 1910.

The importance of the match could not be overplayed.  A draw for Arsenal would see them more or less safe in the first division for another year, a win for Arsenal could see Tottenham drop into the relegation zone.

And yet despite the fact that neither of the clubs were in London, this was seen at the time as a local match and a crowd of 35,000 or more was expected at White Hart Lane, which at the time was in Middlesex.

Arsenal were of course Woolwich Arsenal and were in the area of Kent known for its maritime history next to the location that gave its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time.  Greenwich itself became the site of the Royal Palace of Placentia in the 15th century, and was the birthplace of many in the House of Tudor, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

The palace and Greenwich fell into disrepair during the Civil War and was rebuilt as the Royal Naval hospital by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. These buildings became the Royal Naval College in 1873.

While Plumstead where Arsenal played remained working class, Greenwich  became a popular resort in the 17th century with many grand houses, such as Vanbrugh castle on Maze Hill.  This was therefore the class division of London itself, set in small Kent towns.

The name Woolwich probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘trading place for wool’. Woolwich has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age. It was long the home to the Woolwich Dockyard, the Royal Arsenal, the Royal Military Academy and the Royal Horse Artillery. It retains the Royal Artillery Barracks, although now infantry soldiers are based here.

It declined as a town through the 20th century with the closure of the Siemens factory in 1968 and the Royal Arsenal itself finally closed in 1994, and it was not until the redevelopment of the Royal Arsenal site that matters began to improve once more.

Matters were further helped with the opening of Woolwich Arsenal statioin on the Docklands Light Railway.  Woolwich is being used as a venue for shooting events in the 2012 olympics.

But overall Greenwich and Woolwich remains working class, inner city, with tower blocks and council housing.  The rivers edge is once again industrial, although there is the 02 arena and the Millenium village nearby.

There’s more on Arsenal today on Untold Arsenal, and you can read the history of Arsenal 100 years ago as a novel – details here

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