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Enquiry on Royal Arsenal Woolwich Foundry and proof marks.

A visitor to our web site is doing research and asked

"I wonder if you can point me in the direction of records for Woolwich Arsenal for the 1700s please.

A friend in the USA has a cannon which was on the HMS St Lawrence and then Diana in 1775... and we are trying to trace it back as to when it was made and despatched to the ships off Boston".

Thank you for any links or direction you can give.

Our response was:

The records for Woolwich Arsenal are at the TNA; previously known as the PRO; and for the period you are asking about are summarised in W T Vincent's 'The records of Woolwich District' published in c1890.

The Foundry was shown on the map of the 'Warren' dated 1717, p 318.

The 'Warren' was the name of the site that became Woolwich Arsenal.The map of Woolwich Warren dated 1701 shows the buildings some of which are associated with the science of gun making and test firing, faces page 318.

The buildings for the Guns were built from 1668 after the guns, carriages and stores were removed from Deptford to Woolwich. P 319. Between 1668 and 1680 the proof of ordnance was moved from Moorfields to Woolwich p 318 and footnote to page. 321. Major Matthew Bayley removed casting from Moorfields to Woolwich. The London Gazette 17th July 1716 advert says a new building, Brass Foundry, is being built at Woolwich and all founders to cast brass ordnance are to give their proposals to the principal officers of His Majesty's Ordnance. There is more information but not the details to recognise specific guns.

For this you will need to explore the TNA archive. Try using the 'Discovery' search engine.

There are a number of books on the history of Woolwich Arsenal which

may lead to other records. The London Borough Greenwich has moved its archive from the Arsenal Site to Charlton House and there may be records with them but I doubt if they have the specific details of the guns made and where they were issued.

The shipping records again are mostly at the TNA and there are a number of Documents that relate to HMS St Lawrence. The following may help in your search ADM 1/2373/85-


Folios 178-179: Edward William Campbell Rich Owen, HMS Royal Sovereign (Yacht). Encloses a letter received from Richard Peele, who he met on his arrival in Kingston in March 1815 as Gunner of HMS St Lawrence. On the laying up of HMS Royal Sovereign, Owen gave Peele the responsibility of being in charge of all the ordnance stores belonging to ships in Ordinary in the Dockyard and whose ability and conduct he highly recommends. Folios 180-181: enclosure in folios 178-179. Letter dated 25 January 1820 by Richard Peele, Kingston, to Edward William Campbell Rich Owen. Provides a statement of his service on HMS St Lawrence and previously HMS Psyche.

The visitor came back with the following information.

Thank you for the information. One of the problems is that there were 3 St Lawrence ships and finding the records for the right one is not easy. We are almost certain now that the cannon was transferred from the St Lawrence to the Diana. It would be interesting to know if the cannon was made in Enkhuisen as it had Z on the trunnion and whether it was shipped direct to the St Lawrence or was made and transferred to Woolwich for "proofing" etc before going on to the St. Lawrence.

I shall look through your comments and once again thank you.

Comments from the Cataloguing Cadre.

The library has a number of books on the Royal Arsenal Woolwich.

They are listed with their 'locationId' number so you can find them on the open book shelves.

Accession listing report. 07 June 2023




Woolwich: Royal Arsenal and Dockyard Chapel: Images, transcriptions and Index of baptisms 1873-1922


Ray Fordham

Royal Arsenal Woolwich donation file from Ray Fordham


Wesley, Harry

The Royal Arsenal Woolwich


Woolwich Arsenal Timeline and Disabled Persons


B Burford & J Watson

Aspects of the Arsenal: The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich


Roy Masters

The Royal Arsenal Woolwich


The web site also has a number of data files in the MOA (Members Only Area).

There is an interesting blog on the Heinz History Centre web site found at https://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/blog/fort-pitt-museum-a-closer-look-18th-century-cannon/#:~:text=Starting%20at%20the%20top%2C%20or,shamrock%2C%20the%20symbol%20for%20Ireland. That gives details of cannon proof markings but not specifically for Woolwich Arsenal. 

Mid June Society eNewsletter on the website
Sevenoaks June newsletter on the website

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