Sara Hasan is a long-time NAS member as well as our very dedicated admin officer. She recently escaped from behind the computer to host the Walking Tour of Royal Arsenal at Woolwich.

Last Sunday a group of NAS members met at Woolwich in east London for a walking tour of the Royal Arsenal and we were blessed, not just with the weather, but with Ian Bull, an amazing guide whose unbelievable knowledge, staggering enthusiasm and passion for the Arsenal was immediately apparent from our initial meeting outside Woolwich station. 

The walking tour was scheduled to last 4½ hours, but we over-ran slightly and could have doubled the allotted time as there was so much to see and learn and the site was huge - although our legs and stamina would probably not have lasted a full day.  

The tour began outside the Woolwich Station (Elizabeth Line) where a few original Arsenal buildings remain including the Royal Brass Foundry (1711) where we learned about the process of making bronze guns – wax and sawdust playing a major role in the process (who knew?!), and each gun taking about a year to produce!

At it’s peak, the Royal Arsenal covered 1300 acres and included more than 3 miles of Thames water frontage, which was important for the transport of raw materials and finished armaments produced at the Arsenal. 

The Royal Arsenal functioned for nearly 500 years, manufacturing weapons, large guns and tanks, as well as supplying ammunition and other armaments. A small Gunwharf was established in Woolwich in July 1518 for the equipping of newly constructed warships. Quickly outgrown, the site was significantly expanded 1670, and the Arsenal continued to expand to the enormous site as seen during the WW2. At its heyday during WW1, the Armoury employed in excess of 100,000 people.

The site began scaling down in the 1920s and both the testing and manufacture of weapons were moved to more remote and secret areas.

As our tour progressed, we stopped at many buildings and Ian explained the history and function of each. As well as imparting information, Ian treated us to many stories and anecdotes about the characters who lived and worked in these buildings. We reached the Thames waterfront where evidence of massive engineering remains, including the ’T Pier’ with the base of a former 200-ton crane still in situ.

The T Pier today and in its heyday.

In order to move the massive battleship guns around the Arsenal, gun sleighs were designed and constructed. 


Ian took us off the beaten path and showed us the lock and slipway used to move the huge guns.

Whilst still on their sleighs the massive guns would be moved onto to barges for transport to firing ranges for testing. Abandoned and overgrown, the evidence of the slipway was a hidden gem. 

Upper end of abandoned slipway

As the tour continued, we climbed Lookout Hill to view the site of the original Arsenal further to the east. Heading back towards Woolwich we passed a canal constructed to move items around the Royal Armoury.


Many historic buildings, and parts of buildings, remain on the site, and many have been incorporated into the Berkley development of the site.

Left, the Hydraulic accumulator tower is now apartments. Right, the Shell Foundry

The Royal Arsenal had some of the largest steam hammers in the world and we stopped at a collection of surviving steam hammer anvils, with a member of our group resting sore feet and providing a nice scale for an anvil.

It wouldn’t be an Armoury without guns. For the cannon lovers, there are plenty to keep you amused. Here are just a few of the guns we passed during our tour….. 

Hopefully you can tell from this brief overview of our tour, it was an exceptional day, and I don’t want to give too much away as I’ve heard that NAS will be arranging future tours with Ian, and I cannot recommend it enough. 

A final thank-you to the NAS for arranging a brilliant day, and to Ian Bull who made it an exceptional experience. 

Keep an eye out for NAS organised tour dates in 2024, and in the meantime, you can find out more about the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich here