The recently published TFL River Action Plan proposes that piers should become destinations in themselves. An interesting concept which motivated me to try a few out. So why start at Royal Arsenal Woolwich? As well as being the eastern end of the Thames Clipper Line it is also the part of the river that has most passengers. Not on the Clipper but on the Woolwich Free Ferry. Of the 6,000 passengers travelling on the Thames each year a third are using the Woolwich Free Ferry. The Thames Clipper provides a commuter service to Royal Arsenal Woolwich so you can arrive at 9.39am then there is no further service until 17.41pm during the week. At the weekends there is a shuttle service between North Greenwich 02 and The Royal Arsenal. With this skeleton service you won’t be surprised to learn that the pier is basic.
Yet, when you arrive at the Royal Arsenal you are in a site with over 20 Grade 1 & 2 listed buildings which makes it a landmark heritage site. As you leave the pier there is a group of life size figures by Peter Burke to greet you. The Thames Path flows eastwards and there is a parallel small green space to the back making a sympathetic walkway. No 1 Street is ahead and it is a pleasant tree lined avenue that leads to The Royal Brass Foundry 1717. The Arsenal was organised into separate departments and there are corresponding buildings: the Royal Laboratory, Royal Carriage, Royal Brass Foundry and Storekeeper’s Department. Some buildings are known by their Ministry of Defence numbers, No 41 is the Academy. The Dial Arch now a public house was also known as The Great Pile. A group of engineers working in this block formed the Dial Square Football Club which in 1888 became the Woolwich Arsenal Football Club.
The integration of the heritage and the new buildings is very good. The restored buildings are still dominant which gives the place a unique historical feel. Compare the interest in this site to the new riverside apartments you can see on the north side of the Thames. Public spaces have been enhanced by historical features such as original cannons which are displayed proudly. Each of the listed buildings as a Heritage Plaque which gives you information about its previous purpose. It is reassuring to see these important historical buildings finding a new purpose as riverside apartments. Overall the signage is very good which makes navigating throughout the site easy.
On the Thames Clipper website they list a place of interest for each pier. For Royal Arsenal they list The Fire Power Museum. Whilst interesting and well worth a visit there is much more to see. The Greenwich Heritage Centre has a permanent exhibition about the history of The Royal Arsenal and temporary exhibitions. When I visited there was an exhibition of 19th Century etchings and watercolours of nearby Eltham. Refreshments are available at The Dial Arch Public House or Fire Power Bistro.
The imposing Royal Arsenal Gatehouse is physically separated from the Royal Arsenal by the A206. From the Dial Arch you can cross into Woolwich Town Centre. The town has a long and proud past and there is much to see. You can find on this blog previous posts about the town centre, a Heritage Walk around the town, a walk along the Royal Dockyard and The Woolwich Free Ferry.
Is it worth visiting? Yes though you may want to use the DLR, bus or overground train.