The use of artillery pre-dates Roman times when slings, catapults and ballistas were used to project missiles. Later, longbows propelled arrows both as direct fire, where you can see your target, and indirect fire, where the target is distant. The English first used guns in battle in the early fourteenth century. Records indicate that Edward III may have used artillery against the Scots in 1327. The first fully recorded use of English artillery was at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. In peacetime, English rulers stored their guns in castles for safe keeping. In the 1370s, the royal household appointed a courtier to administer weapons, arsenals and castles. The earliest known Master of Ordnance was Nicholas Merbury, appointed about 1415-1420 by Henry V of England. By 1486, Henry VII of England had a growing arsenal of guns. The first professional corps of artillerymen was formed to manage this arsenal. Twelve Gunners, under one Master Gunner, were recruited. These Gunners were based in the Tower of London. They were skilled in gun manufacture so they were best placed to use of guns. In wartime, extra men were recruited to transport and operate the guns. These men were trained and formed into a ‘Trayne’ of Artillery. This Trayne disbanded when the war ended and was not a permanent force. On 26 May 1716 the first two permanent companies of Royal Artillery were formed by Royal Warrant in the reign of George I. The two companies numbered 100 men each. Tower Place, in what later became Royal Arsenal, was their headquarters.
A military academy was established at Woolwich in 1720 to provide training for Royal Artillery officers. It was granted its Royal Warrant in 1741. Initially it was a gathering of ‘gentlemen cadets’, learning ‘gunnery, fortification, mathematics and a little French‘. Woolwich, with its early artillery connections, was a place of scientific experiment and innovation. The advent of the ‘galloper’ or ‘grasshopper’ gun meant that a gun could be be pulled by one horse between the shafts. Guns could now keep pace with fast-moving troops. This innovation led to the formation of the Royal Horse Artillery in 1793. The First World War saw a huge increase in Royal Artillery numbers. It is estimated that 800,000 men served as Gunners. 48,499 of these Gunners gave their lives in the conflict. The ‘Great War’ was the ‘Gunner’s ‘ war. The science and technology of artillery developed very rapidly between 1914 and 1918. The development of ‘predicted fire’, the ‘creeping’ barrage and improved observation and communication techniques, combined with new generations of guns, shells and fuzes to make artillery the war-winner. The guns of the Royal Artillery are the Regiment’s Colours, in the same way that the Standards and Guidons of Infantry and Cavalry Regiments are Colours. Traditionally, Colours are the rallying point in battle. The Museum is fully accessible for wheelchairs and has dedicated disabled toilet facilities. There are a number of activities available for children in the school holidays. Note: the museum will move to Wiltshire at the end of 2016 so visit while you can.
Location : Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, SE18 6ST
Transport: Woolwich Arsenal (DLR). Thames Clipper. London Buses routes 472, 161, 96, 180 stop in Plumstead Road outside the Royal Arsenal. Bus routes 53, 54,422,380 stop in Woolwich Town Centre.
Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00.
Sunday Closed. Monday Cafe Open.
Tickets : Adults £5.30. Children £2.50.
Concessions $4.50, Carer free.
Tel: 020 8312 7103.