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The Royal Arsenal

The area now known as Thamesmead became a very important military and naval site when Henry VIII built his major dockyard at nearby Woolwich.

The land, mostly now on the Greenwich side of the boundary, was used for storing ordnance or ammunition from as early as 1565 and gradually more and more land was given over to what became the Royal Arsenal where guns were made and tested.

The land was ideal for this. There were still very few people living in the area and the marshy ground deadened the impact of explosions.

The Royal Arsenal brought much-needed trade to the area as people who worked in the munitions factories came to live in the nearby towns and villages.

Convict labour was used to build many of the Arsenal buildings in the seventeenth century. The prisoners were housed in three hulks moored on the Thames off Tripcock Point.

The area became more and more important militarily throughout the 18th and 19th centuries - England was at war with many countries, including France and Spain.

By the beginning of the First World War the Arsenal was operating at full capacity, providing employment for 73,000 people. However, officials became worried about the manufacture and testing of guns and ammunition so close to densely populated areas. The Arsenal was now surrounded by residential developments as London expanded further and further outwards so from the 1920s onwards the site was scaled down with both the testing and manufacture of weapons being moved to more remote and secret areas.

After the Second World War the Arsenal was less and less used. By the late 1950s the London County Council (LCC) had earmarked part of the land - together with about 500 acres of marshland at Erith - to form the site for a new riverside town development to help cope with the demand for housing in the London area.

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