Description: Royal Arsenal Brass Foundry Royal Foundry
Date Listed: 8 June 1973
English Heritage Building ID: 200487
OS Grid Reference: TQ4373779063
OS Grid Coordinates: 543737, 179063
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4922, 0.0691
TQ 44 79 PLUMSTEAD ROAD SE18
786/9/49 Royal Arsenal
Brass Foundry, Royal Foundry
Brass cannon foundry, now book store. 1716-17, possibly by Sir John Vanbrugh, for the Board of Ordnance; extended and altered 1771-1774 by Jan Verbruggen, Master Founder, extensively repaired 1970s, book store since then. Dark red brick with red rubbed brick and stone dressings and slate, originally tile, hipped roofs.
PLAN: Symmetrical plan of a central founding range with lower side aisles, and N entrance tower with flanking blocks.
EXTERIOR: 2 storeys and attic; 3-bay central tower with flanking single-storey; 2-bay range wings. Central tower has clasping pilasters on stone plinths, a fine entrance with pilasters of alternate rubbed brick and stone to a cornice set forward over the jambs, rusticated voussoirs to a round-arched doorway with the Duke of Marlborough's Arms to the key, radial fanlight and double doors with 10 raised panels; rubbed brick round arches with keys and imposts to C19 casements each side, segmental-arched blind panels above, and round-arched first-floor windows, flanking a wide 3-centre arched panel above the doorway with a fine coat of arms of George I. 3-bay sides with round-arched first-floor windows. Pyramidal roof with 2 pedimented dormers to the front, and a round lead-clad cupola, added 1722, with architraves to small-paned windows, angle buttresses and a dome with a finial. Single-storey side 'aisles' have round-arched windows linked by impost band and 3-centre-arched doorway, originally a central porch; the rear section is a 2-storey, 3-window former furnace block possibly raised 1770s, with contrasting paler brick clasping pilasters and window surrounds, round-arched ground-floor and segmental-arched first-floor windows. W side has a matching 2-storey rear block, but rebuilt c1878 to the N as a single-storey block with blind windows. S end has a 2-storey block with chamfered corners and parapet, possibly of 1803. Founding range has continuous clerestory windows beneath the eaves and louvred ridge vents.
INTERIOR: an entrance hall with cast-iron plates to the inner wall, the top one inscribed TRANSFERRED TO ROYAL LABORATORY 1878, and a round-arched one over the doorway inscribed 177?/ VERBRUGGEN/J KING/H KING/1771 SCHALCH/KING/NORTH/ECCLES/1855; a C19 iron winder stair leads up to the tower, which has a heavy timber roof, and the flanking ground-floor bays have round arches to the S walls with imposts. The central founding range behind has a 9-bay king post roof with butt purlins, ridge vents, the 2 N trusses closed off, with mid-late C19 metal-trussed roof to the S end, and blind round arches to the sides. The E aisle has a steep roof with collar trusses with tie beams, butt purlins and a ridge board, with a cast-iron beam bolted to the W wall plate.
HISTORY: Part of the initial expansion of the Arsenal after the Board of Ordnance set up its own foundry at Woolwich, with Dial Square and the Board Room (qqv). The foundry was built to cast brass cannon, and laid out on an axis facing the river. The furnaces were in the 2-storey ranges at the rear, with casting pits between and a gallery and windlass above, model and pattern-making to the north, with a large balance inside the main entrance, and had open arcades along the sides of the founding range, now blocked; the heavy roof, much of it original, was used for lifting, and there may have been a vertical cannon-boring machine in the tower. Verbruggen altered and extended it 1771-74 to accommodate a third foundry, although at this time advances in casting and boring iron were making brass cannon obsolete. In 1827 and 42, steam boring equipment replaced horse-powered mills of 1773/76. Of considerable historic significance as a rare, early and little-altered example of a purpose-built foundry and workshop, reworked at the start of the industrial revolution.
(de Beer, Professor C, The Art of Gunfounding, Rotherfield, 1991; Pevsner N and Cherry B, The Buildings of England: London South, London, 1983, p.287; Hogg O F G, The Royal Arsenal, Oxford, 1963, pp.430, 626; RCHME report, 1994)
Listing NGR: TQ4373779063
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.