Parishes: Woolwich

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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'Parishes: Woolwich', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1, (Canterbury, 1797) pp. 441-454. British History Online [accessed 20 April 2024]

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IS the next parish to Charlton eastward. It lies on the bank of the river Thames, and was called, in the time of the Saxons, Hulviz, which, in the language of that nation, signified the dwelling on the creek of the river. By this name it is called in the survey of Domesday, in the Textus Roffensis, it is written Wlewic.

It seems in former times to have been a small fishing place, but very thinly inhabited, owing probably to the lowness of its situation, and the overflowings of the river, before it was imbanked.

A small part of this parish lies on the opposite side of the river Thames, adjoining Essex, but yet within the county of Kent. Probably haimo, vicecomes or sheriff, of this county, in the time of the Conqueror, being possessed of Woolwich on this side the river, as well as the lands adjoining to it on the other side, procured them, either by composition or grant from the king, to be annexed to his jurisdiction, as part of his county, and then incorporated them with it; and an old manuscript mentions, that the parish of Woolwich had, on the Essex side of the Thames, five hundred acres of land, some few houses, and a chapel of ease. (fn. 1) There are several instances of different counties in this kingdom being at this time separated from small districts belonging to them, by parts of adjoining ones intervening. (fn. 2)

THE TOWN OF WOOLWICH is situated on the bank of the river, is very populous, and has been much improved of late years; it is wholly taken up by, and in a manner raised from the yards and works erected here, for the naval service and the ordnance. At high water, the Thames is about a mile over, and the water salt upon the flood, and as the channel lies direct east and west for about three miles, the tide runs very strong, and the river is entirely free from shoals and sands, and has seven or eight fathoms water; so that the largest ships may ride with safety, even at low water. In the year 1236, anno 21 Henry III. the marshes near Woolwich were overflowed by the sudden rise of the Thames, in such a manner, that many of the inhabitants perished, together with a great number of cattle; and in the reigns of James I. another inundation happened, by which many acres were laid under water, some of which have never been recovered. Among the patent rolls in the Tower, are many commissions, which issued in the reign of king Henry III. and in the succeeding ones, for overseeing and repairing the breaches, walls, ditches, &c. in different places and marshes between Greenwich and Woolwich, which are now under that commission of sewers, which extends from Lombarde's-wall to Gravesend-bridge.

Woolwich has a market weekly on Friday, but no annual fair. The parish extends southward as far as the high London road, near Shooter's-hill, adjoining to which is Woolwich-common.

The dock at Woolwich claims some preserence before all others in the kingdom, as well in seniority, as its importance to government, having had most of the largest ships built at it for several reigns past; one of which, in the first year of queen Mary, called the Great Harry, of 1000 tons, was burnt here by accident; in the reign of queen Elizabeth, when the business of the royal navy increased, and larger ships of war were built than were usually employed before, new docks and launches were erected here, and places prepared for the building and repairing ships of the largest size, because here was a greater depth of water and freer channel than at Deptford.

On July 3, 1559, queen Elizabeth honoured this place with her presence at the launching of a fine ship, newly built, and called by her own name, Elizabeth. (fn. 3) In the year 1637, the Royal Sovereign was built in this dock; a ship which was the glory of this nation, and the wonder of the world. She was 1637 tons burthen, besides tonnage; 128 feet long, 48 broad; from the fore-end of the beak-head to the after-end of the stern, 152 feet; from the bottom of the keel to the top of the lanthern, 76 feet. She had five lantherns, the largest of which would hold ten persons, upright; three flush-decks, a fore-castle, half-deck, quarter-deck, and round-house. The lower tier had 60 ports, the middle one 30, the third 26; the forecastle 12, half-deck 14, and as many more within, besides ten pieces of chace ordnance forward, and ten right off, and many loop-holes in the cabin for musquets; eleven anchors, one of which weighed four thousand four hundred pounds. This royal ship was curiously carved and gilt with gold, and the Dutch, from the daughter and havoc her cannon made among them, gave her the name of the Golden Devil. A description of this ship was published by authority, at London, in quarto, in 1637, by T. Haywood, the celebrated actor, who was employed in contriving the emblematical devices about it.

The dock-yard, and the buildings belonging to it are encompassed with a high wall, and are spacious and convenient, and abundantly filled with all sorts of stores and naval provisions. Here is no commissioner resident, but the whole is under the immediate inspection of the navy-board, which appoints officers for the management of this yard, who have handsome houses to reside in, and a number of inferior clerks and servants under them, which are much the same as those of Deptford, excepting, that their salaries are not so large.

Here is a large rope-walk, where the biggest cables are made for the men of war, and on the eastern, or lower part of the town, is the Gun-yard, commonly called the Park, or the Gun park, where there is a great quantity of cannon, of all sorts, for the ships of war, every ship's guns lying in tiers, or rows apart, heavy cannon for batteries, and mortars of all sorts and sizes, insomuch, thar there has been sometimes laid up here, at once, between seven and eight thousand pieces of ordnance, besides mortars and shells almost beyond number.

There is both a CIVIL and MILITARY BRANCH of the OFFICE OF ORDNANCE established at Woolwich.

The civil branch is under the management of a Storekeeper, Clerk of the Survey, Clerk of the Cheque, Clerk of the Foundery, and other officers, who have many inferior servants and workmen under them.

The military branch of the office of ordnance is under the direction of a chief engineer, who ranks as colonel; two directors, who rank as lieutenant-colonels; four sub-directors, as majors. The engineers in ordinary rank as captains; the engineers extraordinary as captain-lieutenants, and the sub-engineers as lieutenants; besides which there are several practitioner engineers.

Under this office, in a place, called the Warren, artillery of all kinds and dimensions are cast; and the same, before the building of the powder magazine at Purfleet, used to be frequently proved here, before the principal engineers and officers of the board of ordnance, to which many of the nobility and gentry are often invited, who are afterwards sumptuously entertained by them. Gunpowder likewise, contrac- ted for by the office of ordnance, is proved here, as to its strength and goodness, and whether it is sit for the public service. Belonging to this office there is a laboratory, under the direction of a controller, a chief fire-master, a fire-master's mate, a clerk, and other workmen and labourers. Under these the companies of matrosses are employed in the compositions and making up of fireworks and cartridges, and in charging bombs, carcases, granadoes, and such like matters, for the public service.

A royal academy is established here, under the board of ordnance, for the instructing and editying young gentlemen, intended for the office of engineers in the military branch of that office; these are called cadets, and are appointed by that board. They are taught in it the principles and art of fortification, and every branch of military science relating to it, besides the French and Latin tongues, Writing, fencing, and drawing. There are belonging to this academy, a governor, lieutenant governor, and masters in each respective branch of science and literature.

Most of the officers, under both branches of the ordnance, have handsome houses and apartments and other accomodations allotted to them here, according to their respective ranks and stations.

The GRAVEL-PITS, at Woolwich, have been for many years the common place for simpling amongst the apothecaries and druggists of London. Our herbalist, Gerarde, takes notice, that the thalietrum five thalictrum majus et minus, great and small bastard rhubarb, grows at Woolwich and its neighbourhood on the banks of the river. (fn. 4)

In king Edward the Confessor's confirmation of the gift of Ethruda, king Alfred's niece, of the manor of Lewisham, and its appendages, to the abbey of St. Peter of Ghent, in Flanders, made in 1044, Wulewic is mentioned as one of them, belonging to that manor, (fn. 5) but the succeeding grants, relating to Lewisham manor, make no mention of this place; and in the 7th year of king Edward I. the king was lord of Eltham and Woolwiche. (fn. 6)

The MANOR OF WOOLWICH, which is coextenfive with the parish, has for many years been esteemed a member of the manor of Eltham, though it holds a separate court, and has a separate jury and homage. That it has been esteemed a member of that manor for some time is plain from the survey taken in 1649, by the trustees appointed by parliament for the sale of the crown lands, of the manor of Eltham and its members, in which there is an account of quit-rents due to the lord of that manor, from the several freeholders within the township of Woolwich. (fn. 7)

Sir John Shaw having purchased a subsisting term of the manors of Eltham and Woolwich, Charles II. in consideration of the eminent services performed by him, and promises made before, granted him, in 1663, a new and longer term of those premises, which about thirty-five years ago was renewed, and this manor, together with that of Eltham, is now in the possession of his great-great-grandson, Sir John Gregory Shaw, bart. as lessee under the crown, to whom the inheritance belongs.

There is a court leet and court baron held yearly for the manor of Woolwich, separate from that of Eltham, and a jury and homage sworn and charged out of the residents and tenants of it, to enquire within the manor. At this leet the jury appoints two constables and ale-tasters for the town and parish of Woolwich. In the court baron the tenants are all free tenants.

There is an estate here, formerly called the MANOR, OF SOUTHALL, alias WOOLWICH, for it once bore the reputation of a manor, and was stiled, in the Fœdary Books of this county, the Manor of Wulwiche.

In the survey of Domesday, taken in 1080, it is thus described, under the general title of the possessions of Haimo Vicecomes:

In the half of the lath of Sudtone in Grenviz hundred, there Haimo has 63 acres of arable land, which belong to him in Woolwich. William Accipitrarius held them of K. Edward the Confessor. There are 11 borderers paying 41 pence. The whole is worth 3 pounds.

Gilbert de Marisco held it about the beginning of king Edward I. and assumed the name of De Marisco, from the estate which he enjoyed in the marshes. He held this manor of Warren de Munchensi, Baron of Swanscampe: after him Sabina de Windlesore possessed it, about the 17th of king Edward II. being held of the Barony of Munchensi; which was again held of the king. (fn. 8)

The next in succession to her was John de Pulteney, who held it in the 20th year of that reign, in like manner as she had held it before. (fn. 9)

This Sir John de Pulteney, son of Adam de Pulteney and Maud his wife, was a person of great account; having been four times Lord Mayor of London. He was much in savor with king Edward III. and is noticed by our historians for his piety, wisdom, large possessions, and magnificent manner of living.

Humphry de Bohun, earl of Hereford, in the 21st year of that reign, conveyed to Sir John Pulteney, among other premises, his interest in the manor of Southall in Woolwich. (fn. 10)

By the inquisition taken after his death, it appears that he died in the 23d of king Edward III. possessed of this manor; and that William de Pulteney was his son and heir. Margaret, his widow, survived him, and afterwards married Sir Nicholas Lovain.

Sir William de Pulteney, the son before-mentioned, by his deed, dated at Penshurst, in the 36th year of the same reign, granted to John, bishop of Worcester, and others, in trust, this manor of Southall. Sir William de Pulteney died, without issue, in the 40th year of that reign, and left Robert de Pulteney, his kinsman, his heir; who was ancestor to the late earl of Bath.

By two indentures, in the 48th year of that reign, John, son of William Revel, in pursuance of a trust, as it seems, created by the above-mentioned Sir William de Pulteney, confirmed this manor to Sir Nicholas Lovain, Aubrey de Vere, and others. (fn. 11)

This family of Pulteney, who bore for their arms, argent, a fess dancete gules, in chief were three leopards faces, sable; was succeeded in its possessions in this place, about the latter end of king Richard II. by William Chichele, (fn. 12) citizen and grocer, of London, (third son of Thomas Chichele, by Agnes, daughter of William Pyncheon), and youngest brother of Henry Chichele, archbishop of Canterbury. He was sheriff of London in 1409, and afterwards an alderman; and dying in the 4th year of king Henry VI. was buried, in the parish of Higham Ferrers. (fn. 13) He married Beatrice, daughter of William Barret, esq. by whom he had two sons, William and John, and two daughters. The second son, John, who had this manor, was a citizen and chamberlain of London, and married Margery, daughter of Sir Thomas Knollys, by whom he had twentyfour children; one of whom, Agnes, the eldest daughter, married John Tattershall, esq. and brought her husband this manor, among other good estates in this neighbourhood; as appears by an inquisition taken in the 25th year of king Henry VI. in which it was found that John Tattershall, jointly with Agnes his wife, possessed the manor of Woolwiche; consisting of two messuages, three tosts, three hundred and forty-two acres of arable, meadow, marsh, and wood, and thirty shillings rent in Woolwiche; and that John Tattershall was his son and heir. (fn. 14) He alienated it in the latter end of the reign of king Edward IV. to Boughton, of Burwash-court in the adjoining parish of Plumsted; in which family it remained, till it was sold to Heydon, (fn. 15) and his descendant, Sir Christopher Heydon, of Baconsthorp in Norfolk, possessed it in the 15th year of queen Elizabeth. (fn. 16) He alienated it to Sir Nicholas Gilbourne, of Charing, who was sheriff of Kent in the 9th year of king James I. and his descendant, Henry Gilbourne, esq. possessed it at his death, about the year 1681. His heirs passed away this estate, about the year 1701, to Richard Bowater, descended from those of Warwick, when it at least pretended to the reputation of a manor, and to be exempt from the royal manor of Woolwich; but on a hearing of this claim in 1702, before the lord chief baron Ward, and the barons of the exchequer, they decreed, that the royal manor of Eltham extended over all and every part of the parish of Woolwich. Upon which the abovementioned Richard Bowater agreed for himself and his heirs, to pay a yearly rent to that manor for this estate, of which his descendant, John Bowater, esq. son of Edward, who died in 1777, is the present owner and resides here. They bear for their arms, Argent, an escutcheon sable, within an orle of martlets gules.

The manor of Jeffrys in this parish, in the beginning of queen Elizabeth's reign, was in possession of Henry Cheney, and was then held in capite. (fn. 17)

King Henry VIII. in his 31st year, granted to Martin Bowes a large messuage in Wolwyche, to hold in capite,

Sir Edward Boughton, anno 37 king Henry VIII. conveyed to that king two parcels of land, called Bowton's Docks, and two parcels, called Our Lady-hill, and Sand-hill, in this parish. (fn. 18)

The monastery of Stratford Langthorne, in the parish of Ham in Essex, was possessed of lands in this parish, (lying, most probably, contiguous to their mansion in that part of this parish and county of Kent, which lies on the Essex side of the Thames,) called Wiklonds, the tenths of which were given, in 1155, by William, son of Henry de Eltham, to the monastery of Bermondsey, in Southwark. (fn. 19)

After the dissolution of the monastery of Stratford Langthorne, king Henry VIII. in his thirty-second year, granted these pastures, called Wykelond, containing fifty acres, in Wolwych, to Roger Chomley, to hold in capite. (fn. 20)

It appears by the rolls of the 25th of queen Elizabeth, that Francis Bacon possessed much of this part of Woolwich, which joins to Essex; lying in Woolwich in Kent, and in East and West Ham in Essex.

There was a family of good account settled in this parish, about the latter end of queen Elizabeth's reign, of the name of Barnes, or Barne, for I have seen it written both ways; one of which, Sir William Barnes, was a justice of the peace in the year 1596, (a time, Mr. Lambarde says, when only persons of the highest reputation, and the best gentry, being in the commission, it was an honour to every one who was named in it.) He married Dorothy, daughter of Sir Peter Manwood, of St. Stephen's, near Canterbury, knight of the Bath, and bore for his arms, Azure, three leopards faces argent.

There is a neat alms-house, with a brick turret, in Woolwich, built for the habitation of poor widows.


Sir MARTIN BOWES, a resident of this parish in king Henry the VIIIth's time, gave a sum of money from an estate for the lodging and support of five poor widows, of which no information can be got from the company of Goldsmiths, in which it is supposed to be vested, but there is paid to the churchwarden for the poor in money, as of Sir M. Bowes's gift, by that company, 7s. 11d. annually.

Mr. RICHARD SIMMS, and ANN his wife, in 1621, gave by will, for an habitation for poor people for ever, four tenements, since fallen down, the scite now of the annual produce of 3l.

Rev. ABRAHAM COLFE, in 1657, gave by will, a sum to be annually distributed to the poor in bread, vested in the Leatherseller's company, of the annual produce of 8s. 8d.

WILLIAM HAWKES, in 1662, gave by will, for the like purpose, an acre of marsh land, let on lease for 999 years, now in the occupation of William Bugden, at Plumsted, at the yearly rent of 1l. and the sum of 27l. the interest to be annually distributed for the like purpose, in the hands of the churchwardens, of the annual produce of 1l. 7s.

Mr. PHILIP ROBERTS, in 1639, gave by will, for the like purpose, a house recovered by a law suit, of the annual produce of 1l.

Sir RICHARD PRITCHARD, in 1687, gave by will, for an habitation for poor people for ever, a house, called the Old-Market House, which being a nuisance, was, by the surveyors of the highways taken down, and a watch-house erected on the ground in 1774.

Mrs. ANN WITHERS, in 1753, gave by will, for a schoolhouse, 100l. in money, and for a salary for a mistress to teach thirty poor girls of this parish reading and needle-work, in money 1100l. Old S. S. Annuities, vested in the executors of the late Mr. Healey, of Deptford, of the annual produce of 33l. and likewise 300l. the interest to be annually distributed to the poor in bread.

Mrs. MARY WISEMAN, in 1758, by will gave, to educate, cloath, and 10l. to apprentice six orphan boys (children of shipwrights) of this parish, to shipwrights in his Majesty's yard at Woolwich, in money 1000l. vested in the minister and principal officers of his Majesty's dock-yard at Woolwich, increased to the sum of 1550l. and two boys added to the original number, of the annual produce of 46l. 10s.

In 1731 trustees were, by order of the vestry applied to tak down three tenements belonging to the parish, situated at the east end of the town, and in the room thereof to erect a workhouse, for lodging, maintaining and employing the poor of this parish therein.

THIS PARISH is entitled for ever to place one widow in queen Elizabeth's college in Greenwich, who does not receive any assistance from this parish.

This parish is within the ECCLESIASTICAL JURISDICTION of the diocese of Rochester, and deanry of Dartford. The church which is dedicated to St. Mary, was given, with the whole tithe, to St. Andrew Gundulph, bishop of Rochester, and the monks there, by king Henry I. and he afterwards by another charter confirmed it to them.

Bishop Gundulph, when he had separated his own maintenance from that of the monks, assigned them this church, among others, for their support, &c. (fn. 21) and he afterwards granted them the free disposition of the vicarage of it. (fn. 22) The church was confirmed to the priory of Rochester by archbishop Anselm, and several of his successors, and by king Henry II. Bishop Gilbert de Glanville, about the beginning of king Richard I's reign, on pretence that his predecessor, bishop Gundulph, had impoverished his see by his too large donations to the priory, divested them of all right and title to it. However, he reserved and confirmed to them their antient and accustomed pension of seven shillings yearly, to be received out of the profits of it, which was confirmed by several of the succeeding bishops of Rochester.

The feast of the dedication of this parish church having been for a long time held on the vigil or eve of St. Laurence, which frequently happened, in the time of autumn, to be a day of fasting and abstinence, on which account it could not be celebrated with the solemnity and reverence with which it ought. Therefore John Langdon, bishop of Rochester, by his letters, in 1429, transferred the feast to the 5th of Octo- ber, to be held on that day yearly. (fn. 23) Since which, the patronage of this church has continued part of the possessions of the bishopric of Rochester, and remains so at present.

At the dissolution of the priory, anno 32 Henry VIII. the pension of seven shillings from the church of Woolwich came with the rest of the revenues of the priory of St. Andrew into the king's hands, who, the next year, settled it, by his letters patent, among other premises, on his new-erected dean and chapter of Rochester, who are now entitled to it. The church was antiently valued at ten marcs. It is now valued in the king's books at 7l. 12s. 6d. and the yearly tenths at 15s. 3d. (fn. 24)

By virtue of the commission of enquiry into the value of church livings, in 1650, out of chancery, it was returned, that Woolwich was a parsonage, with a house and some glebe land, worth fifty-five pounds per annum, one master William Hawks enjoying it. William Prene, rector, who died in 1464, caused the chapel and bell-tower of this church to be made, and was otherwise a good benefactor to it.

This church falling to decay, and from the great increase of inhabitants of late years, becoming much too small to contain those who usually attended divine service, they obtained of queen Anne her letters patent, by virtue of which the sum of 1141l. 11s. 3d. was gathered by charitable contribution to repair it, and Dr. Lindsey, lord-primate of Ireland, and other well disposed persons, gave 380l. 14s. 8d. for the like purpose. But the building being found, upon a survey, incapable of being repaired and enlarged, sufficiently to answer the purpose, it was determined to rebuild it; and accordingly, in 1726, a piece of ground was purchased for the scite of a new church, and a new foundation was made of it; but the inhabitants still finding themselves unable to raise a sufficient sum of money towards the finishing of it, petitioned the parliament for their aid towards completing it; and an act accordingly passed, anno 5 George II. for rebuilding this parish church, as one of the fifty new ones, directed to be built by the two acts of queen Anne, and directing that the sum of three thousand pounds should be paid towards it, out of the funds arising by the powers given by those acts; and in the 12th year of that reign another act passed for applying a sum of money given by the will of Daniel Wiseman, esq. deceased, for finishing this new church at Woolwich. Accordingly a new church has been built, which stands on an eminence above the town; it is a handsome brick building, ornamented with stone, and has a square tower or steeple at the west end, with a good ring of bells in it.

In this church, on the south side of the chancel, is a handsome monument for Daniel Wiseman, esq. mentioned before as a good benefactor to the rebuilding of it, who lies buried in this church yard, obt. 1739, ætat, 65; there are no other worth mentioning in it.


PATRON, or by whom presented.—The BISHOP of ROCHESTER.


John Capellanus, before 1214. (fn. 25)

William Prene, ob. Sep. 1, 1464. (fn. 26)

William Harney or Hawkes, in 1650, eject. Aug. 1662. (fn. 27)

Thomas Lindesay, A. B. 1692. (fn. 28)

Philip Stubbs, A. M. 1695, resig. Sep. 1699. (fn. 29)

Tho. Gregory, ob. Mar. 29, 1706,

Harrington Bagshaw, inst. April 16, obt. May 29, 1739. (fn. 30)

Robert Simms, induct. 1739.

Kingsman, 1740.

Sir Peter Rivers Gay, bart. 1752, obt. July 20, 1790. (fn. 31)

G. A. Thomas, 1791. Present rector.


  • 1. Harris's History of Kent, p. 340.
  • 2. Camden, p. 21. Chauncy's Hertf. p. 599. Dugdale's Warw. p. 481, and others.
  • 3. Strype's Annals, vol. i. p. 163.
  • 4. Johnson's Gerarde's Herbal, p. 1252.
  • 5. Dugd. Mon. vol. ii. p. 900.
  • 6. Rot. Fœd. Milt. Capt. eo an.
  • 7. Parl. Surveys, Augmentation Office.
  • 8. Philipott, p. 371.
  • 9. Book of Aid, anno 20. Edw. III.
  • 10. Collins's Peerage, vol. iii. p. 617.
  • 11. Coll. Peer. ibid. p. 620. 621.
  • 12. Philipott, p. 171.
  • 13. Stem. Chich. præf.
  • 14. Rot. Esch. ejus anni.
  • 15. Philipott ibid.
  • 16. Rot. Esch. ejus anni.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Aug. off. Roll of Particulars, box E. 34.
  • 19. Dugd. Mon. vol. i. p. 640.
  • 20. Rot. esch. ejus anni.
  • 21. Dugd. Mon. vol. iii. p. 1.
  • 22. Reg. Roff. p. 6.
  • 23. Stev. Mon. vol. i. 456.
  • 24. Bacon's Lib. Regis.
  • 25. See Reg. Roff p. 11.
  • 26. He was afterwards rector of Lymmynge, but was buried in this church.
  • 27. Vide Calamy's Life of Baxter, p. 286.
  • 28. Ath. Ox. vol. ii. p. 881. 1104. and Fasti p. 210. He was afterwards D.D. dean of St. Patrick's, then promoted to the bishopric of Killaloe, then to that of Raphoe, from whence he was translated to the archbishopric of Armagh, and primate of all Ireland.
  • 29. He exchanged this church for the rectory of St. Alphage, London.
  • 30. Also curate of Bromley.
  • 31. Made prebendary of Winchester in 1766, and rector of Chelmsford, in Essex, in 1774.