The Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Woolwich, in south-east London, was a British Army military academy for the training of commissioned officers of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. It later also trained officers of the Royal Corps of Signals and other technical corps. RMA Woolwich was commonly known as "The Shop" because its first building was a converted workshop of the Woolwich Arsenal.
An attempt had been made by the Board of Ordnance in 1720 to set up an academy within its Arsenal (then known as the Warren) to provide training and education for prospective officers of its new Regiment of Artillery and Corps of Engineers (both of which had been established there in 1716). A new building was being constructed in readiness for the Academy and funds had been secured, seemingly, through investment in the South Sea Company; but the latter's collapse led to plans for the Academy being placed on hold.
After this false start, the academy was opened by authority of a Royal Warrant in 1741: it was intended, in the words of its first charter, to produce "good officers of Artillery and perfect Engineers".Its 'gentlemen cadets' initially ranged in age from 10 to 30. To begin with they were attached to the marching companies of the Royal Artillery, but in 1744 they were formed into their own company, forty in number (enlarged to forty-eight, two years later) overseen by a Captain-Lieutenant. To begin with the cadets were accommodated in lodgings in the town of Woolwich, but this arrangement was deemed unsatisfactory (the cadets gained a reputation for riotousness) so in 1751 a Cadets' Barracks was built just within the south boundary wall of the Warren and the cadets had to adjust to a more strict military discipline. (The Cadets' Barracks was demolished in the 1980s for road widening.)
Education in the Academy focused at first on mathematics and the scientific principles of gunnery and fortification; French was also taught, for a small fee. In addition to their theoretical studies, the cadets shared (with all ranks of the Artillery) in what was called 'the Practice' of gunnery, bridge building, magazine technique and artillery work. While an Artillery officer attended each class to keep order, teaching in the Academy was provided by civilians: a First Master (later called Professor of Fortification and Gunnery), a Second Master (later Professor of Mathematics) and additional tutors in French, Arithmetic, Classics and Drawing. In 1764 the Royal Academy (as it had been known) had the word 'Military' added to its title, and at the same time a senior officer was appointed to serve as Lieutenant-Governor (de facto head of the institution).Moreover, the institution was split: younger cadets entered the Lower Academy, where they were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, Latin, French and drawing. If they performed well in examinations they were allowed to proceed to the Upper Academy, where they learned military skills and sciences (as well as fencing and dancing – required skills for prospective officers).
The possibility of moving the Royal Military Academy out of the Warren was mooted as early as 1783, as it was fast outgrowing the available accommodation. At first costs precluded this possibility, but (with the Academy continuing to grow) James Wyatt, the Board of Ordnance Architect, was commissioned to design a new complex of buildings to stand, on a site facing the Royal Artillery Barracks, at the southern edge of Woolwich Common; it was built between 1796 and 1805 and opened for use the following year.
Wyatt's Academy was built of yellow brick in the Tudor Gothic style. It consisted of a central block (reminiscent of the Ordnance Board's headquarters in the Tower of London) flanked by a pair of accommodation blocks, linked by arcaded walkways. The central block contained classrooms, a library and offices; the accommodation blocks housed officers in the three-storey central sections and cadets in the two-storey wings. Behind the central block Wyatt placed a large dining hall flanked by spacious quadrangles having service buildings around the sides.
128 cadets moved to the new Academy: these comprised the four senior years. Of the younger cadets, sixty were kept at the Warren (by then renamed the Royal Arsenal) and another sixty were sent to a new college for junior cadets at Great Marlow. Practical teaching continued to be given in the working context of the Arsenal. In 1810, military cadets of the East India Company, who had previously been educated at the Academy, were moved to a new college at Addiscombe.
During the years that followed the status of the cadets changed: rather than being considered (albeit junior) military personnel, as had previously been the case, they were removed from the muster roll and they (or their parents) began to be charged fees for attendance. In this way the Academy took on something of the ethos of an English public school. In 1844 the Academy was described by Edward Mogg as accommodating:
Following the demise of the Board of Ordnance in the wake of the Crimean War the Academy was inspected by a commission which recommended changes: the minimum age for cadets was raised to fifteen and more specialist training was added.As part of these reforms the Academy complex was enlarged in the 1860s, with a view to accommodating all cadets on the same site (although some would remain in the Arsenal through to the 1880s): the frontage was extended with the addition of new pavilions at either end, in similar style to Wyatt's work but in red brick rather than yellow; William Jervois was the architect. These contained new classrooms, with accommodation provided in similar new blocks behind. Sports facilities were also added along with gun batteries for training. In 1873 Wyatt's central block had to be entirely rebuilt following a devastating fire.
Following the demise of the Board of Ordnance, Parliament had explored the possibility of a merger between the Royal Military Academy and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst (which only trained officers for the Infantry and Cavalry); although senior Army officers rejected the idea at the time it persisted into the twentieth century. Arguments in favour of a merger gained momentum in the 1920s when the specialist and scientific training which had been Woolwich's preserve began to be outsourced to other locations. In 1936 it was decided that the merger should take place; but the Second World War intervened and in 1939 both institutions closed as their cadets were called up for active service.
The Royal Military Academy Woolwich closed in 1939 and in 1947 the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst was formed on the site of the former Royal Military College with the objective of providing officer training for all arms and services.
Thereafter, the old Academy site became part of Woolwich Garrison, housing troops of various types in the years that followed. The central block was taken over by the Royal Artillery Institution and housed a museum, archives and offices. The chapel (commissioned in 1902 by Commandant Richard Henry Jelf, commemorated by a brass plaque in the chapel)became the Garrison Church (replacing the bombed out Garrison Church of St George). In this way the old Academy continued in military use through the 20th century, but with the number of personnel based in Woolwich having steadily decreased, the site was in 2002 declared surplus to requirements. It closed the following year; two stained glass windows from the chapel – one by Christopher Whall, an Arts & Crafts artist – were moved to the Garrison Church of St Alban the Martyr at Larkhill, where they are displayed in lightboxes.
Durkan Group bought the Woolwich site by public tender in 2006 and redevelopment started in 2008.The Woolwich buildings, several of which are grade II listed, were converted and extended into 334 houses and apartments, including 150 for a housing association. In 2017 the scaffolding around the main facade was removed as refurbishment neared completion. Since 2013 the RMA cricket field, one of the oldest in the UK, has been used by the 3rd and 4th teams of Blackheath Cricket Club.
Until 1870 prospective officers in the British Army had for the most part to purchase their commissions, and education or training was not seen as a requirement for the rôle. The Board of Ordnance's establishment of a Military Academy represented a very different approach, whereby training and education were obligatory for aspiring officers of its corps, and promotion was offered according to merit (those with highest achievement in their exams being given the first choice of opportunities).
The main Academy buildings are described by Historic England as "an outstanding example of Wyatt's Gothick style, and one of the most important pieces of military architecture in the country".
A phrase said to have entered common parlance from the Academy is "talking shop" (meaning "to discuss subjects not understood by others").
The name of the cue game "snooker" (reputedly invented by a former cadet of the Academy) is said to derive from a slang term for newly arrived cadets: the French term "les neux", which was later corrupted into "snooks".
Commandants have included:
Notable teachers at Woolwich include (in alphabetical order by surname):
Woolwich is a district in southeast London, England, within the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, commonly known simply as Sandhurst, is one of several military academies of the United Kingdom and is the British Army's initial officer training centre. It is located in the town of Sandhurst, Berkshire, though its ceremonial entrance is in Camberley, southwest of London. The academy's stated aim is to be "the national centre of excellence for leadership". All British Army officers, including late-entry officers who were previously Warrant Officers, as well as other men and women from overseas, are trained at the academy. Sandhurst is the British Army equivalent of the Britannia Royal Naval College and the Royal Air Force College Cranwell.
The Board of Ordnance was a British government body. Established in the Tudor period, it had its headquarters in the Tower of London. Its primary responsibilities were 'to act as custodian of the lands, depots and forts required for the defence of the realm and its overseas possessions, and as the supplier of munitions and equipment to both the Army and the Navy'. The Board also maintained and directed the Artillery and Engineer corps, which it founded in the 18th century. By the 19th century, the Board of Ordnance was second in size only to HM Treasury among government departments. The Board lasted until 1855, at which point it was disbanded.
The Royal Military College (RMC), founded in 1801 and established in 1802 at Great Marlow and High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, England, but moved in October 1812 to Sandhurst, Berkshire, was a British Army military academy for training infantry and cavalry officers of the British and Indian Armies.
The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich is an establishment on the south bank of the River Thames in Woolwich in south-east London, England, that was used for the manufacture of armaments and ammunition, proofing, and explosives research for the British armed forces. It was originally known as the Woolwich Warren, having begun on land previously used as a domestic warren in the grounds of a Tudor house, Tower Place. Much of the initial history of the site is linked with that of the Office of Ordnance, which purchased the Warren in the late 17th century in order to expand an earlier base at Gun Wharf in Woolwich Dockyard.
Woolwich Common is a common in Woolwich in southeast London, England. It is partly used as military land and partly as an urban park. Woolwich Common is a conservation area. It is part of the South East London Green Chain. It is also the name of a street on the east side of the common, as well as an electoral ward of the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The population of the ward at the 2011 Census was 17,499.
The Royal Artillery Museum, which was one of the world's oldest military museums, was first opened to the public in Woolwich in south-east London in 1820. It told the story of the development of artillery through the ages by way of a collection of artillery pieces from across the centuries. The museum had its roots in an earlier institution, the Royal Military Repository ; items which were once displayed in the Repository form the nucleus of the Royal Artillery Museum collection. Following the closure in 2016 of the museum, branded since 2001 as 'Firepower – The Royal Artillery Museum', its collection has been placed in storage pending the establishment of a new Royal Artillery Museum. The Royal Artillery Museum collections are designated as being of national and international significance by Arts Council England.
Woolwich Garrison is a garrison or station of the British Army. Geographically it is in Woolwich, in the London Borough of Greenwich. In terms of command, it is within the Army's London District.
Major-General John Armstrong was a British military engineer and soldier, who served as Chief Royal Engineer and Surveyor-General of the Ordnance.
Thomas Frederick Colby FRS FRSE FGS FRGS, was a British major-general and director of the Ordnance Survey (OS). A Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Society, Colby was one of the leading geographers of his time.
The Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) was a corps of the British Army. At its renaming as a Royal Corps in 1918 it was both a supply and repair corps. In the supply area it had responsibility for weapons, armoured vehicles and other military equipment, ammunition and clothing and certain minor functions such as laundry, mobile baths and photography. The RAOC was also responsible for a major element of the repair of Army equipment. In 1942 the latter function was transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and the vehicle storage and spares responsibilities of the Royal Army Service Corps were in turn passed over to the RAOC. The RAOC retained repair responsibilities for ammunition, clothing and certain ranges of general stores. In 1964 the McLeod Reorganisation of Army Logistics resulted in the RAOC absorbing petroleum, rations and accommodation stores functions from the Royal Army Service Corps as well as the Army Fire Service, barrack services, sponsorship of NAAFI (EFI) and the management of staff clerks from the same Corps. On 5 April 1993, the RAOC was one of the corps that amalgamated to form The Royal Logistic Corps (RLC).
The Pollock Medal is a prize awarded to the best cadet of the season, in commemoration of Sir George Pollock's exploits in Afghanistan, first at the East India Company's Military Seminary at Addiscombe, and later at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
The Royal Military College of Science (RMCS) was a British postgraduate school, research institution and training provider with origins dating back to 1772. It became part of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom in 2009, and ceased to exist as an independent unit in 2015.
Major General James Noel Thomson was a British Army officer who served during World War I and World War II.
The East India Company Military Seminary was a British military academy at Addiscombe, Surrey, in what is now the London Borough of Croydon. It opened in 1809 and closed in 1861. Its purpose was to train young officers to serve in the East India Company's own army in India.
William Mudge (1762–1820) was an English artillery officer and surveyor, born in Plymouth, an important figure in the work of the Ordnance Survey.
Major-General James Murray Hadden was a British Army officer and surveyor-general of the ordnance.
Major General Major Francis Downes, was a British Army officer, who served as commandant of the colonial forces in South Australia.
Charles Booth Brackenbury was a British major general and military correspondent, part of a Lincolnshire family whose members fought in nearly all of Britain's wars of the 19th century. He saw service in the Crimean War, and was present at the Battle of Königgrätz (1866) and the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878). He was one of the most extensive military writers in the mid to late 19th century.
Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich, is a barracks of the British Army which forms part of Woolwich Garrison. The Royal Regiment of Artillery had its headquarters here from 1776 until 2007, when it was moved to Larkhill Garrison.
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