Royal Carriage Department – Woolwich

Existing buildings belonging to the Royal Carriage Department on the site of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, London.

Facility Type & Function:

The Royal Carriage Department (R.C.D.) – This was part of the Royal Ordnance Factory (R.O.F), Woolwich. It produced military gun carriages, limbers and gun mounting frames.

Brief History:

From 1682, the Old Carriage Yard in the “Warren” at Tower Place in Woolwich (i.e. the site which later developed into the Royal Arsenal) acted as a central gun carriages store. The surrounding buildings are thought likely to have housed carriage repair and “scrapping” workshops. In 1697, these facilities were replaced by a larger nearby complex of sheds and stores known as “New Carriage Yard”.

By the 1750s, the manufacture of gun carriages was also taking place on the site of the Royal Arsenal under the control of the Constructor of Carriages. This work took place around New Carriage Square which comprised a low quadrangle of storehouses. By c.1803, these activities were formalised as the Royal Carriage Department in recognition of the importance of effective carriage design and manufacture, alongside that of guns and ammunition. Operations at the re-organised R.C.D. were further improved around this period with the introduction of drive belt operated equipment which was powered off centralised stationary stream  engines.

A reconstruction of a gun carriage workshop at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich as it may have appeared during the Napoleonic War Period.

The Royal Carriage Department was to become one of the Arsenal’s principal departments. Originally, it produced mainly wooden artillery carriages and limbers but as time went on, many carriage components, including the wheels, became replaced with steel. The department also produced the steel mountings for heavy naval and artillery guns.

A map of Woolwich Arsenal of 1887 indicating the location of the Royal Carriage Department Buildings (identified in green).

In 1907, the Royal Gun Factories and Royal Carriage Department were merged to become the Royal Gun and Carriage Factories.

A 6-inch gun on an Elswick-type disappearing mounting in the Royal Carriage Factory, c. 1896.

The site of the R.O.F. was greatly expanded during the Great War and at its peak was 3.5 miles long, 1 mile wide (covering an area of 1,300 acres) and employed approximately 100,000 people. It was served by its own private railway system for both goods and staff movements around the sprawling complex. This comprised 147 miles of track making it the most complex and densest railway network in Britain. By the time of the Great War, the buildings that comprised the Royal Carriage Department were more scattered across the south-western part of the R.O.F.

The manufacture of gun carriages, gun frames and limbers continued at Woolwich after the Great War but on an increasingly scaled down level with steel now replacing wood as the principal material of construction for most field artillery pieces. The rate of decline of the R.C.D. was further increased given the British Government’s greater reliance on private industry for the manufacture of army ordnance. 

Further historic background relating to the Royal Ordnance Factory, Woolwich can be found in the video presentation below.

Location Details:

Woolwich, Greater London (formerly Kent).

Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:

Type I (Variety A)

Function: Employee Identification and/or Time Registration Check (Note 1)

Material: Bronze or copper

Design: Uniface with a plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular, 33.7 mm

Obverse: Incuse die-stamped legend around the outer upper edge reads ROYAL and around the lower edge CARRIAGE DEPART . Stamped identification number 1378 in the centre field.

Reverse: Blank

Date: 1914 to 1918 (Note 1)

Maker: Unknown

Published References: None


Type I (Variety B)

(Image courtesy of Malcolm Johnson)

Function: Employee Identification and/or Time Registration Check (Note 1)

Material: Bronze or copper

Design: Uniface with a plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular, 34.5 mm

Obverse: Incuse die-stamped legend around the outer upper edge reads ROYAL and around the lower edge CARRIAGE DEPART . Stamped identification number 4228 in the centre field.

Reverse: Blank other than for an Incuse stamped broad arrow symbol in centre field (Note 2).

Date: 1914 to 1918 (Note 1)

Maker: Unknown

Published References: First recorded on the “Factories” section of “Mal’s Tokens” web site by the late Malcolm Johnson, c. 2016.


Type II

(Image courtesy of Malcolm Johnson)

Function: Employee Identification and/or Time Registration Check (Note 1)

Material: Tinned bronze or copper

Design: Uniface with a plain edge

Shape & Size: Circular, 34.5 mm

Obverse: Incuse die-stamped legend around the outer upper edge reads ROYAL and around the lower edge CARRIAGE DEPART . Stamped identification number 735 in the centre field and above in two lines WD above a broad arrow symbol (Note 2).

Reverse: Blank other than for an Incuse stamped broad arrow symbol below the initials WD in centre field (Note 2).

Date: 1914 to 1918 (Note 1)

Maker: Unknown

Published References: First recorded on the “Factories” section of “Mal’s Tokens” web site by the late Malcolm Johnson, c. 2016.


Notes:

  1. These checks are believed to be the equivalent in date and use to Royal Laboratory (Woolwich) Token Types I and II. The high number stamped on these tokens are suggestive of them being worker’s identification passes or time checks. The following account is understood to have been written by the Royal Arsenal’s last Paymaster. It describes the method by which weekly paid workers received their wages prior to 1921. This account is interesting in that it describes how the workers used a single “metal check” as both a works identification pass and a form of time registration check. It is noted from this account that wages collection at the Royal Arsenal was done via the presentation of paper pay tickets (or pay advice notes). These eliminated the need for the workers to have separate pay identification checks, as were common in other places of work at this time. At the Royal Laboratory, the “metal checks” referred to in the account below are likely to have been examples of one of the check types described above. It is interesting to note that several known examples of check Type II exist bearing a stamped letter followed by an identification number. From the account below it appears that this letter is likely to signify the section of the works to which each employee was assigned (e.g., stores, bullet casing manufacture etc.).“The staff of the Chief Wages Officer (CWO) prepared the payrolls for each production centre using basic data provided by the Worktakers and/or shop management. The payrolls were sent to the Pay Office where the make-up of the pay for each pay centre was carried out, but quite separately individual pay tickets for each worker were sent to shop management for distribution. The pay tickets advised each employee of the amount of pay to be received. As each pay ticket was handed out the recipient was required to produce his ‘metal check’ for identification purposes. The metal check was stamped with the pay number and the worker’s deployment section identification letter. The check was collected as the person passed through the ‘ticket station’ at the start of work and handed back to the timekeeper at the close of work. On receipt of the payrolls, the Paymaster or his deputy would take the appropriate amount of notes and coins from the Bulk Cash and place them with each payroll. A small team of clerks would then lay out the cash in the amounts for each person on the payroll. One clerk would then take the note(s) — which had to be new – for each person and put them through a manually powered folding machine. The machine folded the notes so that they would readily fit into the numbered compartments in the Pay Centre tray, but before being placed in each compartment the coin and the folded notes had to be secured together with a rubber band. The accuracy of the laying out of pay was secured by the initial allocation to individual amounts being then subject to a second check as the notes and coins were re-counted as part of the note folding and banding process. Pay parades were held in the workers’ own time. A deputed pay clerk collected the made up pay from the Pay Office and had the services of a bearer to carry the Pay Centre tray to the production or services shop. There the staff would be required to line up in pay number order and then present themselves one at a time for recognition/identification by a member of the shop management. The pay clerk would then take the banded pay from the appropriate compartment and issue it to the individual in return for a pay ticket. Any unclaimed pay would be noted and verified by both the pay clerk and the shop management representative. In 1921, time clocks and clock cards were introduced for all non-management grades in the Royal Ordnance Factories. Evaluated clock cards replaced pay tickets as the medium for advising staff of their pay. From this time the signed clock card was used to acknowledge receipt of the pay.”
  2. The use of the broad arrow symbol with or without the often associated letters WD are a reference to being made by and/or the property of the War Department.

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