Woolwich Ferry - a Memory of Woolwich.

There has been a ferry at Woolwich for many centuries but the people of Woolwich complained in the 1880s that West London had free access across the River Thames by bridges so why couldn't they have free travel? The river was too busy to put a bridge over and there was not room to put in a tunnel so the newly formed London County Council decided to provide a free ferry service with boats large enough to accomodate vehicles. It was opened on 23rd March 1889 and there were three ferries Gordon, Duncun and Hutton. The second generation of paddle steamers were Squires and Gordon (again!) built in 1922 and Will Crooks and John Benn built in 1930.
By the 1960s the ferry traffic was clogging up Woolwich where the traffic waiting to board the ferry often streached back into the main shopping streets. So three new bigger boats were built in 1963, John Burns, James Newman and (pictured here) Ernist Bevin. They were 'Roll on, Roll off' type boats but the new approaches which included lifting drawbridges and a dual carriage way road by-passing the centre of Woolwich did not come into use until 1966. Although they could cope with much heavier traffic the new diesel ferries did not have the charm of the old paddle steamers. The chance to see the big pistons flashing round, the men shoveling coke into the boilers, the paddles stiring up muck from the river and all the shouting of instructions and throwing of ropes when tieing up at the jetties was lost.
North Woolwich has lost its appeal with the docks and factories closing and Victoria Gardens, once a pleasure garden, falling into disrepare so that most road traffic now avoids the ferry. Despite plans to replace it with a bridge at Thamesmead, which have been on the books for 30 years or more, the 1963 diesel boats are still plying their trade and look set to continue for the forseeable future.
From Chris Johnson


A memory shared by First Name Last Name on May 22nd, 2010.
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 Comments & Feedback

Wed Jan 9th 2019, at 7:43 pm
Jean Evans commented:
Hello
As youngsters my sister and I used to spend all afternoon on Saturdays in the late fifties going back and forth on the old paddle steamer ferries. We loved watching the brass pistons in the engine room. One day we watched a coach miss falling in to the river by inches! We watched the introduction of the new diesel ferries, by then we had other things to do.
We lived in Plumstead and Eltham my Dad was general manager for Sidney Ross prams and toys, at one time they had six shops in south London. Does anyone remember them?
From Jean Love

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