Sunday, 22 January 2012

Woolwich Western Ferry - a disaster

We mentioned a new book about Thames Ferries and promised to highlight some of the local ferries mentioned in it.  The book is by Joan Tucker and is “Ferries of the Lower Thames” (Amberley Publishing 2010) and is highly recommended
One ferry few of us will know about is Woolwich’s Western ferry:

Joan describes how in 1811 landowners and tradesmen set up the 'the Woolwich Ferry Company' to run boats between Woolwich and what is now called Silvertown.

This was for ’the conveyance of persons carriages and cattle and goods, wares and merchandise ... and for making proper roads and approaches to form a direct communication between Kent and Essex and to be of great public utility'.

It was to run from The Old Ballast or Sand Wharf and the Company was to alter highways between Green Gate, Plaistow and the river, and between Greenwich and Sand Wharf. They were to build houses for the ferryman and offices and the rent would be £5 a year. There were special clauses for military transports.   Tolls were to be levied to foot passengers, horses, two-wheeled chaisea, coaches with two horses, and sheep. The ferry must not to work before 4 a.m. or after 10 p.m. between 24 March and 29 September and they need not run in ‘times of ice or tempestuous winds’ and so on and so forth. However soon the local watermen and inhabitants of Woolwich were protesting that the ferry was 'prejudicial to divers of the watermen working on the river’ and the Act was superseded by another in 1816.

In 1812 a horse boat was ordered at £200 but before it arrived a wherry, bought from Gravesend for £35.35, was used, together with another from Greenwich costing £2 - although oars, sculls, etc., were paid for separately. There was only a small building on the south bank for collecting tolls and then passengers had to go down steep slopes to the water where there was a platform made from old ships' timbers. On the north bank a pub was built and weather boarded- this became the Prince Regent, after which much of the area is now named.  Initially it had neither a fireplace nor cooking facilities. On the south side the Company built the Marquis of Wellington pub usually known as 'The Duke' or the 'Ferry House'. Both made a loss, but they gradually became the only source of income.

Thus the ferry, as Joan says, ‘did not prosper’. It was in the wrong place - nearly on the Woolwich-Charlton parish boundary, and on the north side on marshlands in an isolated part of Plaistow.

There was soon after a row about road making and it also appears that the Company did not keep proper records. No dividends on shares were ever paid and eventually it turned out that the agreement made in 1811 to lease the land was invalid. Shareholders did not pay their share instalments and, following quarrels with shareholders, some directors resigned. The last set of minutes was taken in January 1828 and the company wound up in 1842.

This sad saga is just one among many local ferries which are described in the book – and – so – Joan – if you see this, please get in touch, we would love to hear more from you in person.

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