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The Greenwich Steam Ferry 1888

ferry

Greenwich Steam Ferry

There has been a ferry service between the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich since at least the 17th century, the early ferry was called Potter’s Ferry whose rights were coveted by Watermen who wished to control this lucrative route. Up to 1812 the Ferry was limited to foot passengers but then a horse ferry was established.

One of the most ambitious ferry crossing was proposed in the 1880s  when the Greenwich Ferry Company developed a ferry system that would enable large amounts of cargo to be transferred across the river. When we look at these schemes today, we marvel at the masterpieces of Victorian engineering, however not all the schemes undertaken were a success. The Greenwich Steam Ferry had a limited working career but was a remarkable piece of engineering but was sadly obsolete within a few years due to the building of the Blackwall, Rotherhithe and Greenwich Tunnels.

The ingenious part of the ferry was the landing platforms which was raised and lowered according to the tide. This allowed the heavy trucks and carriages to have a smooth access to and from the boat.

The Engineer magazine of 1888 gives a description of the opening ceremony.

STEAM FERRY BETWEEN GREENWICH AND MILLWALL.

On Monday, in the presence of a large company of distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the Countess de la Warre  launched the first boat of the new Greenwich Ferry Company. The boat, which is called the Countess of Lathom, is a double twin screw of very powerful build, so constructed that she will ride at the landing stages of each bank between two piers, her side locking with the piers and open for carts and carriages.

It is estimated that the ferry-boat will be able to hold as many as fourteen carts. The construction is different from that of the American boats, in as much that  traffic does not enter end on, but at the side. By this method it is believed that more traffic will be admitted. Rails are also laid for the admission of railway trucks, and the traffic will be taken off the steamers at the level at all states of the tide. It is expected that. this ferry will prove a very great boon to the neighbourhood, and be largely patronised, for at present wheeled traffic, to reach the other side of the river, has to travel to London Bridge, a journey of about seventeen miles.

By 1892 the same magazine reports that all was not well with the scheme.

This ferry has already been in existence for some years, the steamers which are used in the service having been launched in 1888 from the yard of Messrs’ Steward and Latham, of Millwall. Special attention has, however, now been directed to the working of the cross-river communications, owing to a proposal which has been brought before the London County Council for the establishment of a ferry between Rotherhithe and Limehouse. It is estimated that such a scheme would entail the expenditure of about £400,000, and it therefore requires very careful consideration, or we would prefer to say rejection in favour of a bridge like that illustrated in THE ENGINEER of the 28th October last. The Greenwich ferry consists of a system of movable landing stages and of steamers, and the directors of the company are anxious that the County Council should take over the ferry as it stands. They candidly admit that with the half-hourly service at present in use, and with only one steamer employed, the ferry is not a remunerative business, but they plead that it is a service of great public utility, that it meets a widely felt want, and can now be acquired as a going concern at a moderate price.

The Steam Ferry was never profitable. It was suspended between 1890 and 1892 and finally closed in 1899. The ferry was eventually killed off by the opening of the Blackwall Tunnel (1897) and the decision to build the Greenwich Foot Tunnel (started in 1899) and Rotherhithe Tunnel (1904-1908).