PortCities London

Linking the port - ferries

The early ferries

The Greenwich horse ferry

The Greenwich Ferry by E. Aubrey Hunt (1856-1922).
View full size imageThe Greenwich Ferry by E. Aubrey Hunt. © NMM

Over the centuries, there have been several ferries between Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs. The most important of these was the horse ferry, set up in 1812.

This carried horse-drawn vehicles from Horseferry Road, now Wood Wharf. It operated until 1883.

The Greenwich Steam Ferry

Greenwich foot tunnel entrance on the south bank of the Thames.
View full size imageThe southern entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. © NMM
Another ferry was launched from Greenwich in 1888. This was the Steam Ferry, which planned to carry vehicles and even railway carriages across the river. It used the same site as the horse ferry, though massive slipways were constructed for the new venture.

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).

The slipway used by the ferry still survives on the Isle of Dogs.

The ferry was important not only for Greenwich and the southern part of the Isle of Dogs. In 1812-15, two major roads were built from the docks to the ferry. These were the East Ferry and Westferry roads. They speeded up the development of the whole Isle of Dogs.

The first Woolwich ferries

The modern Woolwich Free Ferry is only the latest of a long series of services connecting Woolwich and North Woolwich. As the two parts of the parish lay on opposite sides of the Thames, a ferry linking the two had existed since the Middle Ages.

In modern times, several ferries served different purposes. In 1810 the army set up its own ferry to move troops and supplies between the Royal Arsenal and Duvall’s Point in what is now Silvertown.

Ferry at North Woolwich.
View full size imageThe ferry at North Woolwich in 1839. © NMM
The private Barge House Ferry claimed to have existed for centuries. Between 1811 and 1844, its business was threatened by a rival ferry called the Woolwich Ferry Company, but this never prospered. 

North Woolwich Station.
View full size imageNorth Woolwich Station. © NMM

When the Great Eastern Railway extended its line to North Woolwich in 1847, it set up its own ferry.

Passengers could leave the railway at North Woolwich Station and catch the ferry moored nearby. 

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