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Woolwich Free Ferry

A ferry at North Woolwich, 1839.
View full size imageA ferry at North Woolwich, 1839. © NMM
Ferries carried people and goods between Woolwich and North Woolwich for centuries. These ferries charged tolls from the people that used them. In 1877, Parliament decided to remove the tolls on the bridges in west London, and to place the bridges under the care of the Metropolitan Board of Work (the predecessor to the London Country Council).

This angered the people of Woolwich, who still had to pay to cross the river. They felt they were subsidising wealthy west Londoners, and felt entitled to their own free crossing. Their protests were successful in the end. Work began in 1887, and in 1889 the Woolwich Free Ferry was opened.

The Woolwich Ferry boat Duncan in 1906.
View full size imageThe Woolwich Ferry boat Duncan in 1906. © NMM
The first ferry boats were three paddle steamers. These made regular crossings every day, carrying thousands of workers to the Royal Docks and the industries of North Woolwich and Silvertown. 

The Woolwich Ferry boat Ernest Bevin.
View full size imageThe Woolwich Ferry boat Ernest Bevin. © NMM
The original paddle steamers were replaced by similar boats between 1922 and 1930, but the ferry remained unchanged until the 1960s. By that time, the growing volume of road traffic wanting to use the ferry was causing problems. New diesel ferry boats, more suitable for carrying vehicles, were introduced in 1963. These remain in service to this day. New terminals, opened in 1966, made it easier for cars and lorries to drive on to the ferry.

The Thames seen from the Woolwich Ferry.
View full size imageThe Thames seen from the Woolwich Ferry. © NMM
The Woolwich Ferry still runs every day. Now that the docks and industries have gone, it carries more vehicles than foot passengers, and is a vital extension of the road network.