Little Bits of History

Row, Row, Row your Boat

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 23, 2012

An old Woolwich Ferry

March 23, 1889: The free Woolwich Ferry begins service in east London. The River Thames (pronounced tems) runs for 215 miles from Gloucestershire to the North Sea. It is the second longest river in the UK and the longest completely in England. It is a tidal river at its eastern end with a rise and fall of 23 feet at London. There are more than eighty islands amid the waterway. The width of the mighty river varies. At the London Bridge it is 870 feet wide, but at Woolwich the width increases to 1,470 feet. The life-giving river has lured inhabitants to its shores for thousands of years. Relics from the Bronze Age have been found.

While the river has sustained settlements since Neolithic times, it has also been a barrier. Getting from one side to the other is difficult, but often necessary. Today, there are over 100 bridges spanning the River Thames. But that only helps part of the problem. Ferry service is another method still in use to get back and forth. Ferry service at Woolwich began in the 1300s. at that time, Woolwich was a fishing village and the town ran the ferry. In 1308 the business and the owner’s house sold for £10. In 1320 the business without the house sold for 100 silver marks.

Woolwich rose in status under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The area became the royal dockyard and grew in prominence while London itself grew in size. By 1810 the British army established their own ferry service running between Woolwich Arsenal and Duvals Wharf. The next year, an Act of Parliament was passed to establish service between Woolwich at the Old Ballast or Sand Wharf and Chapel Street where the dockyard ended. It ran until 1844 and was dissolved after years of mismanagement.

The London River Services licensed and financed a new ferry service in the late 1880s. It still is operated by the Serco Group. The Woolwich Ferry transports foot passengers and vehicles with some restrictions on size and weight. There are two boats leaving at ten minute intervals. They can each hold 500 passengers and 200 tons of vehicles. During off peak hours only one boat runs and service is every fifteen minutes. There are weather conditions, usually dense fog, which limit or halt service. There is a nearby foot tunnel and a light railway station is also close. The nearest vehicle alternatives are the Blackwall Tunnel two miles to the west and the Dartford Crossing, a bridge, ten miles to the east.

I have always loved to sit in ferry and railroad stations and watch the people, to walk on crowded streets, just walk along among the people, and see their faces, to be among people on street cars and trains and boats. – Ella R. Bloor

How could drops of water know themselves to be a river? Yet the river flows on. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Some people drift along like a cork on a river, feeling that they cannot do anything except drift, moment to moment. This is an attitude of mind. Everyone can be constructive even in tiny ways. – Edward de Bono

Only the man who crosses the river at night knows the value of the light of day. – Chinese Proverb

Also on this day:

The Man Who Would Be Pope – In 752, Pope Stephen was elected but he died before taking his seat.
Safety First – In 1857, Elisha Otis installed his first passenger elevator.
Patrick Henry – In 1775, Patrick Henry spoke to the Virginia House of Burgesses.

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