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The Forgotten Highway



(Paper No. 1622.') The Thames Steam Ferry between Wapping and
By Frederic Eliot Duckham, M. Inst. C.E.

In olden times, when the Wapping district was submerged, and the river Thames between Ratcliff and Rotherhithe was broad and shallow, a ford existed there; but upon the Wapping marsh being reclaimed, the river deepened, fording became inconvenient, and the “ancient horse ferry,” referred to in the Thames Archway Company’s Act as occupying the site of their intended tunnel and as to which Lord Tavistock and others obtained an Act of Parliament in 1755, is supposed to have been established as a substitute for this more ancient causeway. This ferry was within a few hundred yards of the new ferry about to be described During the Roman occupation of Britain, a horse ferry existed between Dowgate and Southwark, and a similar ferry near where Lambeth Bridge has within late years been built. The former was on the main line of the Watling Street, and the latter on a loop diverging from the main road near Hampstead, and rejoining it at Newington Butts. The priory of St. Mary Overie (St. Mary of the Ferry) was founded by the daughter and heiress of a Dowgate ferryman. This ferry existed until the Priors built the first London Bridge. The Lambeth and Westminster ferry was used until the opening of Westminster Bridge, in 1750, at which time it was one of the most frequented passages over the Thames. This ferry was from time immemorial the property of the Arch­bishops of Canterbury, who received £20 per annum rental there-from, and, with, the lessee, obtained compensation when the ferry was superseded by Westminster Bridge. The table of tolls varied, from 2s. 6d. for a laden wagon or coach and six, to 2d. for a man and horse, and much resembles the tariff adopted by the Thames Steam Ferry Company. There was for several centuries a horse ferry between Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs; hut this was used chiefly for cattle, and as Pepys records (August 1665) his having to stay on the “ Isle of Doggs ” two if not three hours to his great discontent waiting for the horse boat to float, it may be concluded that the boat was somewhat irregularly worked.

In 1821 The Poplar and Greenwich Ferry Company was incor­porated, to make and maintain roads between the then recently opened City canal and North Greenwich, and ferry-boats to convey cattle and vehicles between North and South Greenwich. The present important parish of Poplar was then but an outlying hamlet. The district was chiefly noted for the trees after which it was named, and for the excellence of its pasturage. The Poplar and Greenwich horse ferry ceased operations in 1840. The flat- bottomed rectangular boats, equal to the transport of a two-horse dray, or eight head of cattle, were propelled by oars, and received or landed their freights at the sloping foreshores of the river. These probably were representatives of the type of ferry-boats formerly used on the Thames, which until a few years since, could be seen near Greenwich pier awaiting the ship breakers. A small ferry-boat of this class is still employed to a limited extent between North and South Woolwich. Cattle and vehicles have for many years been taken across the river at Gravesend.

The Author knows of no record of the employment of a ferry­boat before the year 1023, B.C.; but, cattle ferries were doubtless in use during previous ages, and they are now to be found in all parts of the world, much to the profit and convenience of most of the great communities which are divided by rivers or waterways. The astonishing exception is London, with nearly half its enormous population, all its docks, most of its heavy trade and commerce, east of the Monument. Until now it has been without any efficient means of conveying vehicles across the Thames below London Bridge.

Several Papers have been read at the Institution on steam ferries: notably that on the Torpoint floating bridge, by Mr. Rendel, in 1838, which bridge was, in 1878, replaced by a similar vessel of iron, instead of wood, but in its dimensions and working gear almost identical with its predecessor ; that on the Kaffre Azzayat ferry, by Mr. Sopwith, in 1857 ; and that on the Granton, and the Port-on-Craig ferries, by Mr. Hall, in 1861. In the pre­sent communication the Author hopes that the recital of several peculiarities in the arrangements for dealing with the traffic at Wapping and at Rotherhithe will be found of interest.

The Thames Steam Ferry Company was incorporated in 1874, with a nominal capital of £100,000, and limited liability. The site selected for the ferry was directly over the Thames tunnel, one and a half miles east of London Bridge, the intended landing places being near the London docks on the Middlesex shore, and the Commercial docks on the Surrey shore. A special advantage of this site is, that no vessels are allowed to moor within a certain distance of the line of the tunnel, which gives the ferry-boats a clearer course here than is obtainable at any other part of the river.

When the Author was asked to design appliances for working this ferry, the data before him were :

1. A tidal river, 320 yards wide, with a range of 20 feet 6 inches

at spring tides.

2. The Tunnel wharf at Wapping, with low-water mark 170 feet

from the quay line, and Church Stairs wharf at Rotherhithe, with low-water line 70 feet distant.

3. The instructions were that the ferry should be equal to

convey twelve two-horse wagons each way, in addition to foot passengers, every quarter of an hour.

4. A concession from the Thames Conservancy allowing landing

stages within certain limits ; but insisting that any gang­ways connecting the stages with the shore should be fixed at a height of 8 feet above Trinity high-water level.

The Author looked to prior examples for aid in solving the problem before him; but in its necessities and surroundings the Thames Steam Ferry scheme differed materially from its predeces­sors, and required machinery and working arrangements of a special character. Several designs were submitted and con­sidered ; and the following was decided upon as best fulfilling the requirements of the undertaking :

Plate 14, Fig. 1 is a side elevation, Fig. 2 a plan, and Fig. 3 the end

elevation of one of the landing places, showing a ferry-boat approach­ing and at the pier, the dolphins to keep the boat in position when receiving or landing its freight, the platform on which the freight is exchanged, and the hydraulic machinery by which this platform and its load are moved between the road and the deck.

The boats are 82 feet in length, 42 feet in extreme width, 9 feet deep and draw 5 feet of water when laden. They are fitted with disconnected low-pressure paddle-engines of 80 nominal HP. The sponsons are continued in a slightly curved line from out­side the paddle-boxes to each end of the boat; the two funnels are diverted from their boilers and brought up through the sponsons. With the exception, therefore, of the engine-room skylights and hatchways, which are placed between the two cart tracks, the boats have a clear rectangular deck the full length of the hull, by 27 feet wide for vehicles; while the foot passengers have ample accom­modation outside this line. Platforms are raised above the paddle- boxes to receive the steering wheels. There is a rudder at each end of the boat, but the vessel’s course is to a great extent con­trolled by the engines, which may be worked independently in speed or direction. The bulwarks at the ends are hinged, and can be lowered to form a connecting stage for traffic between the deck and the lift platform. These bulwarks arc counterweighted proportionately to the varying strains on the hoisting chains, while moving between the horizontal and the vertical positions. The boats were designed and built of iron by Messrs. Edwards and Symes, of Cubitt Town, and were engined by Messrs. Maudslay, Sons, and Field.

The dolphins are cylinders of cast iron, 5 feet 0 inches in diameter, about 50 feet long, sunk 20 feet into the bed of the river; the upper portion is 2 inches thick; the castings are in lengths of 9 feet, with internal flanges faced and bolted together. In the centre of each dolphin there is a stout balk of timber, imbedded in cement concrete, with which the columns are filled. The dolphins terminate at 4 feet above Trinity high-water mark, where each is surmounted by a dwarf lamp-post, displaying the regulation “ two red lights ” at night. They are GO feet apart and 50 feet distant from the lift. With the tide running, say in the direction from top to bottom of Plate 14, the boat’s first contact would usually be as shown by the dotted lines. The paddle-wheel near the dolphin is stopped or reversed, the outer engine continues its work, and the vessel is readily brought round into its discharging position, where the current, striking obliquely against the hull, holds it even without the aid of the mooring lines.

The lift platform, or stage, with which the traffic is exchanged by the boats, is 70 feet long by 35 feet wide. It is composed of two single-web girders 5 feet 6 inches deep, connected by cross girders or joists, mostly of the lattice-girder type. These are 2 feet 9 inches deep, 2 feet 6 inches apart from centre to centre, and carry a flooring of creosoted battens clad with oak. Four cast-iron columns on each side of the lift platform act as guides, and sustain a wrought-iron box girder upon which the hydraulic lifting presses are placed horizontally. The two presses on each of the two girders have their rams connected by the rods O O. Cross girders G' G", under the lift platform, carry the brackets and bearings, in which the two transverse shafts S' S" rotate when the platform is being raised or lowered. A pitched drum, D, is keyed on both ends of the shafts. The chain from each hydraulic press passes over two sheaves on the ram head, under the corresponding pitched drum on the transverse shaft, and the chain end is brought up again and made fast to the box girder. The platform is thus slung in the bights of the four lifting chains at D' D" D'" and D"". The obvious effect of this arrangement is, that should there be a pre­ponderating load at D', the press R, would be assisted by R" through the connecting rods O O; and by R3 through the shaft S'; 1C would, moreover, assist R3 through the rods O' 0", and R2 by the shaft S", &c. Thus each press assists or is assisted by the others, and any movement at one place is correspondingly made at all points; and similarly any strain is immediately transmitted throughout the system. The platforms are moved two units vertically by the rams traversing one unit horizontally. The Wapping platform has a lift of 26 feet, and that at Rotherhithe of 23 feet. One valve in the valve house admits hydraulic pres­sure to the four lift cylinders, and returns the exhaust water to the reservoir in the engine room. The lift platform is nearly counterpoised by the weights W' W", wrought-iron boxes filled with iron kentledge, and connected with the platform by chains passing over sheaves at H H. The weight thrown upon the lift, presses is thus reduced to that of the actual traffic, plus such a preponderance of weight in the platform as will enable it to descend without a load when the counterweights are submerged. A wrought-iron double-lattice girder is thrown across the outer end of the lift, arched to clear the traffic, and footed on the outer guide columns to give additional rigidity to the structure. The foreshore under the lift is partially removed, and some sheet piles are driven to form a dock, to which the platform descends at low water.

A jetty to connect the lift with the shore is necessary at Wapping only. It is 100 feet long by 19 feet 6 inches wide for 60 feet, and spreads out like a fan in the remaining 40 feet to the width of the lift platform. The girders and joists are of wrought iron. The floor resembles that of the lift platform ; the shore end is carried by the wharf, the outer end by two of the lift columns, and intermediate there are two 3-feet columns. At Rotherhithe the inner end of the lift platform adjoins the wharf, and the connecting jetty is unnecessary.

The hydraulic power is produced by engines of the type intro­duced by Sir W. G. Armstrong, V.-P. Inst. C.E. There is one engine at each wharf, having two steam cylinders 12 inches in diameter and a stroke of 18 inches, with direct double-acting force pumps. Steam is generated in vertical boilers each of 15 nominal HP.; of these, two boilers are usually at work and one boiler is in reserve. The accumulator ram has a diameter of 20 inches, a stroke of 20 feet, and is loaded to 800 lbs. pressure per square inch.

The machinery already described has been found to give great security to the lift platform; but, to make the lift quite safe, the special “grabs” shown in Figs. 4 and 5 have been added. A wrought-iron bar three and a half inches square is suspended from the box girders near the four points of support, and is sufficiently strong to bear with safety any strain likely to be brought upon it. The pawls A A have steeled jagged faces eccentric to the pins on which they are keyed; they are connected by a pair of links N N. The pins are prolonged at one side to carry the double levers L L. A strong spiral spring is attached between the lower arms of these levers, and tends to close the pawls upon the vertical bar ; but the springs are restrained and the pawls held free by the trigger T. These grabs arc connected by massive wrought-iron brackets with the lift platform. A small double hydraulic ram M is mounted by the side of each lifting press; the end M' has an area of 17 square inches, and is in direct communication with the accumulator; the end M" has an area of about 16 square inches, and is connected with the adjacent press. The weigh-bar B has three arms, one connected with the ram M, another by a light chain with the trigger T, and the third carries a weight, G, sufficient to pull off the trigger and throw the grabs into operation. The trigger chain passes over a sheave on the ram cross-head, that its connection with the trigger may move at the same rate as the lift platform. Ordinarily the accumulator pressure on the 17 square inches m M' overcomes the lift cylinder pressure on the 10 square inches in M3 plus the weight G, and the appliance is in the position shown. Should the accumu­lator pressure fail or be removed, the weight G overcomes the reduced pressure in the ram M', pulls the trigger, and the vertical bar is rigidly held by the grabs. Should the platform counter­weight chain break, the whole weight of that portion of the plat­form and its load would be thrown upon the lifting press ; and the excess of pressure in M" would then overcome M' with the like result. In the event of a lift-chain failing, the disabled corner of the platform would be freed from its lifting press, but the trigger chain connection would remain intact, and the grabs be thrown into action by the platform on its descending the inch or so of slack allowed on the trigger chain. There is, moreover, a valve in the valve house, by which the attendant may at any time put the grabs into operation, but without giving him the means of interfering with their ordinary automatic action.

The hydraulic machinery was supplied under contract by the East Ferry Road Engineering Works Company of Millwall. The other portions of the works were carried out by Mr. John Gibson.

The method of working the ferry is briefly as follows: the lift platform is ordinarily at a level with the wharf or jetty, and temporarily forms a continuation of the roadway; it is wide enough for four ranks of vehicles; the outgoing traffic usually occupies the two outer ranks and the pedestrians pass on to the raised pathway on the top of the side girders. As the boat approaches, the platform is lowered to the level of the deck, the boat’s prow is dropped, the incoming freight is moved on to the left and the out­going on to the boat. The boat leaves for the other shore while the platform is raised to the upper level. The load moves off, and the operation is repeated. The time usually occupied in raising the platform from its lowest to its highest level is two minutes; in crossing the river, four minutes. Near high water, however, vehicles have been transferred between Wapping High Street and Rotherhithe church within seven minutes. The ferry is at work from 6 a.m to 8 p.m. The tariff for vehicles with goods varies from 1s. to 2s. 6d.; empties, half price. Cabs, 8d.; returning empty, free. Omnibuses, 1s. Foot-passengers 1d. each. Cattle, &c., are taken at proportionate rates.

Such is The Thames Steam Ferry as constructed and at work. The Author recognises as objectionable features in the scheme: 1st. The large area of the lift platform; 2nd. The use of chains ; 3rd. The employment of balance weights. The large lift area was necessary to deal with the estimated amount of traffic. Chains were employed because the Author failed to find any other means than those he has adopted by which a platform of such magnitude could be speedily raised and lowered with ensured horizontality and safety. The balance weights did not exist in the original design; a second accumulator was therein proposed, with presses at R2 and It4 freely connected therewith, while It1 and R3 were in communication with the working valve and hydraulic main; but this arrangement was discarded because of its greater cost. The lift chains are inch, with ordinary pattern short and long links alternately. The counterweight chains are of steel plates, viz., four plates, 3 inches by half an inch, alternating with sets of three half inch and two one quarter inch thick ; giving a net sectional area of 6 inches in each set.

Ferrying cattle and vehicles was the primary object of The Thames Steam Ferry Company, and obtained for the undertaking the favourable recognition and co-operation of the City authorities. The first lift column was screwed in by Lord Mayor Stone; the first boat was launched by Lord Mayor Cotton; and the ferry was opened for traffic, by Lord Mayor Sir Thomas White, in October 1877. The directors also acquired some valuable land at Wapping in addition to that actually necessary for ferry traffic, and built substantial warehouses thereon, covering nearly an acre of ground, and partially fitted them with a complete service of hydraulic cranes, &e.

This communication is accompanied by several diagrams, from which Plate 14 has been compiled.

From the London Illustrated News 16 October 1875

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