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The Forgotten Highway

The Foot Tunnel

Eventually, because of the fog problems, a foot tunnel was built. Formal opening was on a wet 26th October 1912 by Lord Cheylesmore, Chair of the LCC. Costing £87,000, it was 1655 ft long and 38 ft below water at low tide. The tunnelling method was that devised by the engineer Greathead for the underground railways. The free ferry was the first free crossing in the area. The Blackwall Tunnel opened in 1897 and Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 1902.

View looking down to the foot tunnel

Another view from Hare Street looking straight down to the ferry

Views of the south side tunnel entrance today

The tunnel when opened

Same view today

The northern entrance to the foot tunnel, in the 1960s

The northern entrance to the foot tunnel, today

WW1 and after

During WW1 the Arsenal employed 2 ferries for their staff, the "Red Cross" from the Port Sanitary Authority, and the "John Herron" a Wallasey Ferry from the Mersey.

The ferry service was started by the Welfare Supervision Department and it began running in mid March 1917.

It could carry 2500 passengers and was in continual service between 6-9am and 6-9 pm and every 20 minutes in between.

The next series of boats

The ferry routine went on until after World War One when a rethink came about due to capacity problems. It was decided that 4 new ferries should be ordered, on the design of the existing ones but with higher capacity.

Samuel White of Cowes built the first 2 boats of this batch. These came into service in early 1923.

The first of these was Squires, named after William Squires, twice Mayor of Woolwich and Chair of the Woolwich Building Society.

Built in 1922, it was 166’ 4” length and 44ft width, 2ft longer and wider than the original boats with a draught of 4’ 9”. It had a bigger vehicle deck which could handle 100 tonnes.  

The ferries cost £70,000 and were powered by simple diagonal units, opposed cylinders of 33”+36” with 2 gun boat boilers working at 40-50 lb pressure. They were coke fired (making use of by-products of Becton gas works).  The boats were refuelled on the move with tipper lorries shooting their loads into the bunkers from the vehicle decks.  Each ferry used about 50 tones of coke a week. (8 a day). Three ferries maintained the service with one always laid up for routine maintenance.

The Cross Channel Vessel Engadine,chartered to S Instone and Co built 1911, passes Squires in 1932.

The second boat was a new Gordon identical to Squires, and built in February 1923

The new Gordon and Squires these two boats worked alongside Hutton.

Tiers-up at the bow of unknown ferry. This normally needed 4 men.

Two more ferries were ordered, these were slightly bigger and more powerful.

They carried 1000 passengers and 600 tonnes of wheeled vehicles. The first was Will Crooks who was a Labour MP for Woolwich, elected in 1903, and he died in 1921).

The other was John Benn, one of the original members of the LCC and the first Labour MP elected for Plymouth Davenport.

The John Benn and Will Crooks were delivered in 1930. They cost £4000 more than Squires (£74,000). They were also more powerful.

A colour photo of John Benn.

Captain, mate and boson on the wheel of a paddle steamer.

John Benn

Will Crooks

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