Saturday, 15 July 2017

Crossing the river at Woolwich

Growing up in Eltham meant that you were never far from the River.

But this was the working part of the Thames and not that pretty bit admired by tourists or the picturesque section further up river where the glittering and wealthy favour.

It was instead the busy noisy waterway flanked by grimy power stations, timber yards, small boat building businesses and unromantic factories.

And of course of barges, work a day tugs and the occasional tramp steamer.

But because this was the doing bit of the Thames whole sections of the river side were locked off or just visible down a flight of slimy stone steps, all of which meant that travelling on the ferry offered up a chance to see the Thames at its best even if it was a tad smelly and dirty.*

That said I remember it as an adventure made all the more memorable on cold wet days in Februaruy when the wind swept in from the open expanse of water managing to get through all the layers of your clothes.

And even now when I come across that ozone smell it takes me back to the ferry crossing.

Not  that I ever travelled on the Gordon which had gone by the time we moved to Well Hall in the early 1960s but the power station was still doing its bit to keep the lights on.

“The first station was opened at the site in 1893 by the Woolwich District Electric Lighting Company adapted from boat repair shops, and subsequently taken over by the Metropolitan Borough of Woolwich.

During later construction work in 1912 the timbers of a Tudor warship believed to be Henry VII's 1488 ship Sovereign were uncovered on the site.

The station was redeveloped in the 1920s and again in the 1940s and 1950s, ultimately having three huge brick chimneys. It occupied a site of just over seven and a half acres.”**

Some where I have a set of pictures I took of the place but they are so safely stored away that I have long lost any hope of finding them, which means these two from Steve Bardrick’s collection are pretty special to me.

I don’t have a date but they predate the introduction of the new ferries in 1963 and long before the reinforced concrete terminals which date from the following year.

Even with the new ferries and those giant approach ways a trip across can still be magic.
So having messed up on M25 and heading home we made the river crossing at Woolwich and the ferry’s power worked all over again this time on Tina whose family is from Naples and is no stranger to open water ferries and big ships.


Pictures; the Thames, the ferry and a power station, date unknown, courtesy of Steve Bardrick and the ferry in 2012 from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Woolwich Ferry,http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Woolwich%20Ferry 

**Woolwich Power Station, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolwich_Power_Station

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