July 21, 2008
The Woolwich Free Ferry, what wonderfully atmospheric pictures, I can smell the River Thames again! As a
boy during the late 1940s, the "Squires" and her sister ferry's "Gordon", "Will Crooks" and "John Benn" were
a constant source of fascination. Limited pocket money would provide for a number 53 or 54 bus ride from Plumstead Common to Woolwich followed by a walk along Powis Street down to the ferry.
The ferries, were all "STEAM" powered paddlers. A walkway was provided for passengers to go below and
see the engines working. These were viewed to the inboard sides through windows, but also through metal
gratings from below from whence the smell of steam and oil pervaded everywhere. They were kept in gleaming condition, all polished brass, copper and burnished steel. The main cranks rotated almost level to the onlooker, all watched over by the engine room crew from above.
My Granddad (William Clegg of HMS Irresistible), recognized this smell straight away, he didn't have to ask
where I had been. To make sure you weren't chased off for too many trips back and forth, the return from
North Woolwich, would be under the River by means of the foot tunnel, then back again on a different ferry.
I wish others could share the magic experience of seeing those engines working! Perhaps your contributor has
pictures of them, they certainly remain a joy to my memory.
Robert William Green