To Reg, Liza and Emma
Not only is it the oldest pub on the Island, the Ferry House is exceptional because it is still standing and it is still a pub. Granted, it is closed and for sale, but it’s still hanging on…..just.
There has been a ferry to Greenwich from the site of the pub since the 1300s, and it is likely there was a building or shelter serving refreshments to waiting passengers from very early on. The first mention of the name Ferry House was in about 1740, and was applied to a building that was formerly known as the Starch House.
According to ‘Survey of London’:
This was probably a starch factory rather than a place for starching linen … the main requirements for starch-making would have been a plentiful supply of clean water and an area of open ground, together with a wooden shed. Starch in the eighteenth century was generally prepared from refuse wheat. The whole grains were steeped in vats of water, left in the sun to hasten fermentation, and, when sufficiently soft, put into canvas bags and beaten out over a plank laid across the top of a receiving vessel, leaving the husks behind. The flour paste was further steeped in water until a thick sediment of starch was obtained, which was left in the sun to dry.
The Starch House was occupied by Samuel Hart until 1740, followed by the first occupier of the tavern, W. Hart (presumably family, and possibly Samuel’s son). Other known landlords and landladies over the years were:
1749 William Brown
1837-1841 Amelia Ingram
1842-1844 John Gilbert
1851-1855 Robert Shepherd
1855 Benjamin Shepherd
1858 Thomas Cumberland Davidson
1869-1874 Mary Ann Davenport
1881-1891 George W Tremlett
1895 Collingbridge & Bates
1899 Thomas Henry Watson
1901 John J Silvester
1905 George Charles Stevenson
1915 Charles Stevenson
1922-1937 William Nettleingham
1938-1948 Henry Wilson
1949-1957 John & Ivy Bowes
1958-1959 John & Elsie Quinlan
1960-1964 James Scott
1982-1999 Reg Tarbard, Liza O’Sullivan and Emma
I’m getting ahead of myself, now. Meanwhile, back in mid-18th century….. during the decades following 1740, the Ferry House was much altered and expanded; and cottages and industry were developed in the area.
Early 19th century pubs along the Thames in London were generally frequented by very dodgy characters, and the Ferry House was no exception. It was mentioned in many Old Bailey trial reports of the time; not necessarily as the scene of a crime, but as a known place for criminals to be hanging out. For example, on 14th May, 1838:
The report continued as follows (very much reduced for reasons of space, but you can find the complete transcription of this and other trial reports at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org):
Cross-examined by. MR. PAYNE. Q. Was the prisoner the person that spoke to you about it? A. No, another man
COURT. Q. You say four of them gave you information, and he was one of them? A. Yes—two of them came to the kitchen door, and two stood down the steps—he was one of the two that stood on the steps.
BENJAMIN LOVELL (police-constable R 15.) On the 9th of April, this year, between two and three o’clock in the morning, I went with another constable to the prisoner’s house, in Grove-lane—I told him for being concerned in murdering a man, and robbing him of his property in the Isle of Dogs, about twelve months back …. I then took him to the station-house, searched him, and found this book, pencil-case, and tobacco pouch in his waistcoat pocket, which has been identified as belonging to the deceased; also a knife, which has not been claimed—there was a long investigation at the police-office, and the prisoner was at last committed for larceny.
MART DAVIS . I know the prisoner—on a Monday afternoon, about twelve months ago, the prisoner gave me a watch-case, and asked me to go and pledge it for 4s.—I did not hear of the man being murdered or drowned till twelve months after—the pawnbroker did not let me have the 4s., but detained the case—I went back to the prisoner, and he went to the pawnbroker’s—I believe it was in the month of April—I do not recollect the day of the month—it was on a Monday—it was a silver watch-case, like the one produced, but I cannot swear to it—I never pawned but one watch-case for him.
Cross-examined. Q. How long ago is it since you were first asked any thing about this? A. Not till about last week, I believe, when I went before the Magistrate—I did not hear of the man’s death till then—I live at Deptford, and get my living the best way I can.
JOSEPH CUNNINGHAM . I am in the service of Messrs. Perry and Barnes, pawnbrokers, in Flagon-row, Deptford. I recollect this watch-case being pawned with us on Tuesday, the 11th of April, 1837—it was brought by Mary Davis—I asked her who it belonged to—she mentioned some name, which I have forgotten—I told her to send the person, and she went away, leaving the case behind—the prisoner came afterwards, the same day—I am sure of the date, by the ticket, and the entry that was made at the time how book—I have no doubt about the prisoner being the person.
GUILTY Aged 36.— Transported for Seven Years.
By 1899, the area around the pub had been completely developed with housing and industrial buildings which would remain more or less unchanged until World War II:
Similarly, the Ferry House – after a century and a half of alterations – reached a form we would recognize today. The following photo, taken in about 1905, is the oldest photo of the pub that I’m aware of. Its appearance is very similar to the recent photo which follows it, but there have been some notable changes. In 1905:
- In keeping with the custom of the time (a custom which endured until the end of the 20th century), the pub had two, separated bar areas: a ‘posher’ saloon/lounge bar and a more basic public bar. Each bar had its own entrance, as can be seen at the front of the pub. For very many decades, after the two bars had been combined into one, the left-hand double doors were blocked off.
- The first floor balcony had ornate iron fencing and a large lamp hanging over the street corner.
- There was a wide yard entrance on the right which was later enclosed and became a part of the pub’s ground floor.
- As was common at the time, the pub’s name was less prominent than the name of the landlord (G. C. Stevenson) and brewery name, and there was no hanging pub sign.
- There was a tall flagpole on the right hand roof.
Younger readers or recent Island residents might not be aware of just how much industry there once was on the Island. To give an idea, here’s a glimpse of the Ferry House from the river in 1937. Can’t see the pub? Look for the flagpole to the right of the tallest chimney.
And here’s the Ferry House seen from the river recently. I had to pick a different angle or you wouldn’t be able to see it as that building over the slipway obscures the view otherwise. The Ferry House is behind the trees by the way:
A few years after the 1937 photo above, the Ferry House narrowly missed destruction when all but one of the neighbouring houses were destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs.
When I was legally old enough to drink in the late 1970s, I never went in the Ferry House even though I lived not far away, opposite Christ Church. Mind you, I never went in the Nelson or the Pier either. Nothing to do with those pubs – more to do with the Waterman’s being where me and my mates spent most of our evenings.
In the early 1980s, the Ferry House was taken over by Reg and Liza. Later, my sister Karen, who had already been a barmaid in the Dorset Arms got a job behind the bar in the Ferry House, followed by my little sister, Angie, when she was old enough. This meant I also started spending more time in there whenever I was visiting my family.
Reg had (and has) a keen interest in the history of the Ferry House and the Island in general. A 1980s film about the work of the Island History Trust included a scene filmed in the pub.
The Ferry House featured also in a few scenes from the Prospect TV series.
Sometimes the easiest way to date a photo of the pub is to look at the surroundings. In the following photos, the sheds belonging to long-closed Associated Lead have been demolished (and the pub’s exterior has changed colour in a few places):
The interior of the Ferry House could get quite colourful too.
The 1980s and 1990s were popular years for the Ferry House, but the pub has not done so well since then. A few years ago, for example, there were many complaints from local residents about noise and other nuisance from the pub. I have no idea of the actual situation, I wasn’t living on the Island any more, but I wonder if the pub was any noisier than any other Island pubs were in the 50s, 60s or 70s? The Watermans, for example, had live music many nights of the week during the 60s and 70s, and would be visited by coach loads of visitors; I can’t remember anyone complaining about that. Also, the pub-smoking ban – as much as I like it as a non-smoker (now, at least) – has driven a lot of people outside to smoke, which has served to increase street noise. Outside drinking, pub gardens and similar, have become the norm – unheard of when I was a young pub customer.
This was the state of the Ferry House, outside at least, in about 2010.
Around that time, a new owner acquired the pub and had it decorated. I’ve only seen the outside, which looks much better, but I don’t know if the inside has also been decorated. Strangely, though, the Ferry House never opened again after it was decorated, and it is now for sale. If you’re interested, here are the main financial facts
Tenancy up to 5 Years
Potential turnover: £250,000 per annum
Guide Rent: £24,000 per annum
Estimated Capital start-up: £12,000 (excl VAT)
More information can be found at at: http://www.enterpriseinns.com/run-a-pub/pubs/Pages/ferry-house-isle-of-dogs.aspx
It would be great if someone would purchase it with an eye to making it the great Island local it once was.