Mostly, the buildings in Ferry Street are fairly anonymous and hard to distinguish from many other new-builds.
It is puzzling that the site of some of the earliest buildings on the Isle of Dogs – including the site of the Greenwich Ferry, the only reason that most people (including, famously, Samuel Pepys) ventured on to the Island for many centuries – is not in anyway commemorated or brought to the attention of the passer-by. In fact, the signs here only tell you how to get somewhere else or warn you that a gate is in constant use or that parking is for residents only…
The first documented mention of a ferry here was in 1450, and later maps, paintings and engravings also show buildings in the area (a full history of the ferry can be found here).
Joel Gascoyne’s 1703 map mentions not only the ferry but also a ‘Starch House’.
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.
Samuel Hart was the occupier of the Starch House for more than 30 years until its closure about 1740, and may have been part of the company which ran the works in 1705. The Starch House was thereafter renamed (or rebuilt as) the Ferry House, occupied by W. Hart and probably used as a place of refreshment and shelter for ferry passengers until the building of the present Ferry House public house.
The following painting shows a very busy Thames. Wherrymen are ferrying passengers across the river to Greenwich, while others (and passengers) are waiting on the Marsh Wall path. At the time of this painting, the practice of ferrying horses and cattle across the river had been discontinued, and foot passengers only were carried. A horse ferry would however be reinstated during the 1800s.
The Survey of London produced a detailed plan of the area in 1802, with businesses which included in a skittle house and herring hang (for herring curing).
Skittles was once a popular game played in pubs all over London, especially those sited by the Thames. The origins of the game [in London] are vague, but it is thought by some to have been introduced by Dutch sailors, possibly playing on the decks of moored barges.
The pub, skittle house and stables were clearly all intended to cater to the passing trade provided by ferry users. At a time when the population of the entire Isle of Dogs was just a few hundred, most of whom lived on and adjacent to the Marsh Wall (later more commonly named ‘Mill Wall’) in the west of the Island, there weren’t too many locals to speak of in any event.
The following map shows that a new road had been built by 1830 (for the convenient transport of goods to and from the West India Docks). The dotted lines show early ideas for a new road that would continue around the Island – the later Manchester Road.
Despite the fact that the West India Docks had been operating for almost three decades, and the west side of the Island was becoming increasingly built up, this part of the Island retained its rural character until the middle of the 19th century when the development of Cubitt Town commenced.
Although the development was primarily residential, Cubitt also made room for industry along the river. Until then, the riverside here would have still looked more or less the same as that represented in Dodd’s 1792 painting above, before Cubitt built the high river embankment walls that we are accustomed to today, Cubitt also built a new road to serve the industry along the river: Wharf Road.
This road started at the Ferry House (see here for a history of the pub) and ran parallel with the river to Cubitt’s Works just north of Newcastle Draw Dock. Later, when these works had closed, Wharf Road was extended north past Seyssel Street.
The following maps show the development of the area in the subsequent two decades….
The first houses in Ferry Street were built around 1840 on the east side of the road. With the exception of a couple of houses in the middle of the terrace, they were typical two-up two-down cottages.
The “Earthenware Manufactory” shown on the 1870 map is on the site of the former orchard. The firm trading here changed its name numerous times over the years before being named Millwall Pottery in the 1870s. Survey of London:
The pottery, which produced a range of general and sanitary earthenware, closed in the late 1880s. From the mid-1870s the [Factory Place] cottages were occupied by Frederick Garrard, ‘decorator of earthenware’ and former architect, whose products included wall tiles.
Garrard was a tile designer and producer of some renown, and his tiles can still be seen in a number of buildings in Britain, Ireland and beyond. See this article from a fellow blogger for more information and examples of his work: Frederick Garrard and the Millwall Pottery.
I imagine that such bright colours were a rarity on the Island at the time, given the soot and smoke being generated by the factory chimneys…
The six cottages along the Marsh Wall to the rear of the Ferry House had been reduced to three by 1870, and the short section of road there renamed Factory Place.
Port of London (later Felsted) Wharf
Diagonally opposite the Ferry House was the Port of London Wharf, “acquired by the Corporation of London in 1850 as the principal station of its harbour service. It was used for the storage and repair of mooring chains and buoys, and as a berth for its boats and lighters” (Survey of London). The wharf had quite a grand building on the riverfront which had offices above and storage space and workshops below, as shown in the following photo taken later when the wharf was owned by Gregson & Company, ship joiners and timber merchants of Felsted Road, Victoria Docks.
The wharf east of the Port of London Wharf was occupied by timber merchants at the time of the 1870 map. In 1874 it was taken over by the shipbuilders Edwards & Symes, a very successful firm which outgrew the wharf and vacated it in 1888, at which time their wharf and dry dock were subsumed into an extended Port of London Wharf.
Immediately east of the enlarged Port of London Wharf was Victoria Wharf, occupied from c1844 by a stone merchant who also leased a plot of land north of Wharf Road, connecting the two with a tramway. The leases for the land on both sides of Wharf Road remained in the hands of the (heirs of) the stone merchant until 1890 when they were taken over by engineering firm John Fraser & Son who set up their Millwall Boiler Works there.
Orsi & Armani
The 1862 map above shows a narrow wharf immediately west of the ‘Iron Works’ which in 1850 belonged to Orsi & Armani, manufacturers of floor surfaces who specialized in what they named ‘metallic lava’, an artificial stone which was prepared and moulded in fluid form.
By the time of the 1862 map, the partnership had been dissolved, and Antonio Armani endeavoured to run the firm alone.
Survey of London:
Armani went into partnership with Malcolm Stodart in the early 1870s, before apparently pulling out of the business, leaving Stodart & Company to continue trading from the wharf as ‘asphalte contractors’.
After numerous changes of ownership over the years…
The wharf was then incorporated into the premises to the east until 1906, when it was taken by James Livingstone & Son as a metal-wharf, known as the Millwall Iron Works.
From 1943 it was occupied by the wharfage section of Co-ordinated Traffic Services, which described itself as ‘carriers by road of every class of merchandise’. That firm remained there until c1971.
Victoria Iron Works
The Victoria Iron Works were the property of City wine and spirits dealer Henry Johnson and his brother Augustus William – who was an engineer and who managed the company. The firm’s main business was buying naval dockyard scrap and converting it into rods and bars. Survey of London:
They covered almost the whole wharf with buildings in the next few years, including an elegant furnace chimney 140ft high, designed by Roumieu & Gough.
Henry also leased some land on the corner of East Ferry Road and Manchester Road where he built the Lord Nelson public house and a couple of houses. Johnson Street and Draw Dock were of course named after the brothers.
At the north east corner of the Johnsons’ Wharf, Cubitt built what was described as ‘a building of the first class’ – a building which, remarkably for the Island, is still standing.
In 1873, the works closed – probably a consequence of the financial crisis that led to the demise of the Thames shipbuilding industry and those firms that relied on it (article here) – and it would be close to ten years before another firm took over the site.
United Horse Shoe & Nail Company
In 1881, the United Horse Shoe & Nail Company took over the former Victoria Iron Works and Victoria Wharf, and merged the two.
Survey of London:
In the early twentieth century its annual output was approximately 1,800 tons of horseshoes, but the increasing numbers of motor cars and motor omnibuses led to a decline in demand for its product and it was dealt a further blow in 1907 when the War Office, one of its major customers, placed an order for 100,000 pairs of horseshoes with an American firm. The company went into liquidation in 1909.
Henry Clark & Sons
The riverside section of the horseshoe company’s site was taken over by Henry Clark & Sons, oil refiners, blenders and importers, who renamed it Midland Oil Wharf. Henry Clark & Sons, like their neighbours John Fraser, remained in business in Ferry Street until around 1970.
Horse Shoe Yard / Burdell Engineering
The section of the horseshoe factory north of Wharf Road was not taken by Clark’s, and it continued to be known by Islanders as Horse Shoe Yard. Survey of London:
It was occupied from c1915 by E. Turner & W. Brown, barge-breakers and timber dealers, who used a sawmill, a store and a small workshop on the site, the greatest part remaining open. Bomb damage led to the clearance of the adjoining houses along the north and east sides of the yard and their sites were incorporated into it.
From c1951 it was occupied by the Burdell Engineering Company, which added a number of small buildings and a single-storey shed on the Manchester Road frontage.
Johnson’s Draw Dock
Variously spelled Johnson or Johnson’s Draw Dock on maps and documents over the years, Islanders tended to name the draw dock after whoever was occupying it the time. In the early 1900s it was known locally as Turner’s Shore (after the barge breaking firm) and later as Hookey’s Shore.
The foot tunnel was seriously damaged at the Island end by a bomb which fell on the foreshore at low tide and penetrated the tunnel. The tunnel was closed during the repairs, which involved adding an extra steel internal sleeve. Shortly after the bombing, some rowing boat owners offered to transport people over the Thames at 2/- per passenger. A little later, the barge pier was constructed and a free ferry service was set up, operating between Johnson’s Draw Dock and Greenwich.
Survey of London:
The area was affected during the disastrous flooding on 7 January 1928, when the river overflowed at Johnson’s Draw Dock.
The occupiers of Horseshoe Yard were dependent for access to the river upon Johnson’s Draw Dock and in the 1920s opposed moves to close it. Nevertheless, it was eventually enclosed and used as a scrap-yard. In the 1970s attention was drawn to its ‘appalling’ condition. It was subsequently cleared and access to the river there was restored.
North Greenwich Railway Station
1872 saw the opening of the last section of the Millwall Extension Railway, a branch line to connect the London and Blackwall Railway to the south of the Isle of Dogs; and in 1874 a station was opened at its terminus, named North Greenwich Railway Station (probably creatively named in much the same way as modern estate agents who refer to all areas of the Isle of Dogs and beyond as ‘Canary Wharf’).
The station buildings and railway line straddled Wharf Road, which meant that vehicles could no longer travel along the road at this section; a subway provided pedestrians with access between the two sections of road (the tunnel was still there at the end of the 1960s as I recall).
In order to connect its transport route more conveniently to the ‘real’ Greenwich, the railway company acquired the rights to Potter’s Ferry and in 1877 opened a new ferry pier adjacent to the station. This was the beginning the end of the old ferry route from next to the Ferry House, which was already in financial trouble.
Survey of London:
The pier was served by a steam ferry to and from Greenwich Pier, operated first by the Victoria Steamboat Association, and after 1897 by the Thames Steamboat Company. With a fare of one penny and a service every 20 minutes, the ferry proved popular with dock workers and others. During one week in August 1884 more than 16,000 passenger crossings were made. But with the opening of the LCC’s free foot tunnel in August 1901 the service ceased to be viable and the pier was dismantled soon afterwards.
The rise in popularity of motorized bus transport in the early twentieth century led also to a drop in passengers on the Millwall Extension line, to such an extent that the line was closed in 1926. Shortly afterwards, the rail viaduct over Manchester Road was dismantled, and the railway station buildings and site were taken over by local wharfingers, J. Calder & Co. who operated there until c1969.
In the 1930s, Wharf Road was renamed: the section between the Ferry House and Calder’s Wharf became part of Ferry Street, and the section east of Calder’s Wharf was renamed Saunders Ness Road. Additionally, Johnson Street also became part of Ferry Street.
Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club
Established by a group of watermen and lightermen in 1854 as “The Blackwall Rowing and Athletic Club”, it was almost 1970 before the club had a permanent and purpose-built club house, constructed on Calder’s Wharf. Initially, their unofficial ‘club house’ was the Princess of Wales public house. According to their website (pbdrc.co.uk):
Following the closure of the North Greenwich Railway Station in 1928, the club moved onto the site which is adjacent to its current location in 1937 and used the ticket office and waiting room for changing. Cold running water was added in 1949. Prior to that washing consisted of simply jumping into a barrel of cold water. Shortly before the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 and at a cost of £500 the club purchased four clinker fours and five rum tum sculling boats. Unfortunately they were not to be used until 1945 as the government prohibited the storing of rowing boats on or near the River Thames. The boats were therefore stored beneath the railway arches until the end of the war.
In 1966 an appeal was launched to raise £55,000, which is about £1,000,000 in today’s money, to build a new boathouse and gymnasium. After much fundraising and negotiation the money was raised and work on the existing clubhouse begun. The boathouse with a bar, training tank, function hall and hot running water eventually opened in September 1970.
That the money was raised was largely due to the efforts of the renowned Limehouse tug and barge owner, Dolly Fisher (see article here).
The 1960s photo (above) of the former North Greenwich Railway Station shows the Ideal Bar, a café which had a long history at the site, probably going back to when the station was still operational.
During WWII, houses on the west side of Ferry Street were seriously damaged, and houses at the corner of Manchester Road and Ferry Street (close to the railway arches) were completely destroyed. Damaged and repaired factory buildings can also identified in the following photo thanks to their lighter-coloured, new roofs.
By the mid-1970s, there was virtually no industry left in Ferry Street. The Henry Clark and John Fraser works were demolished. Survey of London:
The eastern part of the site was acquired by Dr Michael and Mrs Jennifer Barraclough, whose plans for four houses … were approved in 1976 and the construction of the houses, undertaken by the Barracloughs, took three years. Some materials from the previous buildings were incorporated in the houses. They stand on the riverfront; three are of four storeys and the other, which is of three, has a gallery and a large terrace above the ground floor, with a scissors roof.
I was a young teenager at the time and had an odd job at the Barracloughs’ house construction, earning a few bob doing this and that. My most vivid memory is removing hundreds and hundreds of nails from the wooden beams that had been recovered from the old factory buildings. I also found an old 18th or 19th century clay pipe on the site, which amazed me no end. (I’m a total magpie, I wonder if I’ve still got it somewhere?)
Grainy photos of Ferry Street in the 1970s….
At the start of this article I had a little grumble that there were no signs about the history of Ferry Street, but that’s not entirely true. Apart from the misspelled Felstead Wharf, a couple of other buildings and streets are named after local firms, but that might not have been obvious if you hadn’t read this article 🙂