Ferry Street, Isle of Dogs – A History

Mostly, the buildings in Ferry Street are fairly anonymous and hard to distinguish from many other new-builds.

Various views of Ferry Street

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…

Ferry Street signposts. (Felstead Wharf is a nod to the past, albeit incorrectly spelled. More on this later).

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).

1700s. Click for full-sized version.

Joel Gascoyne’s 1703 map mentions not only the ferry but also a ‘Starch House’.

1703, “Survey of the Parish of St Dunstan’s, Stepney”, Joel Gascoyne.

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.

1792. “Greenwich from the Isle of Dogs”, Richard Dodd (National Maritime Museum Collection).

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).

1802. Survey of London

Wikipedia:

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.

1830

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….

1850

1862

1870. Click for full-sized version.

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.

c1920 Peace Party. Looking towards Manchester Road from close to the Ferry House. Photo: Island History Trust.

Millwall Pottery

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.

Tile design: Frederick Garrard, Millwall Pottery. (British Museum)

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…

1870s (estimated). The Isle of Dogs from Greenwich.

Factory Place

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.

The Ferry House in the 1890s (estimate), with Factory Place on the left.

This 1950s aerial photo shows that Factory Place (centre) lived up to its name.

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.

Former Port of London Wharf in the 1930s. Note the spelling of Felsted Wharf, and the City of London coat of arms mounted on the wall of the building. The coffer dam on the left is mounted at the former ferry slipway. Photo: PLA Collection

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.

1880 advert for Edwards & Symes

Victoria 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.

1930s. From left to right. A crane belonging to Felsted Wharf, the dry dock, John Fraser’s Millwall Boiler Works. Photo: PLA Collection.

1898 trade advert

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.

The Byzantine Court at The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851, with ‘paving’ created with Orsi & Armani’s metallic lava.

By the time of the 1862 map, the partnership had been dissolved, and Antonio Armani endeavoured to run the firm alone.

1856. Announcement of dissolution of Orsi &Armani partnership

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.

1845.  Roumieu & Gough design of chimney for the Victoria Iron Works.

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.

Aerial view in the 1940s and recently. To the right (east) of the house is Johnson’s Draw Dock

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.

c1900. The United Horse Shoe & Nail Company’s name can partially be seen painted along the river wall.

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.

1907

1890

1900. Charles E. Goad Ltd. fire insurance map (Museum of London). Click for full-sized version.

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.

Circa 1941. Winston Churchill arriving at Greenwich. Henry Clark & Sons can be seen in the background, directly behind the launch.

c1941. Clark’s, Johnson’s Draw Dock and Calder’s Wharf.

Circa 1951

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.

1955. Photo: Island History Trust

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.

1928. Johnson’s Draw Dock

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.

c1941. Johnson’s Draw Dock, showing the temporary barge pier

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.

1950s

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’).

North Greenwich Railway Station. The end of the line.

North Greenwich Railway Station

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).

1870s. North Greenwich Railway Station

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.

1920s. Former North Greenwich Station, by now named Calder’s Wharf

1960 (estimate). North Greenwich Railway Station viewed from Ferry Street

Name Change

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.

1949. Ruins and empty areas are the result of WWII bomb damage.

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).

1960. Johnson’s Draw Dock (the former railway station is visible on the right). The launch of the new boat, Kenneth. Dolly Fisher can be seen peering into the boat. Photo: Island History Trust / Bill Smith

c1969. Construction of the new boathouse.

Ideal Bar

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.

1930 (estimate). Ideal Bar

1973. Ideal Bar. Shortly before its closure. Compare the owner’s stance with that of the owner in the 40+ year older photo.

Circa 1960. Cyclo Motors recovery vehicle in Ferry Street, just left of the Ideal Bar. Photo: Island History Trust

Modern Times

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.

1949. Click for full-sized version.

1949. Click for full-sized version.

Island History Trust

1960s. Workers from Associated Lead on a fag break at the Ferry Street side entrance. From left to right: Lil Devonshire, Ivy Hawkins, Daisy Warren, Jean Haxell and Dolly Winch. Photo: George Warren

7th July 1967. Francis Chichester arriving at Greenwich on the day of his knighting. Ferry Street wharves can be seen in the background.

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….

1970s. Looking towards the Ferry House.

1970s. Looking away from the Ferry House.

Same view as previous photo but showing recently constructed flats on the left (Fraser Court). Photo: Gary O’Keefe

The Ferry House c1980. Photo: Gary O’Keefe

1980s

1980s. Last house standing, just right of the Ferry House. A screen shot from the TV series, Prospects.

1980s. Construction of new flats. Photo: Tim Brown

1980s construction of the first Island Gardens DLR station. The derelict space on the left is the former Horse Shoe Yard. Photo: Sophia Pettman.

1980s. Construction of first Island Gardens DLR station.

1990s. Emma Tarbard daughter of Ferry House landlord and landlady, Reg and Eliza. In the background, site of the former Potter’s Ferry, by now a boat repairs yard. Photo: Tarbard Family

2008. Clearance of the former Potter’s Ferry site in preparation for the construction of new flats.

2018. Potter’s Ferry slipway. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

2018. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

2015. Johnson’s Draw Dock. Photo: Mick Lemmerman

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 🙂

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22 Responses to Ferry Street, Isle of Dogs – A History

  1. Con Maloney says:

    Marvellous piece of Island history! Well done, Mick.

  2. Elizabeth Ibbetson says:

    Another fascinating read, thank-you. I found the little sign saying Horseshoe Close quite sad after its past. I wonder if people living there know it’s history and also what those who made the horse shoes would make of a sign. At least it’s marked and remembered when so much has been forgotten.

  3. Janet Hill says:

    Interested to see the pic of the Ferry Street Peace party. My mum was at that party (she would have been 5 at the time) but I dont think she could find herself in the pic. She remembered the gift she got at the party. A little pipe which you could blow and the air kept a ball raised. Also interested in the Pottery. My dad’s grandparents (James family) moved down from the Staffordshire Potteries in about 1862 to work on the Island. On the 1881 census he is shown as Potter) out of employ).

  4. Joe Austin says:

    Thanks Mick for a blinder of a post…
    I can only imagine how long it takes you to research all this stuff but I for one am truly grateful that you do. Fascinating to read of all the different companies and processes that happened around the small area of Ferry Street..
    Keep up the good work…
    Joe

  5. Rich says:

    Great article Mick
    Especially liked reading about the North Greenwich railway and I think that would make a great article on its own.

    It’s a shame that they haven’t turned the old railway arches and railway route into a cycle track
    Regards
    Rich

  6. Peter Lake says:

    Thanks, Mick for the article. Fascinating. Your images brought back many memories. I worked at Associated Lead for a few years in the late 1960s and recall being on the factory’s riverside watching Francis Chichester sail up to Greenwich for his knighthood. I sometimes wonder how, when re-used for housing, they cleared up the ingrained lead from that site (and across the road where old batteries were broken up).

    • Lesley Diss says:

      Hi Peter… I was wondering what the work entailed at the factory where my aunt Jeanie (Haxell) worked in the 1960s…. Most of my relatives on dad’s side lived on the island their whole lives…My nan lived at number 28 Thermopylae Gate… we had many happy days there… it was abig, happy family but they suffered extreme poverty in the early years. I love this post and am always looking out for things I remember from my childhood so I was really excited to see the pic of my aunt at the factory…But yes, that lead could not have been very healthy to work with…

  7. Lesley Diss says:

    Wow… I’ve just seen a photo which includes my aunt, Jeanie Haxell, (nee Hall)On a fag break at the lead works…never seen this before…thank you so much!

  8. Heather Thomas says:

    That was really interesting thank you Mick.
    My grandmother Alice Sarah Holbrook was born in 1895 in Judken St. (off East Ferry Rd) used to talk about how as children she and her older sisters and brother went on the ferry over to Greenwich park. If they didn’t have the halfpenny (?) for the fare they would hide between the ladies skirts and get over free. She said that when they built the foot tunnel us kids thought it was built just for us!
    I also remember her saying that they used to play in a park they called “scrap iron park” she wasn’t sure if that was the official name but that was what they called it. I was wondering if that would be near the horse shoe factory? and what it is today?
    My grandmother also talked about doing Penny for the Guy near the station where they made quite a killing (not her words) from the football crowds. I presume that was Millwall and read one of your previous posts / links about the football ground but given where she lived I was wondering which station this would have been.
    Heather Thomas

    • Thanks Heather, I think your comments are really interesting too.
      Scrap Iron Park is the original name given by locals to Island Gardens, before it received official park status. (But I bet they continued to use the name after its official opening). More here: https://islandhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/island-gardens/
      If your grandmother lived in Judkin Street, I expect the railway station she mentioned was the near by Millwall Dock Station, opposite The George and now the site of Crossharbour DLR Station.

      • HeatherThomas says:

        Thank you Mick. I find your answers and the links very interesting and I hope useful when I finally get round to writing up my Grandmother’s story.

  9. Heather Thomas says:

    Thank you for your reply and links Mick. I particularly like the photos and paintings showing how things looked in my grand mother’s childhood. I hope it will all be useful when I finally get round to writing up my grandmother’s story. HeatherThomas.

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