Home Introduction Greenwich Rotherhithe Excursion Riverboats Woolwich

The Forgotten Highway

Interior decoration

Close examination revealed that the Engine Room once had a three-part colour scheme: the exposed wall surfaces had been limewashed white, the iron pillars and roof beams given a coat of red oxide paint (Fig 12 top left), and the underside of the roof itself painted black. There was no evidence that the floor had ever been other than plain concrete; nor was there any evidence for lighting on the walls or roof - either gas or electric.

8.2.3 Roof construction and access

The principal roof support was provided by five north-south iron beams. These were set on granite blocks within the southern wall although obscured by modem Concrete reinforcing works to the north. All but the westernmost beam were also reinforced by intermediate iron pillars, which were attached by brackets at the top and to a separate metal base set into the Engine Room floor.

Each beam was prefabricated, formed from a number of pieces flat and right-angled iron that were close-riveted together. No single piece was the full length of the finished beam: the junction between the two vertical plates was given additional bracing, but the horizontal (top & bottom) plates appear simply to have abutted. However, it is clear that the junctions were staggered so as to avoid a point of weakness.

The roof beams rose slightly from south to north, by about 280mm, to give a clear camber to the overlying roof. Along the southern wall there was also a slight (and perhaps unintentional) rise of c 160mm from east to west.

The overlying roof was basically corrugated, constructed from a series of iron sheets of roughly U-shaped cross section that were riveted together. Observations during demolition indicate that individual sheets were laid between adjacent roof beams, and thus about 3.1m to 4m in length (though shorter at the eastern end of the building). The troughs within the upper surface of the completed roof were then filled with concrete, to create a solid surface flush with upper level of metalwork.

This construction stopped at the westernmost beam. The roof covering within the final bay - an area up to c 3.5m by 1.5m in plan - was much less substantial and partly collapsed during demolition of the overlying building. However, it is clear that this was a later structure, quite possibly postdating the operation of the Ferry. Although there is almost no evidence for the original arrangement some points can be made:

· It is -clear that the main corrugated roof always stopped at this point, as indicated by the very regular edge of both ironwork and concrete infill.

·  Original features are more or less limited to one fairly small and disused rebate in the southern wall, near the southwest comer of the room.

· The 1894-96 Ordnance Survey map appears to show a building covering this area. However, this could mean that the area ground floor area was open, which would make sense given the heat generated by the three boilers.

It is also clear that the only access to the Engine Room would have been in this area, probably reflected in the solitary metal rung and adjacent slots seen in the western wall. The modem entrance, through a hatch near the northeast comer of the Room, was a later addition -cut through the thickness of the roof.

At some point following the closure of the Ferry the boilers and engines were removed. They could have been broken up in situ, but it is at least as likely that they were lifted out through this open area.

The surviving section of roof within the southern part of this bay was quite poorly constructed, with a couple of reused girders supporting a plain iron sheet and an overlying wall. The various elements did not appear to have been fixed in position by any rebates, rivets, etc.

8.3 Surface features above the Engine Room

The main part of the Engine Room lay directly below the ferry approach, and following demolition of the later buildings in this area the previous surface arrangements were exposed. The area survived largely intact, although cut away at its northern extremity by modem concrete reinforcing works to the river wall and disturbed along its southern boundary by earlier 20th century building works.

There were two distinct phases of development over the Engine Room, as described below.

(1) The first development is represented by what appear to be bases for two north-south aligned buildings. The southern extents were not established but dimensions were about 3.15m wide by at least 6m in length. In each case the extant structure consisted of pairs of angled iron girders riveted to the roof, in such a way as to create a central slot some 15mm wide by 18mm deep. The countersunk rivets were set at a centre spacing of just over 0.5m (20 inches).

It is assumed that these features would have supported a planked timber superstructure. Within the area of the western building there were also three north- south impressions, 0.17m wide and 1.13m apart, that may indicate joists for a raised floor.

(2) The second and more substantial development of the area over the Engine Room consisted of a series of rails set into four tracks, with the whole area then given a woodblock source flush with the rails. Sections of the previous iron footing were cut through to accommodate the rails: in a few places the base of the first structure was also sealed by a mortar layer up to 30mm thick into which the rails were impressed.

The woodblock’s were quite uniform (? pine, c 230mm by 80mm in plan and 145mm deep) and were set in bitumen, Overlying both the earlier building remains and the splayed bases of the rails.

The plan that was now created is clearly shown by the Ordnance Survey 60" map of 1894-96 The rails were laid at standard 4 feet 8½ gauge and in line with those on the foreshore ramp, and although in fact some 1.1m higher appear in plan to form a direct continuation.

Although clear enough in plan each of the developments described above raise important questions concern function. The structural bases may reflect a change of plan during construction, or subsequently after the recorded period of closure in the early 1890s. However, it is more likely that they form the remains of temporary buildings put up as part of the construction, for accommodation and/or storage. The eastern building in particular is centrally placed on the line of the main approach, which hardly seems possible for a working ferry.

The four sets of rails above the Engine Room would therefore have been laid as part of the original construction, probably close to the end of the job. However, they do not appear to have any practical use and must have been included simply to form a decorative continuation of the rails on the foreshore ramp. Several points make it clear that they -could not have directly borne traffic:

· The rails were set flush with the adjacent woodblock surface, with no room for an overlapping wheel flange. This is even better illustrated at the point to the southwest where two rails cross, without a cut-out for a flange in either rail. There is a continuous shallow groove some 20mm deep which is present in all the rails, but this would hardly be adequate to hold a wheel in position.

· The rails do not appear to have been made for load-bearing use: in cross-section the main body consists of a strip of metal c l00mm high and l0mm thick, contrasting markedly with the surviving rails on the foreshore ramp (Fig 30).

· In a few places the rails were bedded in shallow «30mm) mortar layer, and were otherwise held in place by the surrounding woodblocks. There were no brackets or other fixings onto the underlying roof.

The external river wall

Although wholly obscured within the Engine Room by modem concrete the external face of the river wall retains considerable evidence for the operation of the Steam Ferry.

The wall face is dominated by three rectangular iron panels, each c I.26m by 3.10m and 25mm thick. These are bolted onto slightly larger iron frames that are set into the wall itself the relatively small intervening areas and the main wall sections to east and west are constructed of finely coursed engineering brick. Set into the wall above this level (except at the western end) is a continuous iron beam some 0.26m high, the top of which is more or less level with the woodblock road above the Engine Room and presumably represents the original surface. The modem river wall has been built up in concrete and is now about 0.1m higher.

The three large panels are in direct line with the two counterweight shafts and smaller central shaft recorded within the Engine Room, and clearly contained the ports through which various cables passed to the landing stage and carriages. These openings are now sealed over by riveted iron plates so an exact picture is not available, although it is assumed that the central cable(s) ran to the landing stage and the outer cables to the moving carriages. The central panel has several areas of blocking which would indicate at least two cables, and the same may have been true of the outer panels - although these have a single blocked area near the top it is about 1.5m long, and on the east covered by three separate plates.

One question remains with regard to the three iron panels. As described these appear to be bolted onto a frame, which would indicate that the river wall was originally constructed with corresponding openings at these points. Attachment of the panels would have created a continuous external face (excepting the cable ports) but inside the Engine Room would have left substantial bays within the upper part of the northern wall, probably up to 1.6 m by 3m in plan. The explanation for this is not clear: however, it is worth noting that the contemporary section shows some form of drum or wheel at exactly this point, rather than a solid wall extending up to ground level.

8.5 The foreshore ramp

The foreshore ramp is nearly 15m wide and was recorded for over 63m to the lowest prevailing tide. The actual length is probably just -over 100m, based -on the -contemporary account in The Engineer (1892). The surface is inclined to the north at a constant 1:10 slope, from a maximum adjacent to the river wall-of c 3 .25m OD.

The ramp is constructed of solid concrete, and in at least two places where more heavily eroded can be seen to be reinforced. The structure generally rises about 0.5m above the adjacent foreshore: it is recorded that the sides are 5 feet deep (c 1.5m), and the main body 3 feet (fJ.9m: ibid).

As already described (section 8.1) four sets of rails were laid along the ramp to support the landing stage and -carriages of a standard railway gauge of 4 feet 8 ½ inches. These have been removed for almost all the observed length, only appearing at the water's edge at particularly low tides. However, the rails had been supported on longitudinal girders that were set into the ramp more or less flush with the concrete surface, and thus survived almost intact. The top of each girder was c 160mm wide and retained two offset lines of rivets that had once held the rails, with rivets in each line placed at 305mm (12 inch) spacing.

The foundation girders were not were not fully exposed at any point but probably have an H-cross sections with the base matching the top. There was also some suggestion that the uppermost level of  concrete on the ramp may have been laid separately, perhaps as a finer mix. This would help to explain how the rails were attached, if the girder was already in position but with its upper section still exposed.

Home  Page Previous Page