North Woolwich Terminus

Click on picture [424] for an enlarged version

From: "Roly Wilcox" <>

After passing some prefabs the trolleybus would later turn right towards its terminus by the ferry. I would alight and the bus would complete a u-turn and wait near the entrance to the pedestrian foot tunnel and near to North Woolwich Station where the subject of photograph 424 is standing ready for the return to Stratford. The smells, the level of activity, the density of industry and the sight of numerous dockland cranes had to be seen to be believed. The building in the background gives a good idea of the type of industrial building to be found.

For the benefit of dockers the nearby Victoria & Albert Docks had an all night trolleybus service which was later replaced by the N99 night Routemaster bus route.

The word "free" was important to a boy in his early teens who due to personal circumstances had very little pocket money. The free ferries were museum pieces in their own right. Wide paddle steamers, of which I believe there were 3, plied between North Woolwich and Woolwich. Believe it or not the ferry passage formed the missing link between the North Circular Road and the South Circular Road. You can see a sign to the North Circular Road in photograph 424. The ferries carried vehicles large and small on their top deck. Passengers could circulate around the engine rooms in the ferries and watch the revolution of the engines and their connecting rods. You were separated only by wooden partitions with open window spaces. You could lean on the window sills and feel the heat from the engines and watch men working hard to keep the engines turning. I seem to recall you could actually see them stoking the boilers and the engine noise was unforgettable. Bell signals from the bridge to the engine room gave the impression of your starting a journey across the channel. In reality these ferries had more in common with those on the Mississippi.

The splashing noise from the paddles had to be experienced as did the sight of frothy filthy wash the paddles stirred up. Was the smell really detergent or was it dangerous chemicals brought down the river? Effluent is an ugly word. We never really knew what it was in the 50s. Did the birds eating the waste scraps really live to a ripe old age? We just accepted the situation as we did the pea-soupers and the clouds of steam and smoke, and the whistling and shunting noises around the railways? There didn't seem to be a noise abatement or pollution abatement society then. Visiting the area now it strikes you as a clean clinical place.

© Roly Wilcox