The Twickenham Museum
Places : Twickenham

Twickenham Ferry
celebrated in song in 1878
1652 - 1970

O, hoi, ye ho, Ho, ye ho, who's for the ferry?
(The briar's in bud, the sun's going down),
And I'll row ye so quick, and I'll row ye so steady,
And it is but a penny to Twickenham Town.
The ferryman's slim and the ferryman's young,
And he's just a soft twang in the turn of his tongue,
And he's fresh as a pippin and brown as a berry,
And 'tis but a penny to Twickenham Town.

(Verse 1 of Twickenham Ferry, A River Ditty, words and song by Theo Marzials, 1878)

Twickenham Ferry with sheep, at Riverside, c1850 (by courtesy of Orleans House Gallery)

Originally this ferry crossed the River Thames by the shortest route between Ham House and the Middlesex bank, no nearer to Twickenham proper than permitted by the tail of Eel Pie Island.

The earliest documentary reference to its existence known is in a Privy Council Ordinance of 19 August 1652. In this year it was listed, with others, prohibiting use after sundown except by special dispensation. It could be held that the ferry was established when Ham House was built by Sir Thomas Vavasour in 1610, as ownership, or at least the Right to Licence ferrymen was always claimed by the owners of that property, notably the Dysart (Murray) family. Indeed, the ferry was sometimes known as the Dysart Ferry. However, unlike Richmond Ferry it is not shown on Moses Glover's map of 1635.

Curiously, given its name, the ferry did not communicate directly with Twickenham proper where, at the foot of Water Lane stood the Waterman's Arms, a focus for river traffic. Perhaps the row upstream against the current was a deterrent.

Certainly the licensed ferrymen all seem to have come from Twickenham. The earliest known was Richard Blower, licensed some time before 1692. His family are recorded in Twickenham as fishermen and watermen from 1600. They lived in a riverside cottage which was leased and probably demolished by Alexander Pope when he built his villa in Cross Deep in 1719/20.

A Rival Ferry starts

Sometime before 1743 a "pirate" ferry appears to have been started by Twickenham inhabitants: one Treherne, Margaret Langley, Samuel Kain (or Keen) and Samuel Kain the Younger. This ferry may have been operated to serve an entertainment enterprise on a barge known as The Folly. This provoked complaints, addressed to the Lord Mayor of London. He referred the matter to the Court of Aldermen on 28 May 1745 who heard that he had received a letter from several inhabitants "…Complaining that there is lately fixed near the Shore of Twickenham on the River Thames a Vessell made like a Barge and called the Folly wherein divers loose and disorderly persons are frequently entertained who have behaved in a very indecent Manner and do frequently afront divers persons of Fashion and Distinction who often in an Evening Walk near that place, and desired so great a Nuisance might be removed,…" The Lord Mayor was authorised to deal with the matter on behalf of the Quality.

In fact both the Ferry and the Folly were closed in the following year when the Earl of Dysart took the matter to the Court of Common Pleas and obtained judgment on 5 March together with a bond for £100 against default.

Note: Samuel Keen and his wife were both buried in December 1761. In 1741 a Widow Langley paid rates for land on the ait (later Eel Pie Island)

Arthur Clennam crossing the river, drawn by"Phiz"

Twickenham Ferry features in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit in 1857 when Arthur Clennam crossed to Ham and back one morning.

William Champion with his ferry boat, c1890

Later years

In later years other ferries were operated. One known as the Buccleugh Ferry downstream towards Richmond Bridge in 1894 and in 1909 the Hammerton Ferry was started, which led to a further lawsuit pursued by the Earl of Dysart which, on this occasion he eventually lost.

When Ham House was presented to The National Trust in 1948 ownership of the Ferry was transferred to a private operator. After further changes in ownership, a decline in traffic and a long dispute about the Right of Way down the slipway on the Twickenham side, the Ferry finally closed in about 1985.

Further reading:

D H Simpson & E A Morris, Twickenham Ferries in History and Song, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper No43, 1980
Anthony Beckles Willson, Mr Pope & Others in Cross Deep in the 18th Century, 1996

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