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Paddle steamers and motor ships

The first two series of ferry ship were paddle steamers, but they were replaced by motor ships in 1963.

Series one (Built 1888 to 1893)

The three paddle steamers - the Gordon, Duncan and Hutton - weighed 490 gross tonnes. They were 60 feet wide and 164 feet long.

They were capable of eight knots and were licensed to carry 1,000 passengers with room for 15 to 20 vehicles.

Series two (Built 1922 to 1930)

These were replaced by four similar new paddle steamers - the Squires, Gordon, Will Crooks and John Benn.

These new vessels weighed 625 tonnes. They were 166 feet in length and 44 feet wide.

By the time the old paddle steamers had finished their service they had travelled some 400,000 miles, and carried 180 million passengers and 55 million vehicles and cycles.

Series three (Built 1963)

The three diesel-engine motor ships - the John Burns, Ernest Bevin and James Newman - weighed 738.5 gross tonnes. They were 61 feet wide and 185.6 feet long.

They were capable of eight knots and were licensed to carry 500 passengers and 200 tons of vehicles. The ferries are double ended, able to proceed equally well in either direction, easy to manoeuvre and able to leave the terminals in a downstream direction whatever the state of the tide.

The boats are propelled by two pressure-charged 500 horsepower diesel engines that drive two propellers, one fitted at each end of the boat. This arrangement provides the high degree of manoeuvrability essential in the tidal water at Woolwich.

Find out more about the paddle steamers and motor ships:

  • The Gordon was built in 1888 by R and H Green.

    It was named after General Gordon of Khartoum (1833 to 1885) who was born in Woolwich and studied at the academy.

  • The Duncan was built in 1888 by R and H Green.

    It was named after Colonel Francis Duncan (1836 to 1888) the author of a history on the Royal Artillery. Colonel Duncan was a soldier, and MP.

    He was director of the St John Ambulance Brigade from 1877 until 1882.

    He died at Woolwich and is buried in Charlton.

  • The Hutton was built in 1893 by William Simons and Company Ltd.

    It was named after Sir John Hutton DL, JP.

    Hutton was a Member of the London County Council from 1889 to 1901 and was its chairman from 1892 to 1895.

  • The Squires was built in 1922 by Samuel White and Company Ltd.

    It was named after William James Squires (1850 to 1931), a Woolwich man, twice Mayor of Woolwich and for many years chairman of the Woolwich Equitable Building Society.

    Squires was a bookseller and stationer who owned two shops in the town.

  • The Gordon was built in 1923 by Samuel White and Company Ltd, like her predecessor.

    It was named after General Gordon of Khartoum.

  • The Will Crooks was built in 1930 by Samuel White and Company Ltd.

    It was named after William Crooks (1852 to 1921), Woolwich's first Labour MP, who took his seat in the House of Commons in 1903.

    He served on the London County Council from 1892 until 1910 and was Mayor of Poplar in 1910.

  • The John Benn was built in 1930 by Samuel White and Company Ltd.

    It was named after Sir John Benn (1850 to 1922), who was an ancestor of Tony Benn MP.

    A member of the London County Council from its creation in 1889 and its chairman from 1904 to 1905, John Benn was also MP for Davenport for six years.

  • The John Burns was built in 1963 and named after John Elliot Burns (1858943) who was an enthusiastic student of London's history and its river.

    He called the Thames 'liquid history' and he would have appreciated being linked with it in this way.

    He represented Battersea on the London County Council from its creation in 1889 until 1907.

    He lead the great dock strike of 1880 and was one of the first three independent Labour Members of Parliament to reach cabinet rank when he became President of the Local Government Board in 1905.

  • The Ernest Bevin was built in 1963 and named after Ernest Bevin who was the son of an agriculture labourer.

    He worked as a farm hand and truck driver before his keenness in trade union matters led to his becoming a trade union official in Bristol in 1911.

    In 1921 Bevin formed the Transport and General Workers Union from 32 separate unions.

    In 1945 he became Foreign Secretary and represented Woolwich in 1950 until ill health forced him to retire in 1951.

  • The James Newman was built in 1963 and named after James Newman who was a distinguished citizen of Woolwich and an important worker in the field of local government.

    A school teacher by profession, he was Mayor of Woolwich from 1923 until 1925 and again in 1952 to 1953.

    He served on many local and national organisations, including the metropolitan borough's standing joint committee. He was the co-founder and vice president of the Woolwich Council of Social Service.

    In 1948 he was appointed an officer of the order of the British Empire in recognition of his services to local government.