Music, horns and sirens as Woolwich Ferry bids farewell to its 1960s vessels

Ernest Bevin, 5 October 2018
The last trip on the Ernest Bevin, the penultimate ferry to be taken out of service

The vessels that have run the Woolwich Ferry for the past 55 years made their last trips on Friday night before the service closed for a three-month refurbishment.

The three ships, the John Burns, the Ernest Bevin and the James Newman, have plied the route between Woolwich and North Woolwich since 1963.

But they have now made their last journeys ahead of being taken to a recycling yard Le Havre, northern France. The ferry will be closed until the new year when two new ships will take over.

The John Burns had already been taken out of service the previous week. It had been due to leave for France last Tuesday, but is currently due to be taken away at 9am on Sunday morning. (The Port of London Authority website has the latest times.)

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About 50 foot passengers made a nostalgic final trip when the James Newman left North Woolwich pier at the stroke of eight o’clock – with one woman driving an Audi surprised to discover she was the last motorist to use the old ferry boats.

But the commemorations began half an hour beforehand, when the Ernest Bevin left Woolwich for its final trip north with a blast of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.

It arrived at North Woolwich with the same track playing, too.

After the Ernest Bevin departed out of service for its berth by Mast Pond Wharf, ferry fans were left waiting for the James Newman to start its last round trip.

Despite the historic occasion, there was no official representation from TfL nor the boroughs of Greenwich or Newham – many passers-by thought a Routemaster bus on board the Newman might have some kind of TfL delegation. In fact, it turned out to be a hen party.

Once the traffic was safely aboard the James Newman’s final trip from North Woolwich, crew members allowed foot passengers onto the vehicle deck – a rare privilege.

James Newman engine room
The James Newman’s engine room

Passengers also got to peek into the engine room and the one of the smoking cabins that have been locked for many years. The choice of Vera Lynn was apt – one of the new vessels is named after the East Ham-born wartime entertainer.

The last trip took a little longer than normal, as sirens sounded on the piers, the ship’s horn sounded, and its captain demonstrated just why the James Newman had served east and south-east London so well for 55 years – by spinning it around in the Thames.

And finally, the James Newman pulled up at Woolwich for the last time.

Some images from the final journeys….

Woolwich Ferry final trip
Woolwich Ferry final trip
Woolwich Ferry final trip
Woolwich Ferry final trip
Woolwich Ferry final trip
Woolwich Ferry final trip

Sunday update: Thanks to Hugh Neal for sending this photo of the John Burns being towed past Erith at 10.45am today.

John Burns

To check when the Ernest Bevin and James Newman will be taken to France, check the Port of London Authority website for updates.

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