Watermen failed to stop arrival of floating bridge

Hordes of dockyard workers, sailors and commuters caught boarding and alighting two Gosport ferries in 1936. A battleship is behind the train and to the left are two Isle of Wight paddle steamers.  Picture courtesy of Sid Greeman.
Hordes of dockyard workers, sailors and commuters caught boarding and alighting two Gosport ferries in 1936. A battleship is behind the train and to the left are two Isle of Wight paddle steamers. Picture courtesy of Sid Greeman.

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News that two of Portsmouth Harbour’s most familiar vessels might be phased out in a couple of years, prompted this look at the various ways we’ve bridged the gap between the city and Gosport.

The Gosport Ferry company has announced plans to design and build a new ferry ready to enter service in 2014.

The Gosport Queen, expected to be phased out from 2014.  Picture: Steve Reid (121150-813)

The Gosport Queen, expected to be phased out from 2014. Picture: Steve Reid (121150-813)

And the two oldest ferries, Gosport Queen and Portsmouth Queen, are expected to be sidelined. They were both built in 1966.

The announcement of the new ferry comes exactly 172 years after the harbour’s first steam-powered ferry, a floating bridge, made its way from Portsmouth to Gosport on its maiden crossing in May 1840.

Two years earlier 1,100 harbour watermen, fearing for their livelihoods, had petitioned Parliament urging the rejection of the enabling act for the floating bridge. They failed.

The floating bridge was run by two 16 horsepower steam engines and ran along two chains which had balance weights attached to each end.

This was so that ‘in the roughest weather no motion is perceptible to those on board’.

After the 12-minute crossing, enthusiastic passengers praised the ‘smooth and noiseless operation’.

In its first week the business exceeded all expectations carrying 12,466 passengers, 568 vehicles, 20 oxen and 117 sheep, as well as the mail.

Humans were charged a penny to cross though entrance to the ‘best room or cabin’ cost 2d (1p).

A horse-drawn carriage was 6d while livestock was three farthings a head.

During the cholera epidemic of 1849 bodies were ferried across on the bridge to be buried at Browndown, Gosport. It’s not known how much was charged for a corpse.