Ferry Festival | Photo: Colin Grainger

Local firms like Tate & Lyle, Standard Telephones, and Hollis were very helpful in helping get it off the ground. Soon jobs were divided up and events created. Sports tournaments, attractions, bouncing castles. A tug-of war contest was proposed, and rides for the children.  

The area had 13 pubs, and so a ‘superpub’ competition was launched between boozers. Darts, pool, and cribbage contests got hundreds of people involved every week. This went on from February.  

Those who still live locally found the memories flooding back. Sukhdev Kullar recalled:

It was a memorable time for the community. It kept everyone occupied and with a sense of purpose to stage something in what was, and is, still in many ways, a forgotten community. But those memories have stayed with us forever.

Two more master strokes created massive interest: a procession around the streets before the start – and a pram race between all the pubs.

The procession involved groups of people from all ages and groups. As the years went by the floats got more and more interesting. Firms, pubs, clubs, and associations all had their own themes.

Very often the walk around the streets was a survival battle as some tried a friendly sabotage of your pram for the forthcoming race! Then there was the flan thrower- the pie of shaving foam shoved in your face by the ‘phantom.’

Where the Newham Town Show was good in its own right, this festival was fun, more spontaneous and so important to everyone. So much work was done by so many behind the scenes to make it happen.  

A memory preserved from late Fred Bowyer about the first festival in July 1974, summed it up.

Ferry Festival | Photo: Colin Grainger
Ferry Festival | Photo: Colin Grainger

There was a parade with a marching band. The old bill had stopped all the traffic. We said we thought about 400 people would turn up. There were thousands, some estimated about 10,000 during the whole day. We ran out of beer, but everyone rallied around and replenished supplies.

Following the procession around the streets, and the pram race, the fun continued in earnest. Stalls, with funfairs and games and the beer tent. There were displays and competitions throughout the day: fancy dress, baby show, children’s races, karate displays, five-a-side football, tug-of-war and later bands and a disco, and the evening finished with a firework display.  

Some of the streets held their own Street Party. Displays about the history of the area were mounted. Everyone has their own special memory.

My own memories are vivid because of the area’s ability to be cut off from the “rest of the world” by the raising of the two bridges that used to control traffic in and out of the docks. We the “island” community. If you were stranded, you had ‘caught a bridger.’

One year, the local police hired the Woolwich Ferry for an evening river boat disco up to Tower Bridge. It was truly wonderful, though most there don’t remember too much about it, as some alcohol may have been taken. 

Ferry Festival | Photo: Colin Grainger

Locals say the enthusiasm never waned, but Health and Safety regulations meant £1,000 had to be paid to for park and other insurance and other costs rocketed. Barriers had to be put up around the roads – and sadly, the festival ended.

For years people have talked in glowing terms about the stories of the festival, and social media groups have led to those stories being repeated online – and the posting of pictures has helped keep the memories very much alive.

Four years ago, newer generations of locals – and those older ones – got together and the festival was re-born. Royal Victoria Gardens was the centrepiece of the event and it brought out the best of the community again.  

The fourth ‘new’ festival was held online in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic and helped keep people in touch once again.

It is hoped 2021 will see the fifth ‘new’ festival. 

Ferry Festival | Photo: Colin Grainger

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Photo: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library