This important British Builders Half-Model is the design tool for the first two Woolwich toll-free ferries put in service on March 23, 1889. Ordered from the oldest firm of shipbuilders in the British Isles, R. & H. Green of Blackwall, the sidewheel paddle steamers GORDON and DUNCAN were financed and operated by the London County Council between North and South Woolwich. They ran every nine minutes from 5 a.m. until midnight, every day of the week.
The Builders Model is mounted within its original mahogany & glass display case with its mirror backing; bow and stern mirrors as well present views of the ship coming and going as it were. The boxwood builders plaque clearly delineates the ships' dimensions with its 164 ½ foot length and a 42 foot beam with only a shallow 6 ¼ draft. Also, the passenger capacity of 1650, credit to the Green Yard, and recognition of John Penn & Sons of Greenwich as the maker's of each ship's dual 600ihp. coal-fired condensing engines completes the plaque. The model is mounted on two turned wood columns, and has the commonality of most ferries in that it is a double-ended ship, so that traversing the Thames River, it need not turn around to make its way. A stack for each engine rises perpendicular to the deck, and the paddle wheel box actual separates the two ends completely on both sides, making all travel through the large cabin. All details are in place, from the lights and instruments to the black inked lines of the deck planks and side-loading compartment doors.
GORDON and DUNCAN proved quite popular with the London public and visitors. They were joined in the free ferry business by a third ship, HUTTON, in 1893, so that two were always in service at a time. This was the first free ferry service in the entire country, and inspired others. The three ships lasted until 1922, when they were replaced by the White's of Cowes-built SQUIRES and a newly named GORDON, in honor of the original.
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