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Ferry Bridge




Unknown, possibly LB Waltham Forest

Date or period


Current Designation


Archaeological Significance




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Ferry Bridge

Ferry Lane is probably a little beyond the limits of the Lea Bridge area. It is included here because this was the next main cross-valley route north of Lea Bridge and  the story of the watercourses, crossings, and the development of the waterworks near Ferry Lane are closely inter-linked with the story of Lea Bridge.

Crossing the valley

There are or were at least six watercourses travelling down the valley at this point. From east to west: Flood Relief Channel, Dagenham Brook/Higham Hill Brook, Fleet/Waterworks River,  River LeaRiver Lea Navigation, and Pymmes Brook (Garbell Ditch).

A crossing at this point therefore required at least two main bridges, ferries and/or fords; one across the Lea and the other across the Fleet. The area was once characterised by a series of small islands or 'holms', so that there may also have been a series of minor bridges, fords or causeways linking between them.

The early ferry crossing was known as Hillyers Ferry, (sometimes Hellyers, later Hilliers) which later gave it's name to an early bridge crossing known as Hillyers Bridge. Ferry Lane was earlier named Mill Lane, probably after Tottenham Mill. Mill Lane became Ferry Lane after 1886.


In 1277, Ralph de Tony, the lord of the manor, was required to make two bridges in Horseholme and Smethemerse,  probably for the crossing at Tottenham, where several 'holms' or islets were situated. 

In 1594 'Mill Bridge' was one of the most useful over the Lea. The countess of Rutland was presented at quarter sessions in 1595 for a broken bridge on the way to Tottenham mill.

A ferry beside the main bridge, mentioned in 1722, also belonged to Walthamstow Tony manor. 

In 1760, Sir William Maynard, Baronet, rebuilt the main bridge a private toll-bridge for horses and carriages. Constructed of timber with iron abutments, it was called Ferry Bridge or Hillyer's Turnpike from Sacheverell Hillyer, the ferryman and landlord of the inn. The parishioners, however, claimed the right to ford the river without toll. 

Viscount Maynard repaired Ferry Bridge in 1820. Iron trestles replaced the timber ones in 1854. 

In 1868 the East London Waterworks Co. bought the inn and tolls and, in 1877, the bridge was freed of tolls after the corporation of London bought the rights. There had also been tolls to pay on the Middlesex side, at Tottenham mill-house.

The two bridges were referred to as Hellyer's Ferry Bridge and Tottenham Mills Bridge when a Select Committee of the House of Commons on Metropolitan Bridges worked to free all bridges across the Lea and the Thames from tolls between 1868 and 1890. Tottenham Mills Bridge was owned by the New River Company, which claimed £7,245 as compensation. A jury subsequently awarded £1,750. Chingford Bridge and Hellyer's Ferry Bridge at Tottenham were both owned by the East London Waterworks Company. The sums of £3,382 and £1,568 respectively were settled for the bridges. All three bridges were freed on 23rd February 1878.

A new bridge over the Waterworks (Fleet) river in Ferry Lane was built by the district council in 1904. The Old Ferry Bridge of 1760 was demolished in the first year of the Great War when the present Ferry Lane bridge was built in 1915, a little downstream . The new bridge was opened on March 30th 1915 by Mr Andrew Johnson, Chairman of the Essex County Council. The bridge engineer was named Mr or Messrs. Sheldon and the contractor was Mr or Messrs. French.

Ferry Boat Inn

At the end of Mill Lane (now Ferry Lane) was the Ferry Boat Inn. This is now an irregularly-shaped building with stuccoed walls, sash windows, and roofs of old tiles. The core, represented by a central two-storeyed range with dormer-windows, may date from c. 1738. It is built on the site of an earlier building, possibly the former ferry-house, before the building became known as the Ferry Boat Inn from 1738.

Tottenham Mills

A water-mill is recorded in 1254 and included the right to fish in an adjacent pond in the early 14th century. The head of water may have been provided by a weir which had been held by Countess Judith in 1086.  In 1374, Sir Thomas Heath's share of the mill was ruinous. The mill was farmed, apparently by the year, in 1470-1. The common miller was fined for excessive tolls in 1530, and a tenant was fined for refusing to take his corn there in 1558. 

It was leased out with 12 acres of near-by meadow in 1585 and stood next to a leather mill in 1619, when both were known as Tottenham mills. The mills stood on the west side of Mill mead, approached from the Hale by a lane slightly south of the later Ferry Lane; they included a new tile-hung tenement and two oysterbeds in Mill mead. 

In 1656 the lord was presented for making gunpowder in place of flour.  A paper-mill alone seems to have existed from c. 1680; it was insured in 1735 by Israel Johannot, one of a well-known family of French paper-makers, and in 1757 and 1761 by Thomas Cooke, perhaps the man who was rewarded by the Royal Society of Arts for making paper with copper plates. 

In 1770 it was let to Edward Wyburd,  who converted it into a corn-mill, which was burned down in 1788. 

The River Lea Navigation Act of 1779 safeguarded the flow to the mills and approved annual payments which were already being made to James Townsend.

Some 57 acres were offered with the mills in 1789 and were still attached to them in 1840: the buildings, with inclosed grass-land and part of Tottenham Hale field, covered c. 15 acres, while 21 parcels in the marshes made up the remainder.

Corn- and oil-mills, on opposite sides of the road, were at once erected and were sold to John Cook soon after the general auction of the Townsend estates. In the 1790s the corn-mill itself  was said to pay for the rent, enabling Wyburd to sublet the oil business. 

In 1790 lessees received £50 a year from the River Lea Co., as well as tolls levied at the bridge.

In 1810 annual payments were also paid by landowners in Mitchley marsh, who had to cross the mills' lands after the parish declined to rebuild a bridge to the marsh from Down Lane.

In 1824 there was a coalwharf at the mills, which were occupied by Messrs. Curtoys and Mathew as successors to Charles Pratt, who had bought Wyburd's interest. The freehold was bought from Cook by the New River Co. in 1836. The mills, badly damaged by flooding in 1817, were not rebuilt after a fire c. 1860,  although their ruins survived in 1920. 

Tottenham Mills, River Lee, 1828. Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1793 1864).  V&A Drawings Collection E.4568-1923

Tottenham Lock

The first lock built on what later became known as the Old River Lea (to distinguish from the navigation constructed from 1845 and the Tottenham Mills Stream) was known as Hilliards turnpike. A turnpike was an early form of lock.

The first pound lock was built here in 1776, simply to allow boats to pass from the Lea below the Mills into the Mills Stream above without affecting the operation of the Mills.

A new navigation channel was constructed to the north of Ferrry Lane and west of the Old River Lea in 1845-6 and the lock itself was re-sited in 1845. A new lock house was constructed in 1883.

The Lock became known as Tottenham Lock after 1870, dropping any reference to the Mills. This followed the purchase of the Mills by the East London Waterworks Company in 1868.

The river below the lock was straightened to create a new cut in 1879. This removed a number of bends in the river, including that at High Hill (Spring Hill) (now Springfield Marina).

The lock was  rebuilt in brick and stone in 1917 and then a parallel lock was constructed in 1960.


'Walthamstow: Introduction and domestic buildings', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 (1973), pp. 240-250

Lee and Stort

'Tottenham: Economic history', A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5: Hendon, Kingsbury, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore, Edmonton Enfield, Monken Hadley, South Mimms, Tottenham (1976), pp. 333-339

English Heritage List Entry Number:1293606 (http://www.leeandstort.co.uk/Tottenham_Lock.htm)

Bridges. London Metropolitan Archives Ref.CLA/018 

History of Bridge Engineering. Henry Grattan Tyrrel. Published by the author. Chicago 1911

© leabridge.org.uk December 2012