Fords Ferry circa 1920 and Iron Boat Man 2006

'Fords Ferry' circa 1920 | From an original in the Ernie Charman collection
'Fords Ferry' circa 1920
From an original in the Ernie Charman collection
'The Iron Boat Man' 2006 | Mix of two views by Gordon Dinnage
'The Iron Boat Man' 2006
Mix of two views by Gordon Dinnage

Small ferry
For many years there was a small ferry across the canal at Shoreham Harbour in Portslade. This ferry operated from a spot near the foot of Church Road and Trafalgar Road. The ferry could take people across the canal for a penny return, as a short cut to the beach or as a means for employees to get across to the Portslade Gas Works, which was built in 1870.

Additional access
Back in 1854/5 the eastern arm of the harbour was dredged and canalized, and a lock was built at its entrance at Southwick as another crossing point. The western arm remained subject to tides, being the outflow of the river Adur. There was, and still is, other access to the beach and industrial parts of this Shoreham Harbour, via Hove Lagoon (also known at one time as ‘Salt Daisy Lake’) by passing the Seaside Villas (latterly known as Millionaires Row), where the single roadway winds its way around the southern eastern arm.

Historic view
In our restored historic view here, the Gas Works and Coal Wharf can be seen in the distance with a number of small boats in the foreground. The ferry appeared to have stopped operating some time in the sixties. Simple signage painted on the side of the jetty shed shows the operation at that time was by ‘A. Ford’. The sign ‘Ferry to the beach’ and  ‘Boats on Hire’ are also seen.There was another jetty east of this one, next to Parkers Junk Yard, also described as the use of mooring Gas Works Workmen’s Boats. Yet further east was the Hamlins Ferry too, although what period this operated is unknown by the authors of this piece. Maps of 1910-1920, however, helpfully show all three jetties in existence.

The historic picture was first shown in the Brighton ARGUS Weekender 1/1/05, following a reader’s letter query about the metal man rowing a boat in memory of the ferry on the north-east corner under the billboard which is used in our second picture for the present day. The old original Ferry picture – in a torn and poor condition – came from the collection of Ernie Charman of Portslade Old Village. Ernie has taken many transport and local scenes himself over the years since the mid forties and collected a variety of photographs and postcards of a variety of interests.

Comments about this page

  • Thanks so much for this most interesting topic and photo. My Grandfather, Ike Brown used to row this ferry over the canal. His son Reg (my father) also took some turns now and again when he was young and was quoted saying it was good money. Speaking to my mother about it on the phone today she said that she and her sisters often used to take it to the beach where they went through a small “twitten” by the gasworks to get there. Wonderfull history from the past. Thanks for the great site.

    By Terry Brown (20/03/2006)
  • The small twitten by the gas works led to a lovely beach which was not widely known. If I remember the path was covered in coal dust? Some of us schoolkids used to hire a rowing boat on Saturdays and just row around the harbour all morning in absolute heaven and total freedom. Later on in life I had to go to the gasworks to pick up fifteen ton of coke a day when I worked for Hall & Co. in Davigdor Road. If I remember, the harbour then was tidal; I think that later on they added lock gates at some date.

    By Mick Peirson (12/12/2006)
  • It must have been in the late 1940s when I and some friends used to hire a rowing boat in the harbour. In the centre of the harbour there was a half-sunken boat that we used to climb on.

    By Viv Webb (09/06/2007)
  • I remember well the ferry across the canal. It was accessible down a double flight of steps by the side of the Kings Head, Fishersgate not Portslade. There were also row boats for hire at the Jolly Boatman located at the same place. They were both still in operation well into the 60s. During a trip back to the UK in 2006, I saw the steps are still there, though the wooden handrail has gone and at the bottom all you have now is a small area completely enclosed by high security fences.

    By Pete Scarratt (02/10/2007)
  • I remember my first day going down and getting on the boat with all the old gassies. First of all I sat down but wondered why they were giving me black looks. “You’d better take an oar boy.” my dad said so me, and one other bloke rowed them across the canal. It wasn’t so hard and from then on I actually enjoyed rowing the old boys across. I even did it on my own sometimes.

    By Den King (21/01/2008)
  • Is Eric Masters still out there? i believe he has some old photos of Gassies and wondered if my Dad Joe was in them?

    By Den King (01/10/2008)
  • To Den King; sadly, I have to tell you that Eric Masters passed away in November 2007 at the age of 82. Apologies if you have already been given this information.

    By Mick Funnell (29/01/2009)
  • Thank you Mick, I’m sad to hear an old Portslader has passed on. I guess I’ll never know if me Dad appeared in those photos or not!

    By Den King (07/02/2009)
  • Hi there. My late dad Roy West worked for British Gas until his retirement. We have in the family a bell that as far as I remember dad said was used to call the ferry. Dad acquired this bell when the gasworks closed. I was wondering if anyone can confirm this as being true. Thanks.

    By Angie Baker (20/07/2010)
  • How interesting is this page, and the old photo. My mum used to push me in a pram with brother and sister from Mile Oak to the area around the gas works.She reckoned the air was good for us to breathe in when we had colds. Not sure if that was a great remedy, but distance memory recalls  the “smell”.

    By Bonny Cother (25/04/2011)
  • Den King. Are you still connected to this thread? I am Eric’s grandaughter. I don’t know if there are any photos of your dad but his old photos are stored. I am not local but may have an opportunity to look through his stuff later this autumn. Please contact if you are interested.

    By Kelly Knight (31/08/2011)
  • Hello Kelly, yes I would be very interested to see any old Gas works photos. You can contact me at if you wish. Thank you.

    By den king (09/09/2011)
  • I can remember using the ferry at lunchtime when I worked in the lab at the Gasworks. We used to go across to the pub that used to be on the corner for a pie and a pint. 

    By Gary Gardner (21/07/2015)
  • I would walk from Wickhurst Road on a crisp winter morning to the drawing office at the works. If the boat man was having a tea or coffee you would have to wait until he finished. I have been in the boat when he has got too near a boat passing. Very dodgy!

    By Linda Packer (24/03/2017)

Add a comment about this page

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *