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Horse Ferry


Horse Ferry, according to early accounts, was established specifically to carry clergymen from their residence at Lambeth Palace to Westminster Palace across the river. The date the ferry began to run across the river is unknown, but there is a reference to it in the 1513 manuscript of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, Register T, Folio 12, which records that the archbishop of Canterbury rented the ferry out to a man by the name of Humphrey Trevilylan at the rate of 16d1 a year (Lambeth Bridge). This grant specified that the archbishop and his servants, as well as his livestock and goods, could be ferried across the river at any time at no charge. Other grants from the early sixteenth century are still available for reference, one of which mentions the use of the ferry for horses in particular. The Horse Ferry remained in the hands of the archbishop until the Civil War, when it was taken out of the archbishop’s possession and sold to one Christopher Wormeall. After the Restoration in 1660, however, the archbishop of Canterbury was once more named the owner of Horse Ferry.
Horse Ferry was the only way to cross from Lambeth to Westminster, and the controversial idea of building a bridge to replace the ferry was proposed multiple times, beginning in 1664. Repeatedly, however, objections from the watermen and residents of Lambeth hindered the project. But when an Act of Parliament caused the construction of Westminster Bridge in 1736, Horse Ferry slowly began to lose customers, just as the ferrymen had feared. Finally, in 1862, the Horse Ferry was replaced by Lambeth Bridge. Horse Ferry then ceased to operate, but its memory has been preserved by a road that today bears the name Horseferry Road.


Horse Ferry played a part in early modern lore and legend. One famous account involving the ferry is that of the escape of Queen Mary of Modena, the wife of King James II, in 1688 at the beginning of the Glorious Revolution. Secretly fleeing the castle in the middle of the night with the baby prince, Queen Mary and a few faithful supporters crossed the Thames on the Horse Ferry as they began the journey to exile in France. According to Agnes Strickland’s later account of the river crossing, the night was so dark and stormy that the passengers on the Horse Ferry could not see one another as they huddled together in the small boat. Strickland’s record continues, Thus with literally only one frail plank between her and eternity did the Queen of Great Britain cross the swollen waters of the Thames, with her tender infant of six months old in her arms (Strickland 198). The journey continued and the queen and her infant son arrived safely in France.
Local legend associated mishaps on the Horse Ferry with bad luck. In 1633, the ferry sank while William Laud, his servants, and his horses were crossing the river. Fortunately, all of the passengers survived, but the incident was remembered as an ill omen when the archbishop was later executed for treason. Similarly, when Oliver Cromwell’s coach and horses suffered an accident on the Horse Ferry, people pointed to William Laud’s experience and said that the incident portended misfortune for Cromwell (Lambeth Bridge).
Another part of the lore of Horse Ferry was the infamous character of its ferrymen, for the rudeness of the Horse Ferry operators was legendary. Their vulgarity and insolence became such a problem that in 1701 a law was passed that required the ferrymen to pay a fine of 2s 6d if they used immodest, obscene and lewd language with their passengers (qtd. in Weightman 50).


  1. Or 16 pence. Pence is the plural of penny. At that time there were 240 pence (240d) in one pound (£). (HM)


  • Citation

    Lambeth Bridge and Its Predecessor the Horseferry. Survey of London: Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall. Ed. Sir Howard Roberts and Walter H. Godfrey. Vol. 23. 1951. 118-121. Remediated by British History Online.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Strickland, Agnes. Lives of the Queens of England; From the Norman Conquest; With Anecdotes of Their Courts, Now First Published From Official Records and Other Authentic Documents. Private as Well as Public. Vol. 8. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1849. Print.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

  • Citation

    Weightman, Gavin. Londonʼs Thames: The River That Shaped a City and Its History. New York: St. Martin’s P, 2005. Print.

    This item is cited in the following documents:

Cite this page

MLA citation

McCarthy, Hope. Horse Ferry. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022, INP.

Chicago citation

McCarthy, Hope. Horse Ferry. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022. INP.

APA citation

McCarthy, H. 2022. Horse Ferry. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from INP.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - McCarthy, Hope
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Horse Ferry
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

TEI citation

<bibl type="mla"><author><name ref="#MCCA1"><surname>McCarthy</surname>, <forename>Hope</forename></name></author>. <title level="a">Horse Ferry</title>. <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>, Edition <edition>7.0</edition>, edited by <editor><name ref="#JENS1"><forename>Janelle</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></name></editor>, <publisher>U of Victoria</publisher>, <date when="2022-05-05">05 May 2022</date>, <ref target=""></ref>. INP.</bibl>



Variant spellings