The shipping between Ryde and the Mainland is only a small part of the Maritime History of the area.
Being a coastal town Ryde has a rich maritime history. From Medieval times, the hamlet of Lower Ryde was one of the Island’s main ports, and even before Ryde became a town, the inhabitants made their living by fishing, boat building, piloting vessels, and providing transport between the Island and the mainland.
The townsfolk of Ryde will have witnessed many Fleet Reviews in The Solent at Spithead dating back as far as the 14th century. A Fleet Review is a British tradition where the monarch inspects the massed ships of the navy. It originally occurred when the fleet was mobilised for war, or for a ‘show of strength’ to discourage potential enemies. Since the 19th century reviews have often been held for the coronation of a monarch or for special royal jubilees and have often included delegates from other national navies. Because reviews require a natural large, sheltered and deep anchorage, they have often been held in The Solent at Spithead and in full view of Ryde.
Ferry Services between Ryde and Portsmouth up to 1937
The transporting of people, goods and later vehicles between the mainland and the Island via Ryde has clearly played an important role in the development of the town.
In about 1420, the lord of the Manor of Ashey set up a ferry service controlling the boats that crossed from Portsmouth to the fishing village of ‘Ride’. In the 1600s, there was a requirement for fishermen to make a crossing to Portsmouth and back when requested. Failure to comply would result in a fine, so a rota was established with sailings as frequent as every two hours in the summer time. Eventually a special type of sailing boat called the Ryde Wherry replaced the fishing boats. In 1796, the first purpose built ferry entered regular service, it was a large sailing boat called The Packet and made the crossing between Ryde and Portsmouth twice a day.
The first steamship service to the Island started in 1817 with The Britannia, making the trip twice a day. The service was later withdrawn as the vessel was found to be unsuitable for The Solent waters.
In 1825, the paddle steamer PS Union entered service carrying wheeled vehicles and livestock as well as foot passengers and two months later PS Arrow joined her. In 1826, a third ship PS Lord Yarborough was introduced and a fourth ship, PS Earl Spencer, was added in 1833. The Portsmouth and Ryde Steam Packet Company owned all the steamers.
By 1842 as many as ten sailings per day operated during the summer between Portsmouth and Ryde.
In 1880 up to thirteen sailings a day were made from Monday to Saturday with five sailings on Sundays. The service thrived and by 1912 increased to twenty six sailings a day, with six modern steamers in service.
742 cars were shipped between Portsmouth and the George Street slipway in Ryde in 1913, but the First World War brought severe cutbacks to this service. Four of the six steamers were requisitioned as minesweepers during the war and in 1918, only 48 cars were shipped across the Solent on tow boats.
Over a million people were carried on the Ryde Pier service in 1923 and over 100 cars were carried on the Ryde tow boat service. 1925 was the last full year of the tow boat operation between Portsmouth Harbour and Ryde Esplanade, nearly 2,000 cars were carried. The following year the tow boat service moved from Ryde to a new slipway at Fishbourne Creek and the total of cars carried across the Solent reached almost 4,000.
In 1927, the first car ferry service was launched making two return crossings between Portsmouth and Fishbourne daily. In 1930 two large paddle steamers, were purpose built in Scotland and brought to the Island. They could carry 1,183 passengers and were mainly used for summer excursions and cruises. An additional ship was added to the fleet later the same year, but the three ships found it difficult to meet the demands of the new service. On summer weekends, they made 15 round trips between them.
In 1934, a slightly smaller ship was built for the day-to-day run between Portsmouth and Ryde Pier. The paddle steamer PS Ryde entered service in 1937. In the same year, 24,000 cars were carried on the service between Portsmouth and Fishbourne.
Source: RSHG Archive
Article: Ann Barrett