History of the chain ferry
The first floating bridge between East Cowes and Cowes was established in 1859 and is one of the few remaining that has not been replaced by a physical bridge. Prior to ownership by the local authority, the service was run by The Floating Bridge Company and The Steam Packet Company (Red Funnel).
Before any kind of floating bridge existed, a rowing boat ferry operated between Cowes and East Cowes transporting pedestrians only. From 1842 cars and animals could be transported across using a pontoon which was winched across under horse power. In 1859 the Floating Bridge Company was formed and bought the ferry rights. From 24 November 1859 the first steamboat was used. In 1868 the ferry was bought by The Steam Packet Company (which now trades as Red Funnel), and bought a new ferry for the service in 1882. This was used regularly until 1896 when it was used only as a spare when a new ferry was purchased
The Simplon Postcards website has more historical information about the chain ferry and other crossings of the River Medina.