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'Ghosts, Royals, and Ferrymen' - REVIEW

Stratford sub Castle Guild - Wednesday 13 September 2023


Brian Margetson presented an entertaining talk on a quite unusual subject – his project, from 1990, to make a photo record of all 124 ferries around England and Wales, together with some evocative details within our own area. Ferrymen and women were important local characters, managing their calling in spite of disability, and remembered and commemorated with real affection.



Starting close to home, Brian introduced us to the redoubtable Mrs Jane Hazel (1843- 1920) a young widow with ten children who physically operated the punt ferry at Alderbury well into her 70’s.*


(Image by kind permission of Her Salisbury Story 26.)


Both our iconic Mersey Ferry, and the prebridge Severn Ferry had connections with famous pop stars. In complete contrast, the ‘New Passage’ ferry across the dangerous Severn Estuary had given a vital head start to the escape of King Charles from Parliamentary soldiers in the 17th Century. The King’s Roundhead pursuers took an ill-advised short cut and were cut off by the famous 13m tidal rise; Oliver Cromwell indicated disapprobation by closing the ferry service.


Ghosts made a powerful appearance, illustrated by a young woman driven to take her own life by unrequited love. As a suicide, her body was buried in unconsecrated ground as was the archaic custom. The Ferry Inn at Holywell, Cambs, later extended over her grave site. She is reputed to make ghostly visitations each year on the night of her death – 17th March. It sounded like a perfect excuse for an extended party.


Brian stressed that ferry ownership was a complex matter which must address both crossing directions, and land access from both banks, and needed careful stewardship to survive.


In our part of the world a ferry on the River Stour, at Redhill, was closed in the 1930s to bar the bucolic enjoyment of the river to ‘common people’ from Bournemouth.


The Poole Harbour- Brownsea ferry had cut a dinghy in half before noticing the unfortunate dinghy sailor hanging off the bow.


Our well-known Sandbanks Ferry puts tremendous strain on the guide chains, which have to be replaced every couple of years.


Woolwich Ferry on the Thames still operated as a free service, and could offer local schoolchildren a good excuse for late arrival.


The transporter bridge over the River Usk at Newport is an engineering curiosity, and we have all seen the spectacular hovercraft between Southsea and the Isle of Wight.


While enjoying a visit to the glorious Wye Vale, Veronica and I enjoyed crossing the River Wye at Symonds Yat using the hand-hauled open ferry. Altogether a diverting and fascinating evening.


Ted Uren


* Mrs Hazel, The Alderbury Ferry Lady, is detailed in https://hersalisburystory.com/stories/jane-haze


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