Some Worcestershire Ferries on the River Severn

In Victorian Times people who didn't have horse drawn transport, or wish to travel by stagecoach, had to walk to visit places and people within the county. It was not unusual for whole families to set out from Worcester City to cross the points along the River Severn and walk along the riverside pathway. The ferry crossings were used, and Worcester folk used to follow the riverside paths up to Grimley, making a whole day out of it and taking picnics or eating at the Watermen's Inns along the way.

The ferries were well used and played an important part in communications around the country. Locally in the 19th century the Severn Commissioners issued annual licences to ferry operators. The ferry was a right of way and a valuable source of income too for owners and ferrymen who were responsible for running the service. They had to be available to take passengers across the river between hours of sunrise to sunset. Pixham Ferry on the west River Severn bank belonged to the Madresfield (Lygon) family around 1600 and crossed to Kempsey on the east bank. Here there was a small boat for passengers, and a long flat-bottomed barge for vehicles and animals. In 1930, they charged threepence for a bicycle and a shilling for a motor vehicle, foot passengers paid two pence; operation ceased in 1947.

From Worcester City there were ferries in both Southerly and Northerly directions, I will focus on the Northerly ones .

*Cathedral Ferry (recently reopened) also known as the Priory Ferry, worked from Watergate to Payne's Meadows. Originally began for the convenience of the monks and the Priory milk-maids to reach the Prior manor of Hardwick in St. John's. Always convenient for people living in central and South Worcester.

*The Grandstand Ferry Situated by the Grandstand Hotel where the large, jolly Licensee - Mrs. Christine Taylor will be remembered; she endeavoured to restart a motor-boat ferry there in 1966, it was opened by the Mayor with a ceremony including a kilted piper, but the venture failed.

*The Dog and Duck Ferry. Located at a pretty spot opposite Pitchcroft Racecourse, this was a very ancient crossing. It is named after an old inn called The Dog and Duck'. The inn was thus named because on Sunday mornings a sport went on there involving the catching of ducks by dogs. The tendons of the ducks wings were cut so that it couldn't fly and it was taken out into the middle of the river, the dogs were set loose from the bank and this gave plenty of opportunity for betting. The church disapproved of the practice and the sport was stopped in the 1840s. The inn was then no longer run as a public house, and remained a private residence for the ferrymen.

*The Kepax Ferry. This Barbourne ferry dates from around 1882 when Barbourne Park a private estate, stretching beyond Park Avenue was sold and built up. On the riverside were six cottages, occupied by a Mr. Bailey and his six married daughters. Mr. Bailey had a boat, and as it was on the very popular footpath from Pitchcroft to meadows of Camp, he began to ferry people across the river. In 1929 it continued to be known as Bailey's Boat'. It was a popular way of crossing the river in Victorian and Edwardian times for people using the riverside paths to Hallow and the Camp Inn.

*The Camp Ferry, Grimley. In Victorian times this was a punt ferry and well used by customers to The Camp House, a popular riverside inn with a large garden and cosy bars enjoyed by many to this day.. Until the 1930s people could walk across the meadows on the east bank opposite the Camp House Inn and shout across the river for the innkeeper to ferry them over. The name Camp' dates back several centuries to times when Worcester citizens needed to escape from war or the plague and camped on or near Bevere Island. This happened in 1673 when the City suffered a devastating outbreak of Bubonic plague - the Black death'. There is also a record that on 13th Sept. 1715 the stage wherry from Shrewsbury collided with a barge here and six people lost their lives.

The inn is Georgian and was always used my watermen, it had stables for horses and donkeys (the usual charge was 3d. per night for stable and straw). When the trows were hauled by groups of 8 to 20 men harnessed with ropes round their chests, the innkeeper supplied their bait'. Their wages included bread, cheese and pickle costing 2d. a day with cheap cider or beer, at five pints a shilling, and one and a half ounces of tobacco.

The Victorians had another incentive to visit The Camp House Inn; in 1834 there was a racecourse in the adjacent meadow. A wealthy sportsman named Richard Griffiths who lived in Thorngrove House, Grimley, was organiser and steward, but some trouble over the horses he ran in 1834 caused him to withdraw his support! The race meetings were ended.

*The Hawford Ferry. There was always a ford and ferry at some point in this area, salt was being transported from Droitwich along the old saltway via Hadley, Chatley and then to Hawford. Around 1830 there was a river crossing at Hawford, but it was known as a roving ferry' which took horses and vehicles across the river, called thus because the two path changed from the Camp side on the west to the Ombersley side on the east; when Bevere Weir was constructed the situation changed. There is a record of the area of the lower crossing being known as Lawford', always subject to flooding.

The ancient road from Worcester to Kidderminster followed a route via Northwick and Bevere, at that point it followed the river to the Salwarpe, it can be traced to a location close to Bevere Island where it peters out. In the mid 19th century that road was often impassable because of floods so a crossing of the river Salwarp was made higher up. The River Salwarp joins the Severn at Hawford, as does the Droitwich Canal.

*Holt Ferry. There remains an old lane leading down to the river on the east bank north of the bridge. There in the mid 19th century Ferry House was big enough to take in travellers unable to cross the river when it was too high and dangerous. On the west bank stood an inn named Holt Fleet Inn, dating back to 1607 and providing food and shelter for travellers on that side of the river.

Lord Foley laid the foundation stone for Holt Fleet Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford and constructed by a builder from Shrewsbury, it was opened in 1828.

When the bridge had been opened, the Ferry House became a private residence and the Holt Fleet Inn changed considerably, becoming a lucrative business serving guests who required accommodation and meals, tea gardens were opened and it grew into a very popular River Severn resort, and remained so until the 1930s.

*Lenchford Ferry at Shrawley, Records of this ferry go back to the 18th century, like many ferries it was operated by the landlord of the Lenchford Inn.

In the late 18th century when Witley Court was at its absolute height of splendour, Lenchford was the nearest point on the river for wharfing coal coming down by barge from collieries at Himley. Records show that in the 19th century as much as 2,000 tons was stored at Witley Court at a time. When the barges arrived they were unloaded onto horse-drawn carts and the convoy of coal-laden carts between Lenchord and Witley Court went on for several weeks at a time. The Earle & Countess of Dudley certainly kept their home well heated, they entertained in grand style. My grandmother's 21st birthday coincided with a ball there arranged as a finale to a shooting party week to which Edward Prince of Wales, the Earle & Countess of Cadogan, the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire and numerous other noble and titled people were their guests, including ladies for whom the Prince had a penchant! My grandmother's parents were also guests and she had a special invitation and a lovely ball gown for the occasion.

The Lenchford Ferry was in use in the 1930s and the Inn was owned by an Australian who once offered to sell it for £900, he didn't think he was cut out for the pub trade. In the end he left it and his wife and returned to Australia.

Peter Sansome, a farmer friend of mine who has always lived in Claines remembers the Lenchford during WW2, it was a popular place for Saturday night dances. When the American soldiers came to Westwood Park they quickly discovered the public houses in Ombersley and at Holt Fleet, and lost no time in inviting young girls from Ombersley to join them at The Lenchford. Peter told me that he and his friends were pretty fed up that all the beautiful young girls were transferring their affections to the G.I.s. One one Saturday dance night occasion there, the Americans had paid for a big tray of delicious sandwiches and when they got up to dance, Peter picked up the tray and took it out to the car park where he and his friends consumed the lot!

A few notes written by a man who used to stay by the beloved but dangerous River Severn near the Lenchford, were recently handed to me. The man I refer to lived in Smethwick and came there first when he was sixteen in 1928, and continued to spend holidays there for most of his life until 1990. He wrote about his love for the countryside there and his sense of exhilaration, breathing fresh air, having lovely views and open space around them. He learned a great deal about the flora and fauna of the area and grew to understand the country folk who befriended him and his family. He looked back at those days and spoke of the different way of life they had when they were there " (we) compared our lovely surroundings with the sordid little alley we had to return to in Smethwick. "

By Rosalind M Parish