Sea-change: Wivenhoe Remembered - Ferries at Wivenhoe
Stories about the early ferries through to the present summer ferry (2006)
Page created by Peter Hill, copied from the earlier Wivenhoe Encyclopedia website
Until after the Second World War, Wivenhoe was closely linked with both Rowhedge and Fingringhoe by two ferries, which were busy through the day conveying villagers in both directions across the Colne to work or shop or for social pleasures. The need was greatly reduced with the closure of the Wivenhoe Shipyard, which had been run from Rowhedge. The regular ferry to Fingringhoe ceased in 1953, and to Rowhedge in 1961.
Milk by ferry – Marjorie Goldstraw
The milk came from a farm over the ferry and they came over the ferry with it twice a day, because nobody had milk, just a lot of milk for one day, they had to go round with it twice, and measure it out with a can. They used to put the jugs out, and measured it out with a can, a half pint or a pint, just whichever you wanted. We delivered it. I had to do Alma Street, with a great big can.
Milk delivery – Ernie Vince
There were not many dairymen who had their milk delivered by ferry. But Uncle Fred’s milk all came over the ferry, from a farmer in Fingringhoe, so the farmer come down and dumped a couple of churns on the ferry hard and we’d go over and get them. If Uncle Charles was indoors I’d just jump in the boat and go and get them if I was on the Quay! And then help Fred push them up to the shop. Low water springs [tides], you could walk across the ferry at Wivenhoe, with thigh boots on. If that was low water/springs, then he would drive the cart through the river and take the churns, up the shop, and go back again, while the tide was down.
Selling shrimps – Barry Green
When I was at work at Cooks’s and also we had shrimps, I’d take them across on the bike and drop them off at the ferry, and then dad’d come along later and they’d take them across for me and sell them in Rowhedge. Where the old hut was there, just drop them on the hard there, and make sure the ferryman knew I’d been, and he’d take them across, and then when Dad come, they come and got him and he’d sell them, yes. Shrimps mostly, in the summer. He used to occasionally, if that was getting bad here, he weren’t selling much here, he would go down to Rowhedge to try and sell some fish, to make a living. But basically that was for the shrimps. You know, that was when everybody was at home then, weren’t they, wives, in them days.
Full toss – Bill Webb
[The workforce included] quite a number from Wivenhoe. Used to have to cross the ferry, the ferry went full toss at that time of the day! Used to pile in, and old Captain Jones, he used to punt across, continually, because it would be a race in the morning, coming down right across the marsh and from the station, and again at night, coming out of the Yard to get home to Wivenhoe, you all raced down to the ferry to see if you could get on board first! He could only take about a dozen blokes at one time!
The ferryman – Freda Annis
Charlie Sainty had the ferry and he used to go across to Fingringhoe. And we used to go down there and sit on the wall and kick our heels. And he used to come over and we’d say, ‘Can we come over in the ferry boat with you, Mr Sainty?’ So he’d say, ‘Well, I’ll see.’ Well, if there was only one person waiting he’d say, ‘Come on, then!’ He used to take us over and bring us back! But we used to spend hours down there. And we used to talk to him, ask him what he was doing and this, that, and the other. He was a very nice old boy, old Sainty, I liked him. And the children all used to play all round the Quay there. Well, there wasn’t anywhere else to play, and we all used to play along the Quay, and he’d keep an eye on the kiddies and he used to say, ‘You be careful what you’re up to’ and that. And if anyone was throwing stones or anything he’d be hot on it.
The last customer – they used to laugh about it – was a family from Fingringhoe, on a Saturday night. I don’t think they came over any other day. I don’t know, but I know they used to come on a Saturday night. And they used to go along the river wall – the other side – and there was a little old cottage, nearly down to the sandworks as is now down there, and there was the father and mother and I think there were three boys, and they used to come over. The old boy never got any further than the Black Buoy. The old girl used to go and do the shopping. I don’t know what the boys did but they all ended up in the Black Buoy. And old Charlie Sainty used to go and shout out to them to come on, that was time! He used to have to wait till the pub threw out before they’d go!
Ferry to Fingringhoe – Betty Govan
We used to go from Wivenhoe Ferry over to Fingringhoe. We used to walk right round Fingringhoe to the Whalebone, the pub there, and then walk back to Rowhedge, to the Albion, and get a ferry back. Because we used to pick blackberries when we were kids, over on the pits where Dene Park is built now, and we used to walk all the way over to Rowhedge to sell these blackberries! Yes, there used to some old people over there, and they used to buy blackberries. We did it for years, and the money we got, which was, perhaps, a penny or tuppence, we used to save that to go to our Sunday School Outing at Walton with the church Sunday School.
The Ferry House – Peggy Carrington
I was born at the Ferry House, on the Quay. My father used to ferry people across the river to Fingringhoe. James Wade. He used to bring the bread over because over in Fingringhoe had nothing, no shops, you see there was a milkman over there and he used to bring the milk over to Wivenhoe. And then because there was no garden there, so they couldn’t get me out in the garden, so my father rented a house in High Street. Right down the bottom, right by the railway bridge. I was only two when I left there [the ferry house]. My father went on the Eastern National buses. Mechanic. He went to the Wivenhoe Shipyard before then. Wheelwright. Used to know everybody in the village, and where they lived.
Ferry – Hilary Harvey
But there was quite an interaction between the two places – Rowhedge and Wivenhoe – because of the Shipyard, from the ferry being there. I can remember walking the hill from the station to the cricket pitch, on Saturday afternoons, with my mum pushing the pram with my brother in it. I have been coming since I was a fortnight old, but I don’t remember that far back! But we caught the ferry from Rowhedge, walked across the toll road to the station, and then up the hill through to the cricket pitch on Rectory Road, isn’t it. And then, obviously, in the evening, the return journey, which was often quite frightening for me at night, because I’m not very keen on the water anyway, and it was often dark, and we had to climb into this ferry boat, which was quite precarious with a pram!
If it was low tide, then there was quite a walk down and then up the other side of the river, and just a tiny little punt across. If the tide was fairly high, then it depended on the wind. Sometimes the boat was taken up river a fair distance before he could then get the current back. Sometimes it went down river, so it was quite exciting, because you didn’t quite know how long it was going to take, and where you’d land, really, although they kept the two ferry hards very very clean, they used to wash them twice a day when there was no tide, and you could actually walk down and keep your feet dry, so that was lovely! It was a flat-bottomed boat, if I remember. I think there were two, and they used to punt in low water, and row in high water.
The ferry men were, to me, ancient, but I suppose they were in their seventies probably. They were about the same sort of age as my granddad, who worked at the Shipyard, and probably had worked there previously but had retired. And it didn’t matter what time of the day or night you wanted a ferry, there was always somebody there. Lovely old men who would chat to people, and quite happy to talk about their job and the river and so on, you know, but then everybody knew everybody in those days, so it was lovely. I suppose about an eight, nine, ten year old, I used to take my granddad’s sandwiches down to him sometimes – his lunch – and I used to sit down at the Shipyard, or on the ferry hard, with the old boys while they had their sandwiches and things. They were just lovely.
The walk across from the ferry – there’s still a walk, there’s still a path, but obviously we’re stuck the other side, unless there’s a ferry, and then it takes us to the quay, which is not quite the same. I don’t actually remember going down to the river very much then, we just used to cross either to the station, or to the cricket, and that was it, whereas now, we tend to walk along and go to the quay, or even further, go up towards Alresford Creek, that way. But we used to come over to catch the train to Brightlingsea or Clacton or Walton, so that’s changed, obviously. Obviously they had to sleep sometime, but the ferry was open from very early in the morning, because of the Shipyards – there were men from here who worked in Rowhedge, and there were men in Rowhedge who worked in Wivenhoe, so it was going all the time – and it went on until, I don’t know, something like 11 o’clock at night, I suppose.
I think it was the shipyards gradually winding down and then closing. I think the river wasn’t really big enough to take the size of boat that was needed by then, early to mid-Sixties, and gradually the work changed, I suppose. And then as the yards gradually did start closing down, then the men from Wivenhoe no longer came across to Rowhedge, and vice-versa, it became just a much smaller little group that was working either side. And then eventually the ferry stopped. It’s just been these last few years that they’ve opened it up again for the summer.
Running the new ferry service – Brian Sinclair
On the old ferry hard, which ran from Ferry Cottage, which is at the bottom of Black Buoy Lane, Black Buoy Hill there, it ran right the way down to the water’s edge at sort of low water, and that was a little concrete pathway, and the same the other side from Fingringhoe, it ran right the way down, and there’s still parts of the old concrete bit left on the Fingringhoe side. And the original aim, when the new ferry got going again, was to use that existing route, that old route. But that’s another story! I got involved with the ferry, I think it was 1990 Regatta, we were running quite a busy Regatta, and somebody said to me, ‘There’s a chap wants to talk to you about running a ferry service,’ and I said, ‘Well, not now, but some other time.’ And that was Rod Smart who was the founder member, the original founder member of the Ferry Trust. And so we got a meeting together, and we ran what you might call an amateurish feasibility study. The Sailing Club has an Open Day every year, and that’s the day when they take people out sailing. The public come along and queue up, and they take them out for a sail to give them a taste of it. So we thought, ‘Well, it will be a good idea to try and operate the ferry on a trial basis on Sailing Club Open Day.’
So we got hold of some volunteers, Rod put an advert in the newspaper shop, and that was when Doug Myers, our longest standing ferry skipper turned up and said, ‘I’ve got a boat you can use,’ and he had a nice sturdy little rowing boat. So on Sailing Club Open Day, we ran the trial run for the ferry, and Rear Admiral John le Barber lived in the Ferry Cottage then, and he said, ‘You can use my jetty.’ So we used his jetty, and we had a rowing boat, and we borrowed a gas ring and gas bottle from British Telecom, and had a tea urn over on the Fingringhoe side, and we had the WI – Women’s Institute – brewing tea and selling cakes over at Fingringhoe. And the queue for the ferry was an hour long! Much to the dismay of some of the residents nearby along the Folly – so much so that when we proposed that it was worthwhile doing this, there was actually a whole string of objections from certain waterside residents who didn’t want the ferry to happen, because they thought it would attract – I don’t know what they thought it would attract! All the hobbledehoys, I suppose, and ice cream vans and candyfloss and things like that, which, of course, it didn’t. That trial run, by the way, was so busy, we actually had to borrow another boat as well, so we had two boats going, rowing people over.
So we knew that it would work. So then what we had to do was get some money, and the first donation was £5 from a gentleman in Chaney Road, and then we got some money from the Wivenhoe Society, and Andrew Wheatley gave us an old plywood boat, which we had to rebuild. It wasn’t seaworthy, so we rebuilt it in one of the spare units in the Trade Centre, and we raised enough money to buy an engine, and then we had to go about getting licences, Colchester Borough Council still had the right to issue a Boatman’s Licence, and I’ve got my first and probably one of the last, Colchester Borough Council Boatman’s Licences still. And we then had to be surveyed and insured and, you know, do all the right things, and off we went with this first boat.
We very soon had another regular skipper who was a great character. You may have heard of a gentleman called ‘Billy the Fish’? Billy Mortimer appeared in Wivenhoe, and he looked like a pirate, and he spoke like a pirate, and his teeth were missing, he was just wonderful, and he was a brilliant boatman. He’d operated the oil rig supply ships in the North Sea, but a wonderful character! And I’ve seen Billy – he turned up to do ferry duty, one day, in a dinner jacket, with an umbrella! And it was pouring with rain. And I said, ‘What are you dressed like that for, Billy?’ And he said, ‘I’ve been working last night.’ ‘What were you doing?’ ‘Admissions advisor,’ he said, because he’d been a bouncer! And Billy was great! He never had any problem on the boat, he was a brilliant skipper and a wonderful character. And, of course, sometimes you used to get quite refined ladies sort of step down on the boat, in their nice sort of smart clothes, and you could see them looking with dismay at this piratical character but he soon had them eating out of his hand! And I know, one day a lady went into the Delicatessen, and she’d been on the ferry, and she said, ‘I’ve just been manhandled.’ And, ‘Oh, what happened?’ they said. ‘Well, the ferryman carried me ashore at Fingringhoe,’ and he gave her a fireman’s lift! So they said, ‘Were you upset?’ ‘No, I’m going back for another one!’ He just appeared. We don’t know where he came from, but he appeared, and he used to live rough up on one of the farms. But wonderful character, and sadly, I think some people used to use him as a source of amusement by plying him with more drink than he needed, which I think was pretty poor really. That tended to happen in the Rose and Crown. But anyway, that’s another story. Sadly, Billy died rather suddenly. He was only 47 and he died of a heart attack.
We were aware that the first boat we had was not as stable as we’d like, although it had passed all the required tests – we had to have it surveyed every year – we weren’t really happy with it. And so one of our skippers operated from Rowhedge – we had two skippers at Rowhedge, and sometimes the boat used to moor over there during the week – and this chap said, ‘Oh, I’ve seen a boat which might do,’ and we went up and looked at this boat at Woodbridge, and as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it, because it was actually a Sussex beach boat, and there, before me, were my roots! There was the actual perfect boat – broad-beamed, good for carrying lots of weight – an inshore fishing boat really and called a ‘Sussex punt.’ And so we bought this boat, and that was the one that stood us in good stead for quite a number of years, but although we were licensed to carry ten adults, we always restricted it to eight, because we just felt that ten was too many.
Then we had the engine stolen. That was a bit of a disaster, that was. Somebody came up the river in a boat, and raided all sorts of boats, and they actually took the ferry engine, which was a darned good engine. And that was a marvellous thing really, because we made a story of it, and it hit the press, and it hit the East Anglian Daily Times, we had phone calls from all over East Anglia, offering us engines, and offering us money. They just thought, ‘What a dreadful thing that the poor old Ferry Trust has lost its engine.’ We never got it back. It was stolen the day before the Marks Tey Boat Jumble, so it’s fairly obvious where it went. Anyway, we got another engine, via insurance and donations.
By this time, of course, the Ferry was producing its little booklet, and we were having to raise more money, and find the money for insurance. Just to backtrack, going back to the very start of the proper Ferry operation, we had to get a licence, but we also had to get an Operator’s Licence, not just Boatman’s Licences, and the Rowhedge Waterfront Committee actually owned the rights to the Rowhedge Ferry, because what we were doing, we were replacing two ferries, so they agreed to hand over their bit to us, and so we then had the ferry that ran three ways. That was the first thing.
And the other thing was, we needed somewhere to land at Wivenhoe, and at Rowhedge, and because of all the objections we’d had at Wivenhoe, and they really were going to stop us from operating. We found the answer was that the Wivenhoe Town Council owned the little bit of mud between the old Sailing Club hut and Dennis Wirth-Miller and Richard Chopping’s mooring, and so we got permission to put a jetty there. Now, while this is going on, also the negotiations for moving the Sailing Club are going on, so I was quite occupied with various things, and I’m a great believer in the fact that developers want good publicity, and sometimes you can get things out of them, and I felt that Wivenhoe actually could have got a lot more out of the barrier than they did. And so we approached the builders of the barrier. The National Rivers Authority provided the timber – which was £1,000-worth of green oak – and the builders provided all the fastenings, and NACRO – the National Association for Care and Resettlement of ex-Offenders, or something like that – they built the jetties for us.
So we got the jetties done. But I needed to backtrack and get that little bit of ferry history on. A few years ago, we thought, ‘We really need an even bigger boat,’ and a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, you should have a big boat with an inboard engine,’ but for reasons of ease of operation and maintenance, an outboard engine boat is better, because we’re always getting bits of crabbing line caught round the propeller and you can just hitch the engine up and free it. So we now have a boat which is an ex-Army assault craft, which is absolutely ideal for the job. It looks ugly, it doesn’t look like a boat at all, but it carries its weight, it’s stable, it’s got everything going for it, so that’s what we’ve got at the moment on the Ferry side.
We just about cover our running costs with the fares, but that is getting difficult because the insurance premium is somewhere in the region of £1,500 a year, because we had to have a massive amount of Third Party insurance, so we had to insure the jetties separately. And we now have nice pontoon jetties – the Wivenhoe jetty came as a result of money from the Cory Environmental Trust, which is money from the Landfill Tax. So that was made locally, constructed by Steve Hart, and installed with the aid of the charitable efforts of the Electricity Board and their huge pole-lifting and pole-boring sort of equipment. Wherever we can – we are quite resourceful – if we know we can get somebody to do things for nothing, we’ll do it.
We do have a shortage of skippers at the moment. I still have my Skipper’s Licence. I haven’t been skippering the Ferry for quite a long time, the last two years, but I may need to again this year, because we’re down to five skippers now, and all the skippers have to either have the RYA Power Boat qualification, or the International Certificate of Competence, which is what I’ve got, just to prove that you’re safe. The skipper must have a qualification. But it’s no good, as far as we’re concerned in the Ferry Trust, it’s no good them going and doing an exam and then coming down and saying, ‘I can do it.’ We then see if they’re all right, because they need to learn the boatmanship skills that you need for the river.
Reviving the ferry – Colin Andrews
We belong to the Wivenhoe Society and I was a founder member of the Business Association and also a founder member of the Wivenhoe Ferry. I was very keen as soon as I heard that there was a drive to get the ferry reinstated, which is way back now. Peter Hill has been a driving force in everything – amazing! If ever we offered anyone for a knighthood in Wivenhoe it should be Peter, I think – whatever one’s political outlook – he’s done wonders for the community. He was there at all the meetings, so helpful. Gregg, my son, designed the logo for it – he was on the Committee with me. We only left it when it became very complicated and that was when what I call ‘outsiders’ – people who’d moved to Wivenhoe – and one who seemed to be in big insurance in the City. He painted the scenario of eight millionaire passengers aboard the ferry and it sank in mid-channel and the obligations as regards insurance and it unnerved me a bit, to be honest. That was beyond my comprehension, so they had to take out massive insurance. But all this litigation and everything also makes you a little bit concerned today.
Wivenhoe Ferry Trust – Peter Hill
It was an idea, I think, that grew out of the Wivenhoe Society one year, possibly to do with the Regatta. They had the idea of getting a rowing boat to take people from the old ferry hard across to the other side of the river, a sort of a one-off exercise. But someone came to see me, in fact, Rod Smart, and we agreed that we liked the idea of founding a ferry that could run during the summer months, and so Rod Smart and myself, we managed to get Doug Meyers and Brian Sinclair interested, so the four of us became the four founding Trustees, and we started meeting regularly in the old Sailing Club, which was then above the British Legion Hall, and Andrew Wheatley donated a boat, which we christened the Tern, that needed a bit of repairs to it, and Brian and Doug were particularly handy with that side of things. Richard Allerton had joined us by then, and was Secretary for all of our meetings, and still, to this day, ten years later, is still Secretary! He has been Minutes Secretary for the meetings in that period.
But we started a service in about 1995 from April through to October, just on Saturdays and Sundays, when there were tides during the daytime, and the service started and we would take people from Wivenhoe up to Rowhedge, and back down the river to the other side, to Fingringhoe, drop them off there, and bring them back to Wivenhoe again – a triangular route, three stopping points. There were one or two people around who weren’t terribly happy about the idea of a ferry. One or two people got the wrong idea that it was going to be rather bigger and rather more adventurous, but it’s been heartening to see it’s become a real part of the Wivenhoe fabric. A lot of people use it, these days, as part of either a ramble or particularly the cyclists use it, so we’re now on to our third boat, and we’ve had to improve the landing stages. We’ve wanted to make sure we can accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, whether it’s just infirmity or people in wheelchairs. That’s meant that the original boat really had to be changed, and we’ve changed it a third time more recently. So it’s been a real success story over the last ten years.