Flashback to 2004: Historic River Severn ferry back in action

Fingers were firmly crossed as a ferry was put through its paces ahead of the relaunch of a historic river crossing.

Major Adrian Coles takes a ride on the Hampton Loade ferry with children from Dower House School, Quatt, and ferry operator, Darren Page
Major Adrian Coles takes a ride on the Hampton Loade ferry with children from Dower House School, Quatt, and ferry operator, Darren Page

There has been a ferry over the River Severn at Hampton Loade since the 16th century.

Originally the crossing was used by farm and forge workers but may have provided a route across the Severn during Medieval times.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Hampton Loade became the home of a thriving iron-smelting forge, using peat as a fuel and water power for bellows. Many of the cottages in the village were built to house forge workers.

In more recent times, the much-loved ferry has become something of a visitor attraction.

So there plenty of concern when in 2003 its future was thrown into doubt after it came away from its moorings.

Hampton Loade New Ferry Boat at Blist Hill Victorian Museum, pic Mark Deakin-Segal (Site Carpenter).

This prompted fears over how long it could continue to carry cyclists and foot passengers in its current state.

But the Countryside Agency and The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust stepped in to rebuild the ferry, which carries cyclists and foot passengers across the River Severn.

The Agency awarded a grant of more than £17,000 to fund the building of a new ferry by staff at Blists Hill Victorian Town.

Helen Morgan, from the Countryside Agency, said: "Our funding has covered the building of the ferry, improving the infrastructure and insurance.

"However, continued fundraising will be needed to keep the ferry operating.

"This is a really worthwhile project which links the needs of transport, tourism access and heritage to the countryside and we are delighted to team up with the master craftsmen at the museum to bring it to fruition."

A team of traditional craftsmen from the museum including carpenters, engineers and a blacksmith worked on the project using traditional skills and materials, such as wrought iron rolled in Blists Hill Victorian Town’s historic rolling mill.

Tom Jones, Peter Stoddad and Mark Deakin-Segal at work on the new Hampton Loade ferry being built at the Blist Hill Museum.

Museum curator Traci Dix-Williams said: “The museum is delighted to be involved in the project and show how traditional skills and materials are still relevant in today’s high-tech world.

“The ferry holds fond memories for many local people and is of significant historic interest.”

Darren Page, owner and operator of the ferry, said he was delighted, adding: “The present ferry is in a very poor state and is unlikely to last much longer, so we are thrilled to have secured both the funding and the skills we need to replace it.”

Darren took over the ferry route in 1995, on the retirement of Kathleen Evans and Annie James who operated it for four decades.

Border Hardwood in Wem provided the oak for the construction of the new ferry and craftsmen used traditional and contemporary skills, employing techniques similar to those used on Thames barges, with 450 bolts and 50 kilos of pitch.

The boat weighed between three and four tonnes and measured 20 feet by nine feet.

Having a splashing time ... children from Dower House School, Quatt, near Bridgnorth take a ride on the new ferry at Hampton Loade. Pictured are, from left, Imogen Bullock, six, Ella Wheeler, six, Rupert Granger, five.

When work was complete, the new ferry underwent rigorous trials to ensure it was safe for public use.

There was also an eventual aim to bring the new National Cycle Way to the crossing point.

And it was hoped that the cycleway would link with the ferry enabling tourists to cross the river en- route.

Darren said: "The popularity of local attractions, as well as local walks and activities makes this ferry a vital link."

An official opening ceremony took place and the new boat, which could carry 12 passengers. was tested out by a group of youngsters from the Dower House School in Quatt, led by operator Darren.

As they crossed the river, the youngsters sang a song they had written especially for the great occasion.

School children from Dower House School, Quatt, near Bridgnorth take a ride on the new ferry at Hampton Loade

One of the dignitaries to try out the ferry yesterday was Councillor Elizabeth Yeomans, district councillor for Chelmarsh.

She said: "The ferry is at the heart of our area, and it is wonderful to see the tradition being carried on. It will be used by local people.

"Hopefully it will also help to boost tourism around this area. It is a very important part of our community."

Helen said: "The ferry is an attraction in its own right. But it also links communities on both sides of the river, as well as heritage sites such as Dudmaston Hall, and the new Route 45 cycleway.

"It will also serve the Severn Valley Railway and the Countryside Explorer bus route.

"The whole project is an excellent example of sustainable solutions on the ground.

Chairman of Shropshire County Council, Major Adrian Coles, who was also invited to attend the official launch, said the ferry was of historic value.

He said: “I’m delighted to be able to be present and want to congratulate them on restoring this.

“As an important part of our history it is a good thing to have it back again,’ he added.

Paul Gossage from the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, which incorporates Blists Hill, said building the ferry had been a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved.

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