The Water Gate and the Ferry

  • 19 Mar 2019
  • Historical Studies
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The Priory Ferry, or Cathedral Ferry, worked until the mid-20th century. It had originally been established for the convenience both of monks and milk-maids, who would otherwise have had to be taken the circuitous route through the City to the Severn ridge st the bottom of Newport Street, for there was no riverside walk as there is today.

For the convenience of the boatman, and for defence , the Water Gate, a strong sandstone gate with post-cullis and double doors was built in the high stone walls guarding the City from a river attack. Part of the wall still stands to give some idea of their height at the higher promenade in front of the Cathedral west door. 

William Power, the Cathedral Cellarer, built the Water Gate in 1378. The Power family held much land immediately south of Worcester in Norman and Plantagenet  times - on the rent of a lamprey! 

The use of both ferry and gate was the subject of very stringent regulations, still on record, and among them one that forbade the opening on Sunday of anything more than a wicket-gate, and that only for the milkmaids and herdsmen attending the Priory cattle - and the Vicar of St. John's, and the company that he should bring with him.

The names of successive ferrymen have been preserved. Notable is that of a woman, Betty Webb, who was appointed in 1750, and kept the post for 43 years. Hence the boathouse where she lived became commonly known as ' Betty's of the Boat', a name which caught popular fancy, and was still used in Victorian times. The ferry boat was always named 'Betty'. Mrs Henry Wood made this ferry the scene of a dramatic incident in her story of the Channings, and here the popular but absent-minded Dean of Worcester, Dr. Gott, had a narrow escape from sharing the experience of the Channing boy.

In 1843, a large sturgeon was caught in the Severn at Diglis Draft. It was placed on the ground against the wall behind the south door of the Water Gate, and it's shape cut out with a chisel to show its size. To someone who knows what to look for, it can still be seen today.