Long before there were bridges there were ferries, and in days long gone, landowners, ecclesiastical and municipal authorities maintained the crossings of the river. In days when labour was cheap, the ferries were a valuable source of income not only for the ferryman, who paid for his right to ply the crossing, but for the owners as well. For centuries ferries had an important place in the communications of this country, and the closing of them in the last century has been a loss to the community.
In the 19th century, the Severn Commissioners granted licences annually to operate a ferry, for the ferry was a right of way, and the ferryman had to conform to the regulations and ply his boat between the hours of sunrise and sunset.
Although most ferries were in operation until the Second World War, information concerning them is different to find. Mrs. Berkeley, in 1932 wrote a valuable paper for the Worcestershire Archaeological Society on the Ferries of Worcestershire, for although most were still operating at that time, it was obvious that with the more general use of the motor car, the ferries would be difficult to maintain economically.
The older crossings of the Severn, for even before the ferries came into existence, the crossings at low water, on a hard bar of rock, were under-taken by prehistoric man and his animals. Before the building of the locks and weirs, the tide came daily to Worcester and beyond, but because of these fords, navigation at low water became difficult, if not impossible. At an Admiralty Inquiry of 1849, John Burton, a trowman of Ironbridge, reported that in the 28 miles of river from Coalbrookdale to Stourport there were 54 fords, from Stourport to Worcester there were 11, or one every mile, and from Worcester to Gloucester there were 15 or 16. Not all these fords were used by traveller's, but many were, and when we find roads or trackways leading to the river at these places, we can be sure that, in days past, the crossing was well used.
Few of the ferry houses remain on the river bank, but the waterman's inns, from which some of the ferries were operated, mostly still existed around early 1980, and in the summer months were still alive with laughter and song.
Various Images to be added shortly