Waterways of the Humber

Waterways of the Humber

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Ferry at Booth

It’s quiet on the river now, but for centuries the ferry at Booth was so important it eventually gave its name to the nearby area of Boothferry.

The barrier of the Humber, and the four major rivers at its upstream end, was crossed most easily at Booth, although “easily” is a relative term.  The rivers are all tidal and the incoming flow is very fast, with the ebb slower but sometimes swollen by fresh water draining away.

Nevertheless, the ferry’s location is strategic  -  the Ouse is narrower than the Humber, it’s the first place where the Ouse is crossable, and on the south bank it gives access to a wide geographical area (including the Great North Road at Doncaster), without crossing another major river.  Hull’s nearest crossing point was Booth, so south-based traffic to and from that major port ensured a steady stream of customers, including stage-coaches during their brief thirty-year ascendancy from 1810.  The horses had to be un-hitched and the coach manhandled up and down the often slippery ramps, then fresh horses harnessed up for the next miles.  The stage-coach names evoked speed  -  the Eclipse, the True Briton, the John Bull  -  but the only thing speeding along at Booth was the River Ouse.

In May 1893 an eye-witness account tells of one ferry carrying ten calves in the body of the boat with ten men standing on the bulwarks.  The next load was fifteen sheep and lambs, five farmers, a dog and himself  -  the loading was going well until the whole flock broke loose and some of the fat farmers were nearly capsized.  The dog flew out, the drovers swore, and the onlookers smiled.  Eventually the creatures were got onboard, only for two lambs to spring overboard before being recovered.

c1910 on south bank - how long did it take to load
a car, people, and a horse and cart?
This sort of scene had gone on for more centuries than were recorded, as had the ferrymen using the boat to catch migratory salmon coming up the Ouse each year  -  getting to the fish before the pursuing porpoises and bottle-nosed whales.

The ferryboats were rowed across, usually with one large oar at the stern, and another near the bows.  In 1914 one was fitted with an engine, but spares were difficult to obtain during the war so the boatmen went back to rowing over.

OK, so who would trust their
car to this?
After the First World War the ramps were improved with smoother surfaces as more cars were using the crossing.  By the 1920s the public pressure for a bridge to be built at Booth could not be resisted.  Shipping was still using the river to access wharfs further upstream at Selby so the bridge would have to be moveable.  The first girders were lifted into place on 1 June 1927, eventually the new Boothferry Bridge would be 698ft long, with a swing-span giving a 125ft wide shipping channel.

At the closing of an era the last ferry crossed the Ouse on 17 July 1929, the day before the official opening of the bridge.

Boothferry Bridge open c1900 - a rare sight today
(that tug looks a bit off channel)
Boothferry Bridge seldom swings now, shipping going no further upstream than the nearby Howdendyke wharves.  Barges obtain various contracts to deliver further upstream but I’m not aware that they require the bridge to open.  The crossing is still busy with local traffic and that on the A614, although most volume is on the M62, the bridge of which swoops high above the Ouse a little further downstream.

There’s little to see now where Booth’s ferry was so busy, so noisy, for so long.  But on the north bank some of the buildings remain, although vastly improved and extended.  Standing on the north bank of the ferry crossing, looking downstream to Boothferry Bridge, beyond that to the M62 viaduct, and down to the swiftly flowing waters of the River Ouse  -  a reminder that crossing large rivers is never easy.

 The following pictures are dated
8 May 2012

Looking across to the north bank. The buildings are the three on the right in the picture of c1910.

The buildings on the north bank, although much altered.

On the north bank, looking across to the south bank ferry landing. Here, only a solitary piece of timber near the water's edge shows the location of the old ferry ramp.

Boothferry Bridge.

Boothferry Bridge from the area of the ferry landing.

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