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Updated:  22 October 2011 

From around the time of the Norman Conquest until 1270 the rights for the ferry from Saltash Passage on the Plymouth side of the river Tamar to Saltash belonged to the Valletort family.  When Roger de Valletort sold Trematon Castle and Manor to Richard Earl of Cornwall, the rent was paid to the Earl’s bailiff.  This amounted to £6 18s in the 1290s.

A busy summer scene at Saltash Passage.  Note the milk lorry arriving from Cornwall.

A busy summer scene at Saltash Passage.
Note the milk lorry arriving from Cornwall.
©  Valentine & Sons Ltd.

The Burgesses of Saltash leased the ferry from the Duchy of Cornwall from 1337 onwards for £10 a year.  The Duchy provided the boat.  They continued to hold the lease except for one year, 1356-57, when the Black Prince leased it to his military porter, William Lenche, in recognition of his services at Poitiers.

In 1385 the rights were granted to the Mayor and Burgesses of Saltash for 200 years.  Rent was always payable to the Duchy of Cornwall although in 1585, 1678, 1683 ad 1774 Queen Elizabeth granted the ‘benefits of passage’.  By 1618 the rent was £20 per year.

On May 29th 1733 the ferry overturned and sank with the loss of 20 lives.  In 1764 the ferry fares were advertised in the “Sherborne Mercury” as 7s 6d for a coach and six horses, 5s for a carriage and four; 2s 6d for a carriage and pair; 1s 3d for one-horse chair.  In 1772 the rent was £223.  In 1804 the rent for working the old horse boat was £360 pa.

In 1832 the Earl of Morley, Mr A Edgcumbe, Sir William Molesworth and Others secured an Act of Parliament so they could purchase ferry rights and establish a steam-powered floating bridge.

The Saltash Floating Bridge Act 2 William IV (1831-32), received the Royal Assent on March 24th 1832.

FERRY 1 was designed by J M Rendel and was built at Pope’s Shipyard at Turnchapel.  It was 80ft long, with two decks and 15ft prows.  It was 30ft wide across the beam.  A new landing slip was constricted near the Devonport Inn and a new approach road built.  It did its first trail run in 1832 in 4½ minutes according to the “Western Luminary”.  It was withdrawn in 1834 for repairs at Stonehouse but never returned.

Oar propelled horse boats were put back on but at the steam-bridge tolls.   Saltash Corporation claimed rights had lapsed by default and ran their own horse-boats at the old rates.  Rights reverted to the Town in 1839 and was celebrated on Boxing Day with the ringing of the church bells.  Ferry 1 was auctioned at Weakley’s Hotel, Devonport, in February 1840.  It lay idle at Hocking’s Yard, East Stonehouse.

On May 31st 1850 a lease was grated for 21 years at a rent of £195 pa to a new company who wanted to re-introduce the steam ferry.  FERRY 2 started running on Tuesday July 1st 1851 and was built of wood by Mr Routleff of Mount Batten Yard, Plymstock.  The iron work and machinery was constructed by Mr J Mare at the Plymouth Foundry.  The length over the prows was 86 feet, the centre deck being 50 feet x 11½ feet and the draught was 18 inches.  The extreme width was 26 feet 6 inches.  On one side were two 6 horsepower condensing engines and on the other the boiler and two cabins.  She held between 80 and 100 passengers plus three carriages with a pair of horses each.  Two cabins were provided for use in wet weather.  [1]

As the ferry was allowed six minutes for the crossing, the timetable was set at four trips an hour, leaving Saltash on the hour and half-hour.  [1]

At the openin g it was announced that the tolls for transportation of cattle had been lowered to encourage greater use of the Ferry.  It was hoped that the Turnpike Trust would do the same for the road into Plymouth.  [1]

After the usual celebratory lunch the good folk of Saltash gathered at the waterside to watch a Regatta.  [1]

In 1865 Ferry 2 was moored too close to the slipway on the Plymouth side and when the tide ebbed the vessel grounded and slid down the muddy slip and sank.  In the morning there was no ferry visible.  Salvage was unsuccessful except for the engines, which were then fitted to FERRY 3, built 1865/66 at a cost of £1,300.  She served for 35 years.

Saltash Ferry

An early Saltash Ferry with only one chain.

FERRY 4 was a steel one built by Messrs Willoughby Brothers Ltd, of Plymouth, and she entered service in December 1891 amid great rejoicing.  The ferry was making a good profit for Saltash and it paid for many improvements to the Town.  She cost £2,200 and was 4ft longer from gate to gate and 10ft wider in the carriageway.  Engines and boilers were on one side; the other was a passenger cabin with stairs to a promenade deck above.  Designed by Mr A M Brumage CE RN she was powered by two surface condensing engines of 12bhp.

After only a few weeks she broke down and the old ferry, which had already been sold for scrap, was brought back.  In 1895 Ferry 4 was temporarily withdrawn again for reboilering by Biddles of Millbay Docks, the service being maintained by a barge lashed to a Reynold’s of Torpoint tug.

FERRY 5 was designed by Mr Tobias Bickle and built by Messrs Willoughby Brothers at a cost of £3,596.  She had room for two rows of four vehicles each, plus horses, and had a promenade deck on each side.  Her chains were 33½ft apart.  The 1891 boat was retained as a reserve and was moored on the St Budeaux side.  The ferry stopped at 11pm except by special arrangement but there was a foot ferry available at night for 10 shillings (compared to 2d during the day!).

At 4pm on Monday October 2nd 1911 the members of Saltash Corporation and their guests boarded the steamer "Prince" for the short trip across the river to where the new ferry was waiting.  As soon as the chains were connected, the engines were started and the ferry bridge was taken in to the shore at Saltash Passage.  There the engines were once again started, this time by Mrs Pryor, the wife of Mr Joseph Pryor, chairman of the Corporation's Ferry Committee.  The first journey across the river was made in record time and was watched by a large, cheering crowd.  A reception was later held in Saltash Guildhall but it is noteworthy that there were no representatives of Devonport Borough Council present.  Messrs Willoughby Brothers were represented by Mr J P James, who proposed the toast "Success to the new ferry bridge", and Mr W Hexter, Mr R W C Barber and Mr S P Stedham.  [2]

Interestingly, while the old ferry was being removed and the new one installed, the service was maintained by the old, antiquated horse-boat, which was sold in 1913 for £2 10s.

On Wednesday September 5th 1917 passage on the Saltash and Torpoint ferries was made free for servicemen and nurses in uniform but not on duty.

FERRY 6 was purchased in September 1927 from Messrs Philip & Son of Kingswear and ferry 4 was sold to Vick Brothers, ship breakers of Plymouth, for £75.  Ferry 6 cost £8,950 and had three rows taking about 15 cars each.  It had mechanically operated prows and was widened by 6ft in 1938 by cutting it down the middle.

Ferry 6 was to go into service on Sunday October 9th 1927 [WMN Sa8/10/1927].  It had arrived from Dartmouth yesterday afternoon (October 6th) and was moored on the Devon side.  It is slightly larger than the old one and is to be used almost immediately [WMN F7/10/1927 + WMN Sa8/10/1927 Ph].

FERRY 7, which was built by Messrs J T Thorneycroft, of Southampton, was to be placed on its chains during the night of Wednesday December 13th 1933 so that it would be in working order by early in the morning.  She was designed by Mr S H Hambling, cost £10,750 and was 73ft long, 42ft beam, had 28ft prows, and could take four rows of 6 cars each.  The Mayor of Saltash was to officially receive the Ferry on Wednesday December 20th 1933.  However, it was still undergoing trials by that day and the ceremony did not take place until December 26th 1933.

In 1935 there was a mishap when Engineman Mr W Gill went astern instead of ahead and stranded the ferry on the Saltash side.

Meanwhile, ferry 5 was sold to the King Harry Ferry for £75 but she was found to be too large and was quickly resold to breakers in Wales.  She sank while under tow off Pentreath.

Both ferries 6 and 7 survived through the War and until closure.  They were painted reddish brown from the waterline up to about 3ft and buff above that, with black funnels.  The ferry ran from Saltash on the hour and half-hour and from Saltash Passage on the quarter and three-quarters.  Saltash residents travelled free if on foot.

In July 1955 the smaller Saltash Ferry was sent to Messrs Willoughby's at Millbay Docks for extensive repairs and the fitting of a new ⅜th inch hull at a cost of £10,000.  But when they tried to move the ferry out of Millbay Docks back to Saltash, she got caught by a stiffening breeze before the tugs got lines to her and careered across the basin for about 200 yards, narrowly missing a steel-hulled lifting vessel but crashing into the Dry Dock wall.  Twenty minutes later, with one tug towing her and a second alongside, the ferry again got caught by a gust of wind and swung almost broadside across the basin and collided with a steel-plated wall.  In addition to a crew of three and a reporter from the Western Morning News, the ferry superintendent, Mr H C Jewell, and a Trinity House pilot were on board.  It took two hours to complete the transfer, twice as long as expected, but went without any further problems.  Once it had been returned to service, the larger ferry was released to undergo repairs, just in time for the Easter holiday.  [3]

During the financial year 1956-57 the Saltash Ferry ran up a loss of £6,613.  It was the first year since the Second World War when the income from tolls actually fell.  In 1955-56 the tolls had raised £28,182 but in 1956-57 that figure was only £26,970.  The annual accounts also revealed that £3,260 had been spent on coal and £8,071 on wages.  Total running costs had amounted to £33,304.  The ferry tolls were increased for that summer.  [4]

The final ferry ran at 11pm from Saltash and 11.15pm from Saltash Passage on October 23rd 1961.   The last car on was driven by Mr P Joblin of Quethiock, a regular on the 11.15pm service.  His was also the last car off, although many mysteriously broke down hoping to be pushed off last!

Ferry 6 was bought in November 1961 by Haulbowline Industries Ltd for £1,750 and was to be towed to Cork in Eire but was swamped and sank 10 miles off Falmouth. 

Ferry 7 was bought by the King Harry Ferry for £2,500 and she was converted from steam to diesel.

During 1929 the Saltash Ferry carried 32,402 vehicles, compared to the Torpoint Ferry carrying 103,161 [WDRO/WI 28/9/1930].

Ferry 6 sank on December 20th 1961 and was the vessel that provided the final service from Saltash Passage at 11.15pm on October 23rd 1961.

Ferry 7 was delivered to the King Harry Ferry on December 11th 1961 but did not enter service until May 14th 1964.

Ferry ran aground [WEH 9/4/1958].

The livery until the Blitz was dark cream and chocolate.  They then emerged as grey with black lining.

The Ferry was used by Princess Elizabeth in October 1949 when she began a two-day tour of the Duchy of Cornwall on October 21st/22nd and was in Plymouth on October 22nd.

SINGLE FARES: non-resident pedestrians 2d; cars 1/6d; coaches 10s.

Ferry changeover took place twice a year during the night and took about 5 hours to complete.

The Ferry House Inn on the Devonport side was leased by the ferry company to Plymouth Breweries.

Last day of operation was October 23rd 1961 but a special trip was made from Saltash at 4.30pm on Tuesday October 24th.

Times in 1955/56 from  St Budeaux were: weekdays, every ½ hour 6.15am until 7.45am; shuttle service 8.15am until 5.45pm; every ½ hour 6.15pm until 11.15pm.

Sources (incomplete):

[1]  "Saltash: Floating Bridge, Regatta, etc.", Plymouth, Devonport & Stonehouse Herald, Plymouth, July 5th 1851.

[2]  "Saltash New Ferry: Successful First trip", Western Morning News, Plymouth, October 3rd 1911.

[3]  "Ferry Crashes Against Dock Walls Twice: 2 tugs struggle to control her", Western Morning News, Plymouth, March 29th 1956.

[4]  "Saltash Ferry Had £6,613 Deficit", Western Morning News, Plymouth, December 27th 1957.

©  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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