The days of the Hartlepool ferry

IT was a Hartlepool institution for centuries and would have shaped many a town family.

And although the ferry across the harbour entrance may no longer be there, it still brings back fond memories.

CHRIS CORDNER found out more from the experts at Hartlepool reference library.

FOR 400 years, a ferry was part of the daily lives of Hartlepool people – and perhaps for even longer.

It saved travellers a long tour around the Slake as they journeyed to and from the south.

Thanks to Sandra McKay, the reference services officer at Hartlepool Reference Library, we can now bring you details of some great facts about it.

The first written record of such a ferry seems to be in 1600 when the churchwardens, the town’s officials, paid to William Porrett the sum of £8 for a “fferriboote”.

The charge for the use of this ferry is not known, but there was a fine, of 12 (old) pence, for taking the ferryboat without the permission of the ferryman.

However, the ferryman himself was also liable to punishment, a fine of 6 (old) pence or other punishment as might be decided by the Mayor, if he refused to ferry passengers without good cause.

Records show that the ferry’s route in its earliest days was different to the one it took in later years.

It ferried people further to the north in the days before the docks were built between 1835 and 1840.

Those early recorded documents, from a source not known, stated: “It saved foot passengers a considerable detour to the north of the marshy slake, and connected them with the old road along the sands to Stockton.

“Hartlepool Corporation is said to have been obliged to provide a ferry, and the local retired fishermen had the rights to operate it. A pair of flat-bottomed, single-ended boats were used, and payment was made in the boat.”

The boats used were locally made by a company called Pounder’s.

The vessels were “double-ended, of shallow construction, with a broad platform above the stem at each end, and a crew of two (four in bad weather.)

“They could each carry 60 men, and their freeboard was then minimal. They carried no lights at night, and collisions with larger vessels were sometimes avoided only by the combined strength of crew and passengers at the oars.

“The ferry boats were used extensively by workmen at the Middleton shipyards and engineering works, saving a walk of about a mile around the docks from the Headland. The distance was about 300 feet.”

Thanks to Sandra, we also know that one of the earliest ferrymen was Robert Robson. His parents were a Benjamin and Eleanor who married at St Hilda’s Church in 1825.

Benjamin’s baptism record shows he was the second son of Mills Robson and Martha Robson nee Allison, born in 1798.

Further back, records show Mills Robson married Martha Allison in 1793 at St Hilda’s Church.

And in 1772, also at St Hilda’s, Mills, son of John and Jane Robson, was baptised.

We’ll be bringing you more on the ferry and its crew in future weeks.