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From:M Williamson
Date:21 January 2006
Subject:The Son of a Ferryman

by J Robinson

My grandfather, Thomas Robinson, took over as ferryman at Boothferry in 1918, having worked the ferry of Howdendyke for the previous 30 years. During that time he was authorised to carry mail between the East and West Riding. He told many tales of amusing and sometimes hazardous trips. On one occasion he took a menagerie over the river and each time he took a stroke with the oar, a bear snapped at him until he was knocked out for the count with the loose tiller.

He was joined at Boothferry by his sons Harold and John Henry (known to all as Jack) when they returned from the army after World War One. They ran the ferry between them until the opening of Boothferry Bridge in July 18th 1929, which made the ferry obsolete.

They ferried the first and last motor vehicle over the river before the opening of the bridge. This could be an hair-raising experience. The cars look very precarious in the phototographs. Calamities were not all that common, but drivers did occasionaly continue straight across the deck of the boat and over the other side. It must have been a terrible shock for them, but I never heard of any deaths from these mistakes.

I recall several incidents such as the time when three tramps wished to cross the river, but only one could afford the fare, so he took the clothes and bags of his colleagues and they took to the water to swim across sadly one of them never made it.

On one trip Harold was taking three youths from Howden to Goole side. They were having a laugh and congratulating each other after having a meal at the Percy Arms and getting away without paying. "We dodged that old bat," they said. Halfway over the river Harold stopped rowing and shipped his oars. "This is as far as we go," he said. "Either you pay your fare now plus the price of the meal, or you get out and walk. That old bat is my mother." They paid up!

Horses could be very hard work, both loading and unloading. The horses had to be unhitched and the cart was manhandled onto the boat. There were several regular customers such as a brewer's dray loaded with barrels and a carter carrying all kind of goods. These could be very heavy. The horses were loaded separatly and on several occasions a nervous horse would jump out of the boat and finish up swimming across with the driver holding his halter. The ferry was well used by farmers, pedestrians, cyclists and motorists paying 2d to 4d for a return trip.

Tom, the youngest son continued to live at Howdendyke. His wife Elsie (still doing well at 89) told me of one occasion when the two of them cycled along the river bank to visit the family. They put their cycles in the stable next to the ferryman's cottage and were greeted with moans and curses from just above knee high. It was a legless man; he had gone into the stable to shelter for the night intending to get the ferry the next morning. I remember this character. His legs had been amputated just below the hip and he sat in a leather tray attached by leather strap like braces. In each hand he held a wooden block which he used as feet; swinging his body between the blocks he could get along at quit a speed.

Molly Robinson, a sister of the three brothers, married Bob walker the local farmer, making one big happy family. Their sons still live at the ferry and from what I have been told and from bits I have read, I estimate the family have lived at Boothferry for over 200 years.

There used to be a quoits pitch on the bank top. This consisted of two iron cartwheel tyres set in the ground some distance apart, with a metal spike in the centre of each. The game was played with heavy iron rings or quoits. The object of the game was to throw a quoit from one end of the pitch and to ring the spike at the other end.

The ferry cottages were often flooded at spring tide, but no carpets were ruined, we only had home made rag rugs. My most vivid memory is of the old midden. This consisted of outside toilet with its well scrubbed seat under which was a stone slab sloping down to a pit surrounded by a brick wall. There were two doors in the wall, one high up which all the kitchen waste and other rubbish was thrown through, and the other, a larger door, was used for digging out. Phew! I swear we had flies as big as sparrows.

After the ferry closed, Jack (my father) and Harold were employed on the new bridge. Grandad Tom continued as landlord of the Percy Arms until it closed in the early 30's. He died on the 2nd February 1940. The licence of the Percy Arms was transferred to the Ferryboat Pub at the foot of the bridge approach road, Howden side, where they have a bar known as the Ferry Bar which contains photographs and artefacts of the old ferry.

In pagan times when a bridge was built, a sacrifice was made to appease the water spirtes. A young virgin or a baby was placed in the foundations of the main pillar. When Boothferry Bridge was built the builders took my sister's doll and placed it in one of main pillars. Fortunately there were no babies in the area at the time.

sent in by M Williamson Great Great Grandson of John Henry Robinson