The Ferries

For many hundreds of years, the English and Welsh bridges were the main passage to the Town, though concurrently there will have been a number of ferries. However, documentary evidence for their origins and existence before 1732 is not yet available. The issue being confused as some ferries were not used continuously. In the 19th Century, the proliferation of Evans’ and confusions over the identity of specific buildings has also frustrated complete identification of ferries and their operators. There were at different times at least four ferries in the area south of the Town, between the Bridges. Thus, Tisdale’s map of 1875 (Fig. 1) showed ferries at Greyfriars, near the Cann Office in Kingsland (connecting to Crescent Lane), at the Quarry, and at Porthill by the Boat House Inn.

While the ferries could have been simply paddled across originally, photographs before and after 1880 show the Cann and Quarry ferries to have used a fixed line probably of rope. The Porthill ferry certainly used rope as there is a record8 of the Pengwern Boat Club paying £2.5.6 for a new rope in 1877.

Cann Office ferry

This is likely to have a long and interesting history, but its origins are uncertain. A ferry boat with a ferryman with punt-pole and passenger is clearly shown on the river below Kingsland Bank in S & N Buck’s etching of a South west prospect of Shrewsbury in 1732. Though this ferry is not shown on the Rocque map for 1752, the Cann Office is shown. There is also a reference to a Kan [sic] Office in indentures for 1738 and 1748 and to highway repairs for the “Boat House and Can Office” in a 1750 rating assessment.10 The derivation of the name Cann Office is uncertain. The name may have the same origin as the Cann Office Hotel at Llangadfan near Welshpool. (The latter is now believed to be named after an inn which showed the sign of Three Cannes and which also served as a post for hiring horses – hence Cann Office). A historical note in Eddowes for 1882 11 suggests the Kingsland Cann Office was a “public house” in 1795, though this has not been confirmed. Thus, the Kingsland Cann Office might have combined at some stages an Inn, a ferry and a staging post. An Inn in the area was certainly viable, and would have been useful public amenity for Kingsland.

The ferry seems to have been out of use by 1827 but active again around 1834. A boathouse beside the river was marked in the Wood map for 1838. A writer in 1893 12 stated the Cann Office ferry was opened by Mr Vaughan in 1834 “I saw the boat when first put on the river, and saw the young Mr Vaughan painting the hut for the man to shelter in (the boat keeper)..” An advertisement in 1836 showed the Drapers Company selling the Cann Office together with “the ancient and productive Ferry over the River”. The 1841 Census listed a boatman Thomas Gittins at the boathouse. Fred Vaughan aged 30 of independent means was also listed. The Tithe register for 1844 showed the land still owned by the Drapers Company but leased to Fred Vaughan who was probably living at the Cann Office (Kingsland Bank).

Around 1849, the Cann Office, land and associated buildings including the ferry and boathouse (some 4 acres) were sold by the Drapers Company to the Burrs. In the 1851 Census, the Kingsland boathouse was occupied by John Evans, a 58 year old carpenter, with a wife and house servant. It is not known if John Evans was also the ferry man – he was still living there in 1861. Pidgeon in his Memorials of Shrewsbury (1837) recommends the Can (sic) Office ferry. Shortly before 1863, Messrs Burr offered to replace the ferry with a suspension bridge which they would erect across the Severn at their own expense provided that the Council would allow them the same toll as taken on their ferry. This handsome offer was declined.

The ferry and the boathouse are marked in the Tisdale map for 1875, and the OS map for 1882. The street directories in the 1880s record regular changes of ferry boatmen presumably at this site e.g. T. Morris in 1880, S. Willcox in 1882 and C. Onions in 1886. Photographs about this time showed a simple single-storey hut-like building.

No ferry boatman was recorded at this location in later directories. The ferry and boathouse are not marked in the OS map for 1902 (Fig. 9) and so were presumably defunct by then, which accords with a local resident’s account.13

The Quarry (School) ferry

No ferry or boathouse is shown at this site in the Bucks’ etching of 1732 or in the Rocque map of 1752, though a building is marked on the other bank (town-side) of the Severn in the line of the tree-lined avenue from Claremont Street. This building might have served a ferry. (A building on this site on the town-side does not reappear on later maps or photographs until after 1903 – a postcard in 1909 shows a small hut on the site).

An advertisement for 1789 referred to two fields on lease near the Quarry boathouse but it is not known if this referred to the Quarry or Porthill ferries. However, there was a clear reference to a ferry at the Quarry site in a meeting of the Directors of Shrewsbury Poor House and the Guardians of the Poor in 183114. This recorded the “Boathouse & two gardens” as having provided a rent of £70 in 1828 and a similar rent in 1830. A riverside “boathouse” on the Kingsland side of the river was first marked in the Hitchcock map of 1832 and again in the Wood map of 1838. The 1844 Tithe map and register recorded a John Evans occupying the boathouse on this site on land leased from or owned by the Guardians of the Workhouse. The 1851 Census lists John Evans at the Quarry ferry, aged 36, married with two children and employing two house servants. He is described as a brick and tile dealer. An advertisement of 1845 shows he also hired boats – presumably he also ran the ferry business, possibly with hired help. Photographs show this “boat house” to be on the site of the 18th Century Dye house. This double-fronted house continues today next to the new School boat house, though its appearance is altered by replacement of the original gabled roof by a flat roof.

Pidgeon (1863) also refers to a ferry in this position. In 1875, the School became owners of the land containing the Quarry boathouse and ferry. Watton cited15 the receipts from the ferry in 1876 as at least £150 per year.They either managed the ferry themselves or leased it to others. A small hut next to the house and by the river was first seen in Wood’s map of 1833, continued in Tisdale’s map and in photographs prior to 1882. This hut presumably provided shelter for the man operating the ferry and hiring our boats and perhaps also for his clients. Around 1882, photographs showed the hut area was extended.

Despite the adjacent Kingsland Bridge, which actually opened in 1882, a photograph in Pendlebury & West confirmed the ferry was still operational in 1930, while a Shrewsbury Guide for 1936 advised tourists to cross the Severn by means of the Schools ferry (as it was then known). For a period around 1919 a Kingsland resident recalled16 that both the Ferry and Bridge tolls were 1/2 penny, however another resident remarked that in the 1930’s she always took the School Boat because it was significantly cheaper than crossing by the bridge (which then cost 1 penny each way for each adult or child). Another resident affirms that the ferry was available for public hire and not just for staff and pupils from Shrewsbury School. This ferry is believed to have operated until about 1939.

Grammar School Boat House

From 1886, the Grammar School Boat House was recorded separately with J. Bevington as the keeper, and George Goucher age 28 was recorded here in the 1891 Census as a boatbuilder and shipwright, and in the 1899 directory as the keeper.

Porthill ferry

The Bucks’ etching of 1732 shows a ferry at this site coming from the present Boathouse Inn (displaying a hanging sign on the front aspect) and passengers waiting on the Town bank. The ferry was not shown in the Rocque map of 1752. The Boathouse Inn contains early 17th Century timber framework at the rear and presumably dates at least from that time. There would have been a good economic and practical rationale for this ferry as the old Welsh Bridge was further away than at present and charged tolls until 1793 at a time when the present bridge was under construction. A ferry on this site was shown in the Hitchcock map for 1832 and the Wood map for 1838.

The Pengwern Boat Club was formed in 1835 and rented a building from the Harwood’s. Around this time, Shrewsbury School also kept their boats at Harwood’s boathouse. The 1844 Tithe Register confirmed the boathouse and gardens at Porthill were owned by Charles Harwood, though the 1851 Census showed Miss Harwood as the householder. There is a record17 that Mr Loxdale refused to use this ferry, presumably, in February 1857 when he found a seventeen old girl on duty. Mr Harwood was reprimanded for this and told that no young girl or boy was competent to manage a boat during a flood, and to agree that the ferry should be manned by competent persons, or permits to operate a ferry would be withdrawn. In the 1871 Census, David Evans aged 26 was recorded as the Ferry proprietor living at the Pengwern Boathouse with his widowed mother Anne and employing a servant/labourer. The Pengwern Boat Club minutes9 showed them renewing the tenancy of a Mrs Evans, which allowed her use of the landing stage, housing and for her assistance with the boats, and for the use of the Ferry for members, for boating business only, for the sum of £26, from the 1st April (1873) until the 1st of February (1874). By arrangement with Mrs Evans, the Pengwern Boat Club became tenants of the boathouse at Candlemas Day 1877 with Thomas Hoare in charge of the ferry. Thomas Hoare was appointed as trainer and caretaker for the Boat Club in 1877. In July 1879, at meeting of the Pengwern Boat Club held at the Lion Hotel9, the Club agreed to charge schoolboys using the ferry and “engaged at work at the New Schools” a single fare for the double journey. This confirms Shrewsbury School activities on Kingsland (presumably rowing as the School did not move to Kingsland until 1882). The Pengwern Boat Club appear to have continued in possession of the Ferry and boathouse until 1880.

In the 1891 Census, John Rogers aged 33 was keeping the “Severn Hill Inn”, (this change of housename could have followed the Pengwern Boat Club moving out). John Rogers was then described as an Innkeeper and ferry boat man employing two servants including a 16-year-old barge ferry boy. The ferry was marked in the 1902 OS map and in street maps around 1905. It seems likely that ferry services stopped around 1920. The new Porthill pedestrian suspension bridge was erected in 1922 and it seems unlikely that a toll-paying ferry could continue to be viable.

New Pengwern Club Boat House

The land for this was purchased from Mr P. A. Beck on behalf of his mother for £200 in 1881. The new boathouse was erected the same year with J. L. Randall as architect and built by Hudson, Lindner & Co9 at a cost of £888. The Pengwern Boat Club accordingly moved from their rented building at Porthill. There is no suggestion that their new boathouse was used as a ferry. In 1881 Thomas Hoare aged 38, a waterman, was living at the new Pengwern Boat House. The 1891 Census described Thomas Hoare as the manager of the Pengwern Boat Club and he continues there until at least 1910. Frank Gale wasdescribed as the keeper in 1916 and 1928 Street Directories.

Next chapter: The Case for Development


5 thoughts on “The Ferries”

  1. There is an article in The Salopian magazine (Winter 2019-2020) with a photo of the Kingsland Ferry in use in 1939 or 1940 when being used to transport Cheltenham College boys across the river when that school was temporarily housed in Shrewsbury at the start of the war.

    The ferry was subsequently dumped in the field near to where I used to live (1950-c1962) and I and my friends used to play on it. One side was seriously damaged and I wonder if it had suffered a collision.


  2. Thomas Hoare was my great grandfather and his Doggett’s coat and badge are in a showcase at Pengwern Boat Club. He died in 1918 and is buried in the old cemetery in Shrewsbury.


  3. Common opinion seems to be that the small house which is part of the Shrewsbury school boat house complex was once an inn called the “Prince of Wales”. I can’t find any evidence to support this. Does anyone know if this was the case?


      1. I asked an old Salopian who was widely acknowledged to be very knowledgeable about the history of the school. He said he had never heard of this. He said it certainly wasn’t an inn during the time that the school had occupied the site. He said it was unlikely before this though there was a slim possibility as Kingsland was used as a “day out” location by the townsfolk. I’ve looked through the census and it is not a public house in any of those. However, this “Prince of Wales” public house is a widely held view locally.


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