Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 15:41 UK
Ferries across the Severn

Eric Pugh's footage of Tintern and Beachley in 1963 (NB This film is silent)

By Andy Roberts
BBC South East Wales

Before the Severn Bridge opened, boats and ferries crossed the river between Aust and Beachley for centuries.

The lords of Tidenham owned passage rights from the 12th to the 19th century and built stone piers in 1825.

The railways caused the demise of the ferries but they restarted in 1926 to cater for the boom in motor traffic.

Tim Ryan remembers how school children would rush to the river to glimpse stars like the Beatles and Tom Jones until the Severn Bridge opened in 1966.

Tim Ryan remembers the days of the old River Severn ferries near Chepstow

Bob Dylan was captured waiting at the Aust terminal in May 1966 by his official tour photographer Barry Feinstein in one of the most famous rock images ever.

It was a pivotal moment in Dylan's career - he'd just begun a UK tour in which he was controversially moving from folk to rock.

He was waiting to catch the ferry en route to a gig at Cardiff's Capitol Theatre, having been booed at the Colston Hall in Bristol the previous night for playing electric guitar.

A week later Dylan would famously be branded "Judas" by a disgruntled folk fan at Manchester's Free Trade Hall.

The times were also changing for the Severn ferries - barely visible in the background of Feinstein's photograph is the almost-completed Severn Bridge, which opened three months later in September 1966.

The bridge caused the ferries' demise, but they are still fondly remembered - especially by enthusiasts devoted to preserving the remaining vessels.

Do you have any memories of the Severn ferries? Send them by email to

Bill French
I am now a grumpy old man and proud of it. However I was once young and carefree and I like a few other people writing about the ferries. I was the same as a few of your writers a resident at Sedbury Park School becoming school captain in my last three years there. As a result I had more privileges than most of the boys. My biggest privilege was to go down to the ferry at Beachley on a Saturday and Sunday and work. This was a period in my life that shaped my future. I remember the Bristol Brabazon flying overhead and the Bristol Britannia crash landing on the mudflats on the Bristol side of the river. I think the pilot's name was Bill Pegg. Anyway working the ferries was great as were the crews.

Eric Pugh from Hay-on-Wye
My Mum and Dad together with my then future wife and myself took a car trip down to Tintern in 1963. We visited the ferry site at Beachley and I took some 8mm film of the trip including the ferry loading and unloading.

Henry Barrow, Caerphilly
My one abiding memory of the ferry is from 1953. My cousin, George James, was much older than me and owned a brand new Jaguar. He took me and another cousin to Southampton to see the Spithead Review. Coming off the ferry on the English side, probably showing off a bit, he 'bottomed' the car. I can still hear it now. The exhaust was a bit noisy all the way to our destination and probably cost him a few bob to get fixed. I know he was much more circumspect getting on and off the ferry coming home.

Bill Price, Tredegar
I was in Sedbury Park approved school 1954-55. They used to send me down to work on the ferry pier, Aust and Beachley side. The two ferries were Severn King and Severn Queen. I used to enjoy working down there and meeting different people.

Les Davies, Abercynon
I too was in Sedbury Park School, and worked on the quayside catching rope ferrymen threw over the side to attach around an iron buoy so the ferry would not get pulled back out. I had 14 shillings (70p) on a Saturday 1959/64.

Richard Jones, Torfaen
When I was in Sedbury Park approved school during 1960 to 1963, I was occasionally sent down the ferry to work as a pier boy. I still remember those days, and will never forget captain Ben Brown of the Severn Queen. I have included those times in a book that I have written.

Gary Watkins, Undy
Ben Brown was my dad and I always remember him telling me stories about his days on the ferries. I am just sad that he never lived to tell them to my boys.

Peter Sandrovitch
Ben Brown and Wesley Banfield will go down in memory as two lovely and kind people who brought pleasure and honesty to everyone they met on trips across the Severn on the ferry.

Paul Maher, Edinburgh
I lived in Bristol in the late 60s early 70s. As a youngster we used to play in the derelict ferry terminal and all along the pier. Amazing to see that some of it is still standing!

Reg Woolley Nuneaton ex Port Talbot
I have some place the last year's timetable from the Aust Ferry. I guess it's worth a lot now. I can remember as a four-year-old going over in its last year. I asked my mum and dad for my wellies as I thought I was going to have to paddle over!

Peter Harrison, Gloucester
I lived near Bristol and as a 17 year old in 1958 my first job was in Barry. I used the Aust ferry every week with my motorbike and I almost always got straight on as when they finished loading the cars. The bikes and motor cycles were squeezed in between them. It was a long, cold journey around Gloucester if I missed the boat, but in those days you could put a motorbike in the goods van and travel by train from Pilning to Severn Tunnel Junction. I always preferred the excitement of the ferry!

Ronald Jones, Folkestone, Kent
During the war, I was evacuated to Aberystwyth. I was only 12 years old and I was sent to Sedbury Park approved school, not for anything serious, just for sagging school. Reaching the age of 14 I was allowed to work on the ferries at Beachley. I was the pier boy, and sometimes I went as deck boy. I am 76 years old now and I have some wonderful memories of the Severn Queen and the Severn King.

Mick Smith, Wexford, Ireland
I lived in Bristol as a child and my grandparents frequently took me and my sister down to what remained of the old ferry pier. It's always been my favourite place and when I eventually asked my wife to marry me that's where I did it!

Huw Rees from Cwmtwrch
Used to go on holidays to Cornwall in the late 50s and early 60s. It was far more exciting using the Aust ferry than having to go to Gloucester and then down to Cornwall. What memories.

Bob Richardson-Aitken
My parents lived in Chepstow and, when I was stationed in Warminster, I used to use the ferry in both directions at the weekend. The skippers were Bill Groves, Ben Brown and Mr Palmer whose Christian name I cannot recall. Ron Blight ran the ticket office. Queues in the summer could stretch back as far as the beach where the William Ashburner was beached.

Brian Powell, Hampshire
Being born in Sedbury, I remember very well the ferries leaving Beachley for Aust. I was also an apprentice at the apprentices school for 3 years. It's amazing more cars did not roll into the Severn.

Steve Durnell, Port Talbot
I remember going to Bristol Zoo in the mid-60s and it was an all day adventure. A 1956 Vauxhall Velox (SGW 52) that would break down at least three times en route (both ways!), watching the deckhands pulling the turntable around, stopping at Sylvia's in Llanmartin on the way, Tizer pop, dad doing his nut! Mam being Mam (a diamond!) and home very late hoping for the day off from school tomorrow because Mam would miss the alarm!

Ann Rees
My family 'Whitchurch' worked on the Beachley Aust Ferry in 1854. John Whitchurch was a boat man and Robert Thomas was a waterman. Has anyone any information on this?

Colin Chapman, Hinckley
Re Ann Rees's query: The Beachley-Aust ferry was lost with all hands on 1 September 1839: including Captain Whitchurch and his son William aged 17. The same thing happended on 12 March 1844, the master, James Whitchurch was the son of the captain lost in 1839. A third loss occurred on 30 April 1855 but I have no details of crew. In all three cases the boat was named the "Despatch".

Neil Whitchurch, Hereford
My family worked on the ferry in the 1800s and early 1900s. Captain Whitchurch referred to by Colin Chapman is almost certainly my great, great, great, great grandfather, William, who died in 1839, aged 49, and was buried at Aust Chapel. I travelled down to the Pier about 10 years ago just to have a look.

Ron Stokes
I live on Beachley Pier - I worked as pier boy at Aust and Beachley until I went to sea in 1958 at 16.

Stephen Morgan, Uley, Gloucestershire
I was nine when I first was introduced to the Severn Queen. My father had bought her when she was put out of service to use as a crew rig for the demolition of the Severn Rail Bridge back in 1969. I have photos of me steering her down the canal from Gloucester Docks. I still have vivid memories of this whole event especially being captain for a brief moment in this vessel's history. I believe she was beached and destroyed as the tide went out during the demolition of the bridge.

Rob Western from Middlesbrough
From about 1958 to 1962 I often cycled from Henbury, Bristol to Lydney and back on a Sunday to visit relatives. The trip took in the Aust ferry, exciting to us boys watching cars slip and slide and the vagaries of high and low tide. If it was very windy we would get thoroughly soaked at the bow of the 'Severn Queen' or 'Severn Princess' and would eat sandwiches and throw bits of bread into the river to see the speed of the tide.

Dorian Willliams, Santa Rosa, California, USA
At 15 years of age living in St Briavels during 1941, some Sundays I'd cycle to Hotwells in Bristol via Beachley Ferry. I well remember after being so hot from cycling waiting for the ferry and being chilled, thin shirt etc. The whole voyage I really felt the cold. At the middle of the channel the distance to either shore seemed to me to be further than the distance of the entire stretch viewed from the shore. Incidentally one morning I saw the 'England's Glory' ship steaming down the Channel. What a wonderful sight.

Mike Saunders, Colchester, Essex
As a small boy staying with my grandfather Reg Saunders, late of Hanbury garage Chepstow, I would travel to Beachley Point. After a soft drink and a bun at the ferry crossing point cafe I would travel back on forth all day - very fond memories of the Severn ferries.

Carol Adkinson (nee Ward) now in Suffolk
I was born in Bulwark, near Chepstow, and the bus ride to Beachley used to be one of the highlights of our leisure time when I was little. I can remember watching the ferries, and the trip across and back over the river was excitement indeed. But - even more exciting was watching the cars come off the ferries. They were positioned on a round, pulled with ropes to move the whole thing so the car pointed towards the ramp, then had to drive off. Many times we saw cars kangaroo across the jetty, and hang perilously over the side of the jetty! When the tide was in, this was even more hazardous! What fun for small children - perhaps not so much fun for those affected! I can also remember the picnics we had where the pylons now are. And the time my sister Linda and I were 'rescued' by lads from the Beachley Apprentices' School when we were down on the foreshore, and carried up to 'safety'. What a wonderful childhood we had - and I do hope my children have such happy memories of holidays in Wales, as we had living there.

Mike Jones, Melbourne, Australia
My father used to look after the three ferries and their engines. As a boy, on weekends and school holidays I would spend all day going back and forwards across the river with Ben Brown skipper of the Severn Queen. They were great days.

Mike Lewis, Callington
I remember making the crossing on my BSA 350cc motor bike in 1965. The "big end" had gone in the engine between Plymouth and Llantrisant. I had a school chum on the back and we had to push the bike off the ferry on the far side and up the wet slippery ramp. We fell over twice before eventually getting to the top. I made it, just, to relatives in Llantrisant and had to bring the bike back by train. What a journey!

Jackie Evans, West Midlands
I used to be terrified of going on the ferry because I always thought that we would sink! I used to pray that they would be called off because of the weather and that we would have to drive the long way around Chepstow!

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