Pill Ferry and it’s Environs

Margaret R. Bunce August 1993

I first became interested in the Ferry and the slipway earlier in the year (1993) when Mr. Denis Dickens, a retired hobbler, contacted Mrs. Webster about the safe keeping of two Deeds of Covenant relating to the slipway dated 1966 and 1976 which they had instigated back in the ’60s On their behalf I made enquiries and have lodged them with the Somerset Records Office at Taunton. From that time I have been trying to collect information about the ferry – Somerset Records Office said they had none, there was little in the Bristol Reference Library (Latimer, Domesday Book, Graham Farr’s ‘Somerset Harbours’  and Gloucester Records Office say there may be something in the Berkeley Castle records as there are some 60 mentions of the Portbury Hundred but they charge £20 an hour for research and only they could visit the Castle so I didn’t follow that one on, but I am grateful to Berwyn Buck, Iris Dickens, Albert Sharp and Caroline Webster and Martin Davies – retired solicitor for their contributions.

The beginnings of the ferry are unknown but it is probable that the Romans and even the Ancient Britons may have used the crossing as both had camps in the area, the latter at Stokeleigh and Cadbury Camp and the former at Sea Mills and Portishead, both equidistant from Pill.

To try and investigate the history of the ferry, which was listed in ancient documents as the Most Ancient of British Ferries situated at the lowest part of the River Avon, one has to realize how the Hundred of Portbury came under the jurisdiction of William the Conqueror and has to delve back a little into history. (For those who wonder what a Hundred was it was a sub-division of the Shire made for the purposes of royal justices Peace and defence, which was again divided into ‘Tithing’s’ or groups of men, each of which was responsible for the behaviour of every other member of the same tithing and was pledged to produce any criminal among them for justice. Easton (in Gordano) was part of the hundred of Portbury and included the hamlet of Crockerne Pill upon which it depended for its good anchorage and regular crossing).

Nothing much is known of the district until the Saxons when the Gordano Valley became part of the earldom of the West Saxons (Wessex, the shire of Somerset and the Hundred of Portbury. Edward the Confessor (1040-10663 married the daughter of Godwin Earl of -Wessex. He was a weak king and though influenced by Godwin nominated his cousin William, Duke of Normandy to be his heir. On his death in 1066 Harold II (who was the 2nd son of Godwin and had succeeded his father as Earl of Wessex in 1053 virtually ruling the country for the weak Edward) held the crown if for only a few months before being challenged by William of Normandy and as we all know was killed in the Norman invasion.            Thus the Hundred of Portbury together with all their other land and properties passed from the Earls of Wessex to William the Conqueror, who in turn awarded most of the Hundred of Portbury to Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances in Normandy (he had probably accompanied William to England, might even have been a relative but was certainly a favourite). His reward for his services was 1/10th of Somerset which covered a large area including amongst others Bishopsworth, Saltford, Newton St. John, Bathwick, Clutton, Farrington Gurney, Claverham, East and West Harptree, Kingston Seymour, Wraxall, Portishead, Portbury, the Gordanos and, of course, Crockerne Pill plus all the other places in between, so Geoffrey was given a very generous reward. In addition he became Governor of Bristol with custody of Bristol Castle.

The Manors were his for life but on his death in 1095 reverted to the crown He kept Portbury Manor for himself and allotted the others in the Gordano Valley to his followers, a knight Roger son of Ralph taking Easton which included Crockerne Pill for which he paid Dane geld for “12 hides” (each about 120 acres) and 9 ploughs. According to the Domesday Book (1086) there were also in lordship at Easton 2 ploughs, 3 slaves, 5 hides and 3 virgates (which were varying measures of land), 14 villagers and 7 small holders with 7 ploughs and 6 hides and 1 virgate.  Mill paid 50d, 36 acres of meadow, 30 acres of woodland, 100 acres of pasture 2 cobs, 3 unbroken mares, 12 cattle, 20 pigs and 200 sheep. Value £10 now £7. Easton was the second largest manor in the Hundred with the largest number of sheep, which were probably kept at  the Sheephouse Island in the saltings at the mouth of the river.

On Geoffrey’s death in 1095 the manors and lands reverted to the Crown and were given by King William (Rufus) II to Harding grandson of Ealnoth a Saxon thane, passing on his death in about 1100 to his son Robert FitzHarding who was also made Governor of Bristol. For his services to Queen Maud and her son Henry I he was made Lord Berkeley and founder of the House of Berkeley and was given the jurisdiction of the Hundred of Portbury. It is fairly certain that he forded the river at the ferry at Crockerne Pill on his way to his manor at Portbury as the old Gloucester Road led from the Pill to Shire ferry directly to Gloucester and  London.

The cobbled slipways of the ferry were reputed to have been laid by the monks from Portbury (there is definite evidence that the ferry was in existence in 1069 as there had been plundering on the Gloucester side and three sons of Harold were known to have ships laid by at the Shire ferry). This is quite possible as the monks would have come under the St. Augustine’ Abbey which the FitzHardings had founded. So here we have confirmation of the ferry.

Lord Berkeley enlarged his Somerset possessions by buying the lands of Richarde de Morville adjoining Portbury and also the advowson (or Right of presentation of a benefice) of Portbury Church which he later gave to St. Augustine’s Abbey in Bristol. He also gave land and tenements (rents at St. Katharine’s Pill of the fee (feudal benefice) of Portbury Church to the same Abbey. This chapel at Chapel Pill, as we call it, was where the sailors offered prayers for a safe return from their voyaging and on their return the ships were tied up to the rings, which can still be seen on the Ham Green side of Hung Road, to await the next tide up to Bristol. (At the time of the Dissolution of the abbeys and monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign no lands were found to belong to it only some endowments for obits(prayers said on the anniversary of a benefactor’s death in Bristol and the rent and parcel of land on which it stood was valued at 16d)

The Berkeley’s (FitzHardings) kept close links with Portbury. In the 1100s Maurice FitzHarding (who had Bedminster manor) and his retainers caused riots and was accused of “entering upon divers ships which were waiting in St. Catherine’s Pill for a fair wind, of cutting their ropes, anchors and sail under colour of distress as though the waters belonged to them”. He and his father were fined 1000 marks, which they never paid.

The Hundred of Portbury seems to have passed back and forth between them and the Crown as they lost their right to it and their lands of Berkeley in the reign of Henry V (1413-22) and it was passed to the Earl of Gloucester and from them by marriage to the Dukes of York.

During this time the ferry began to come into prominence when a Welsh knight named Thomas Morgan – after whom Morgan’s Pill is named – was appointed to guard the ferry over the Avon at Crockerne Pill and to see that all passengers paid their dues. After the Yorkist disaster in 1460 in Henry V’s reign when the Duke of York was killed his lands were forfeited and the manor of Easton was allotted by the king to John Yonge, one of the King’s justices. Somewhere between 1422 and the end of the century the Berkeleys must have come back into favour crossing the ancient Royal ferry known as Crockerne Pill without paying toll and the ferryman in charge (presumably Thomas Morgan) appears to have been very annoyed that Lord Berkeley and his followers should cross without paying dues. (Incidentally, under the will of a later Thomas Morgan £10 was distributed on St. Thomas’ Day in sums of 10shillings and 5shillings to 25 poor persons. This was known as “Poor housekeepers” money. Later on Christmas Day under the will or Richard Morgan £5 was divided among “such poor as are communicants” – Sacrament Money. (The interest on this money is still distributed at Christmas as Morgan’s Charity).

William Berkeley gave the estate to King Henry VII (1485-1509 to prevent his brother succeeding him but they were restored to Henry, Lord Berkeley, on the death of King Edward VI (Jane Seymour’s son 1547-1553) by Queen Mary, daughter of Katharine of Aragon.

Berwyn tells me that it was during this period in 1435 that Isabel daughter of Philip Mead, an ancient family living at Feyland (Failand) “crossed the ferry at her peril” – what this peril was you must leave to your imagination. Also in 1497 the first of our local famous personalities was noted. At that time there were 3 forts situated on the river Avon and another at Portishead. Two barges on the river were chartered by the Government to carry provisions from the City of Bristol to these forts where the soldiers were stationed. The two barges were commanded by James Ray and James Sheppard of Pill. In 1497 when Cabot’s expedition to discover North America was fitted out in Bristol the burgesses and commissioners of the city appointed James Ray to pilot the ship down the river to the sea. A week later the Commissioners sat again and licensed him as the first Bristol Channel pilot.

Henry, Lord Berkeley married Lady Katharine Howard, the granddaughter of the Duke of Norfolk in 1554 and quickly got into debt in London and had to sell his manors etc. Portbury was mortgaged, but Boston was sold earlier in 1544 to Richard Morgan a descendant of Thomas Morgan the original guardian of the ferry thus Richard Morgan became the Lord of the Manor at Easton and was the founder of a line of squires of Easton, including Crockerne Pill, which lasted nearly 200 years and Pill owed allegiance to him as Lord of the Manor.

In Elizabethan days (1558-1603 Parish registers of births deaths and marriages were kept as had been ordered by the Vicar-General Thomas Cromwell and those at Easton-in-Gordano have remained unbroken from 1558.

The earliest reference to the slip-way is the regular entry in the account of Bristol Corporation in the reign of Elizabeth I of payments to “the keeper of the slip at the Hung Road” that is the great bend in the river between Crockerne and St. Katherine’s Pill where large vessels berthed. (A crane was built there and greater facilities made for shipping in the 18th century by the Bristol Merchant Venturers. Another slip-way was uncovered halfway along Marine Parade a cobbled one similar to the ferry slipway – used for the Customs office sited there,)

In Stuart times there was trouble between the Morgans and the Corporation of Bristol about the right of the City with its Admiralty along the shore of the Avon and the Squire of Easton with his ferry from Crockerne Pill to Shirehampton. In those days all boats to and from Bristol were towed up or down the Avon by teams of rowers in a barge (the present day “hobblers’ or by horse or oxen along the towpath on each side of the river (bollards can still be seen on the towpath).

In 1604 Thomas Morgan was imprisoned for interfering with navigation for a house in front of the tree which was used for navigation, (this according to “Somerset Harbours” by Graham Barr in the Reference Library but this greatly resembles the reference by Latimer in his Annals of Bristol 1630 that Richard Morgan and his family guarded their rights as Lords of the Manor and ferry and did all they could to annoy the Bristol authorities. The mooring posts seemed to have been the property of the City of Bristol and the merchants paid for the upkeep of the towpath.

In 1630 Richard Morgan built a pot-house on the river bank in front of a tree which had been used as a landmark and a mooring post whereupon the authorities ordered him to demolish it or be imprisoned. He refused and obtained another hearing of his case. In June 1630 the Minutes of the Privy Council of England contained a plea from the Corporation of Bristol for disciplinary action against him. After a large enquiry the Archbishop of York and the Chief Justice were sent to Bristol to look into this matter and having been well entertained were brought to Pill in boats laden with food and salutes being fired. The Archbishop maintained that Morgan had set up a fort which was hindering commerce and destroying the morals of the sea-farers as Pill was “fortified” with 11 strong pot-houses discharging not powder and shot but tobacco smoke and strong beer” and “defiling the people with drunkenness, filthiness and robbery of their masters goods.

The privy Council again ordered the demolition of the pothouse in front of the tree and an enquiry by the judges into the “erecting of a little town consisting all of alehouses at Crockerne” with power to remedy such abuses as they found there if Morgan resisted. The City was empowered to remove the house itself. Nothing was done about the alehouses. This brought all Morgan’s tenants out on his side and in 1633 a writ of rebellion was issued against some of them and they were imprisoned.

Richard Morgan was accused in 1634 of resisting the erection of mooring posts, hindering commerce, encouraging unlicensed alehouses whereby Customs duty was evaded and the goods of merchants stolen. It was stated that be had built another rouse so close to the river that men towing ships had to struggle through deep mud. He was heavily fined and ordered to demolish these houses except for one to serve the ferry. He refused and presumably went to prison. During the Civil War which lasted until 1649 Morgan rebuilt those of his alehouses which bad been destroyed and the Corporation of Bristol granted him £30 towards the cost of a new house. In 1652 the City again tried to get rid of the alehouses but the sailors and shipbuilders of Pill sent three petitions to the Justices of Somerset saying the demolition of their houses fronting the river would make 50 people homeless, so nothing was done.

During 1667-69 Capt. Samuel Sturmey, a master mariner, navigator and explorer (whose memorial can be seen in St. George’ Church wrote down all the knowledge be had gained at sea in his “Mariner’s Magazine” or “Sturmev’s Mathematical and Practical Arts” which he wrote whilst he took charge of the Customs at Pill. He used his surveying instruments to measure the breadth of the River Avon at this point by the ferry. (A copy of his book was chained to a desk in the St. George’s Church, the squire Captain Richard Morgan keeping the key, but unfortunately it was lost. One section of his book dealt with the “Art of Dialling” and be made and gave two dials to the parish of Pill but these too have disappeared,)

A later squire (not Morgan) is said by Latimer in 1799 to avenge some slight to his dignity persuaded the Press Officer to kidnap 6 pilots. They were statutorily immune from the Press Gang by the Society of Merchant Venturers and had great difficulty getting released.

In 1790 he had forbade the pilots to work on Sundays and in 1800 interfered with pipes being laid by the Merchant Venturers’ Society to take water to the village and ships. He put a chain across the river in a dispute with the pilots (as a matter of interest I found that “The Great Western” used to tie up at Broad Pill where the hospital ship was this at the mouth of the river?)

Albert Sharp (Pill hobbler) has given me information about the more recent owners of the ferry with approximate dates. In 1850 Mr. Reed and Mr. Russell owned it and used all rowing boats.

From l900 John Porter and his family owned it. He was killed in a car fire on the Suspension Bridge about 1936-37. During the First World War horses were kept for the Army at the Remount on Pen Pole hill, and up until 1939 horses were taken across the river on the horse boat at high tide because of the steepness of the slipways. The horse boat was kept on the bank on the Shirehampton side until 1954 when Mr. Sharp burnt it down.

During the Second World War the ferry was run by the Port of Bristol on behalf of the Ministry of Transport. Motor boats were introduced about 1934-35, the first being the Pillshire.

The ferry was returned to the Porter family in 1949-50 and run by the late Porter’s son-in-law, Mr. Millard. Mrs. Porter is reputed to sit in the Customs House window and for every person she saw crossing on the ferry would put a pin in her pincushion to check on the number for the fares, according to Amos Buck the ferryman.

The ferry was sold to C.J. King & Sons (tug boat owners of Avonmouth) in 1951 and at the end of 1952 it was leased to Mr. Jim Rice who was unfortunately drowned on the very first day he took it over.

His wife and sons carried on the business for seven years and according to her talk on the radio she had to pick fruit to supplement the income as there was no Social Security benefits in those days and she had a large family. Talking of her husband’s tragic death she said the ferry opened at 5am and he had gone up to the toll box the Shirehampton side as the turnstile had gone wrong. The boat drifted away and he waded in after it but died of a heart attack.

Speaking of the hobblers she said they hired boats and men to take men out to their boats. When a ship blew coming up the river they would scull out, tie up to the ship and be hauled up to the dock to tie up the ship.

The ferry was then sold to Hunt Bros and Withers who ran it until 1968 when Mr Bob Brown (? local licensee) took it over until it closed after the Avon Bridge had been opened and people could use their cars in a more direct route to Avonmouth.

Mr Sharp took the last boat across at 10.20p.m. on 1st November 1974.

During those years many will recall the trip across the ferry, climbing the plank, tottering down the steps to sit round the side of the boat, the dockers from Avonmouth, some with bicycles, standing in the centre, the scoop shovels with which the ferryman had to scoop water to scrub the mud off the slipway, the wait when the tide was so low that you see the river bed until the boat could refloat when the tide turned, the swell when Campbell’s pleasure boats passed and even perhaps when she stopped to take on passengers from the ferry boat at Pill.

Before the ferry closed however, there was a dispute between the hobblers and Hunt brothers. and Withers (Pill Ferry Co) The Ferry Co. had proposed to erect a fence to close off that portion of Marine Parade leading to the slipway and give the keys to the hobblers for access to the slipway.

The hobblers and villagers had always had right of access to the slipway but the Ferry Co. had erected turnstiles to make people pay Id toll to get to the slip and their boats uite apart from the fare for passengers. A few of the hobblers and Mrs Webster, who was on the Parish Council at that time, agreed to take the advice of a solicitor and raised the money to take the matter to the High Court as it could not be settled amicably.

However, just before it reached the date of the hearing the Ferry Co. agreed that a Deed of Covenant dated 14th April 1966 be drawn up giving free access to the portion of Marine Parade and the slipway to the villagers and hobblers in perpetuity, and copies were given to the Ferry Co., hobblers and Pill Parish Council.

It was also agreed that the piece of land to the right of the slipway into the creek should be purchased at a peppercorn rent of  £1 year for boats to be repaired etc. by villagers. The Ferry Co. was taken over by the Portishead Cruising Club and in 1976 another Deed of Covenant between Denis Dickens, Prank Gilmore and Denis Williams (on behalf of the hobblers) and the Portishead Cruising Club was issued that the 1966 Covenant must be observed completely by the Club.

At a meeting in 1990 of the Portishead Cruising Club various restrictions were suggested to be used on boats and access but this could not be introduced. It was proposed that a new slipway be made for local use but in 1992 this matter was dropped. The Deeds of Covenant have now been lodged with the Somerset Records Office at Taunton where they can be viewed by anyone.

Marine Parade itself: half of the roadway on the river side belongs to the Crown Commissioners as does the river bank. The Knights who had the Waterloo public house (now the site of the Cruising Club) had the other 50%.

The Portishead Cruising Club rent the land and the slipway from the Crown Commissioners and also the creek, but that had always been a free haven. Now there are only 3 free moorings for the villagers of Pill though people can still freely launch boats from the slipway as it is a public right of way.

As for the road itself when the Ferry Co. and Sailing Club purchased that portion of Marine Parade and closed off the original roadway from the Red Lion to the slip they took away the right of way for the Public.

If anyone has been down that way lately they will find the old road by the creek covered with dried mud so who is responsible for its upkeep? I have mentioned it to Glyn Duck, Chairman of the Parish Council, but he did not know.

There is also in the Bristol Reference Library a plan prepared by Anthony Gibbs in 1883 Morgan’s Pill – a new outfall plan” showing a new line for Morgan’s Pill, which looked more as I remember it.

Acknowledgments:

Mrs. Berwyn Buck; Mr. Denis Dickens, Mr. Albert Sharp,

Mrs. Caroline Webster and Mr. Martin Davies, and the late Miss Dorothy Oram.

Eve Wigan: “Gordano”

Graham Parr: “Somerset Harbours”

Latimer’s “Annals of Bristol 1630″

‘A Short History of Portbury, Ecclesiastical and Civil” by WJR (Bristol Reference Library)

Domesday Book 1086.

Margaret R. Bunce August 1993

(Talk given to the Crockerne Pill District History Society September 1993)

Ferry

 


Pill ferry is mentioned by my late father in the story of his life in Pill from 1917 which he dictated to me shortly before he died 

In Memory of Russell Collins 1917 – 2008
I was born in the summer of 1917 in the small village of Pill, in a large detached house at Pump Square, surrounded by 5 public houses, the Duke of Cornwall, the Red Lion Inn, the Swan Inn, Mariners Arms (which was used for storage of timber whilst I was a boy), and the Waterloo Inn. There were many other pubs in the village, The Shepherds Arms, The Star, The Railway Inn, the Kings Head, The Rising Sun and the Anchor Inn at Ham Green

I was the second eldest of a family of six children, four girls and two boys.

Although a large house, there was no garden. The walls were so thick, the window sills were large enough to place the babies on (on a cushion and coats). We had no cots or cribs. The house was very cold and damp, continually smelling of the drains. It seemed that at high tide the smell was exceptionally bad inside the house. Each evening before my father was due home from work, my mother would light a rag and go from room to room with it to disguise the stench.

Although we had an indoor toilet (no bath of course), it was in a very dark corner of the kitchen. We had no electricity, just oil lamps. The water was supplied through a standpipe in the back kitchen, into a bucket (no sink), which was then poured down the toilet. We cooked on an open fire in the kitchen. We had no ovens. The house originally had built-in ovens at the side of the fire, but during my time there they were unusable as at some time in the past before I was born they had caved in and were never repaired.

My mother would buy a joint of meat on Saturdays, it would hang on a tripod in front of the fire. As a young child I would sit and baste and turn the meat for her. I recall Dr Newsome, when visiting one of my sick sisters, saying that we were the last house in the village to cook this way, but we had no other way.

As we were surrounded by pubs, every weekend there were fights in Pump Square. The Avonmouth boys would come over on the ferry. My mother insisted that we go inside early in the evening before the Avonmouth boys arrived. The local policeman who was based in the police house next to the school would arrive, but often there was nothing he could do and left them to get on with it. Many times men were thrown into the Creek during the fights.

I attended Pill school from 1922 when I was 5 years old until I was 14 in 1931. Discipline was very strict. The cane was in daily use and I recall one child having 12 strokes of the cane.

I attended Pill Baptist Church until I was 14. I attended twice each Sunday.

When I was a child I had an old aunt who lived on the river-front. The houses on the river-front had shutters which would slide over the front door to stop the high tide from going in to the house. Often I would stay home from school at high tide to collect the clay-type mud from the slip-way. I would plaster this mud on the front of the shutters to act as a barrier against the rising tide. However the river would still come up under her floorboards and up through her toilet. I would often sit on her stairs and watch the tide rise into her house, far enough to put the fire out in the grate.

When I was about 7 years old a boat called the “Ettric(Bristol City Museum Reference) went aground at Horseshoe Bend. It tipped over on its side and the general cargo washed out of the holds. Everyone in Pill did well with the salvage ! I recall Frys Five Boys Chocolate which we were eating for weeks. I recall a policeman was guarding a pile of salvage on the slip-way and Captain Preston came over to me and my mate and said “I will take the policeman round to see some more salvage round the corner, when I am gone, help yourselves”. We loaded all we could carry and ran to the back alleyways to hide our bounty.

My parents did very well out of the salvage. My uncle who lived with us was a hobbler and he was able to salvage from the wreckage using his own boat. At the top of our stairs we had a cupboard, My father took the latches off, put the loot in (which was mostly Puriton soap and Woodbines) and wallpapered over it so the customs men would not find out, as they were asking everyone to give back the loot.

My uncle used to take men up the river to look at the boat on its side and I used to go with them. He used to charge 1 shilling a trip!

Hundreds of people would view the ship from the shore. It stayed there a long time and was eventually towed away.

When my uncle worked as a ferryman, it is said that he would take the fare in the boat, which was overlooked by the Old Customs House (The Watchhouse). An old lady used to sit in the window knitting – she had a pin cushion to her side and for every person who crossed the ferry she would put a pin in the pin cushion. At the end of his shift, the ferryman had to walk to the Watchhouse and pay in the takings for his shift. The money had to tally with the pins in her pin cushion.

There was not much to do in the village for children. There were three “mobs”. The Park Mob, The Longshore Mob and the Pill Field Mob. Pill Field is where we used to play football (it now Newsome Avenue).

My mother always told us to keep away from Watchhouse, as the “Oakum Boys” would get us. She told us that they lived in Ham Green Woods, but this was just a story to stop us going there. She did not like us collecting chestnuts at Ham Green because there were lots of men walking around who had “consumption” (Ham Green was a fever hospital at the time). Before I was born the pilots used to have their boats built at Watchhouse. The Oakum boys were the labourers to the men who would caulk the boats. (Oakem is a hemp which was treated with tar, and was used for caulking seams in wooden ships)

On the river-side at Ham Green there were steps leading to the river. Three nurses were there in the 1930’s, paddling their feet in the high tide. Two of them slipped in and were drowned. My uncle who was a ferryman at the time picked them up from the river some time later.

During the winter months the lake at Ham Green would sometimes freeze. One year two boys were playing on the ice, it gave way beneath then and they were drowned.

I also recall a ferryman was drowned whilst I was a child.

There are many stories of how “Pill Sharks” got its name. One of the stories is the name was derived because if a dead body was found in the river, the person who recovered it would get paid (usually a ferryman). He would take the body to the Shirehampton side because if taken there would get more money than if he had taken it to the Pill, Somerset side.

There were almost no cars when I was a child. The roads were mostly gravel. Eventually they were tarmaced, but they were still narrow. People mainly travelled by train which ran every half hour from Portishead to Temple Meads.

As a child we would play lots of street games such as Knock Out Ginger, knocking on doors and running away, and we would put black cotton across the road to knock people’s hats off. We would get chased but we would disappear in the alleyways.

Pill Rag was always an occasion that we looked forward to. It used to be held in November. Of course there were no lorries to decorate so we used to have a huge bonfire on the green. We had home made masks on our faces, and would carry a tin with a rag and paraffin, which we would light up and carry through the streets, something that would not be allowed now !

Pill Regatta was another occasion that we loved. There were so many boats on the river, there were men on greasy poles falling into the water, and many boat races.

Another highlight of the year was our annual trip to Weston Super Mare with The Baptist Chapel and the other churches in Pill. Several charabancs each year were loaded with people and we spent a lovely day at Weston Super Mare rain or shine.

At weekends I would help my father on his allotment I would buy one penny worth of yellow sherbet, and put it into two bottles of water to make lemonade to enjoy while we gardened.

There were plenty of horses in Pill. I would go around the streets with a hand made barrow collecting the manure for the garden. I would also sometimes call into the slaughterhouse at Back Lane for two buckets of blood to put on the allotment. By the time I got there it had often congealed like jelly, but it was good fertiliser. I recall getting told off by my father one day. I had poured the blood onto the garden, it was in a lump as it had congealed and the crows had eaten it. He was cross because I should have waited for him to dilute it in the rain-water barrel.

Another of our pleasures was that sometimes a boatman would take us, when the tide went out, to the mouth of the river Avon, and we would scrape the sand for coal to take home for the fire. We could usually get one bucket full which we thought was wonderful. The tide would then lift the boat off the sand and we would float back up to Pill.

Good pickings could also be had at Horseshoe Bend. But we had to row against the tide to get there and back again, so we did not go there so often.

In the posh area of Pill, Monmouth Road, a house had a wireless set. We would creep under the front wall and wait for the music to be played. We were soon chased away, and the owners would call us “urchins”.

Pill was a lucky village during the war. Although we had lots of bombs around us, there were only two casualties, Pill Church and a house at Watchhouse Road were bombed by incendiaries.

In about 1932 our house in Pump Square was demolished. We moved into a brand new Council House facing the river. The fields were surrounding us and it was good to have a large garden, with a view of the ships going up and down the river.

We were able to grow our own produce in the large garden. The whole family would walk “down Longshore to the Wharf” to collect wood washed up by the tide for our fire. During the mushroom season we would get up at about 5.00 am to go mushrooming in the fields.

We had electricity and proper sanitation, My mother thought it was absolutely wonderful.


 

From Ken Sharp

I recall many things about Pill ferry.
My uncle Albert the driver who used to have several bottles of beer overside to keep them cool!
Dodging icebergs in Jan 63 (lorry dumped snow)
The tragic death of Jim Rice.
Braziers on slipway to show drivers way in fog.
The Pillshire ferry boat that was the fastest and largest vessel.
Slightly innebriated passengers coming out of Lamplighters.

My mother Florence sitting in the freezing cold box collecting fairs.
An old yet floating horse transporter from a long gone age.
Carrying my pushbike on board to get to work at PBA Avonmouth.

Happy days.
Ken Sharp.

 

8 Comments

8 thoughts on “Pill Ferry and it’s Environs

  1. Margaret

    I have some old documents and some may involve the Pill Ferry. If you would like to look over them please let me know.

    Tess Reid (Portishead Cruising Club)

  2. I recall many things about Pill ferry.
    My uncle Albert the driver who used to have several bottles of beer overside to keep them cool!
    Dodging icebergs in Jan 63(lorry dumped snow)
    The tragic death of Jim Rice.
    Braziers on slipway to show drivers way
    in fog.
    The Pillshire ferry boat that was the fastest and largest vessel.
    Slightly innebriated passengers coming out of Lamplighters.
    Happy days.
    Ken Sharp.
    My mother Florence sitting in the freezing cold box collecting fairs.
    An old yet floating horse transporter from a long gone age.
    Carrying ny pushbike on board to get to work at PBA Avonmouth.

  3. Pill ferry is mentioned by my late father in the story of his life in Pill from 1917 which he dictated to me shortly before he died :

    In Memory of Russell Collins 1917 – 2008
    I was born in the summer of 1917 in the small village of Pill, in a large detached house at Pump Square, surrounded by 5 public houses, the Duke of Cornwall, the Red Lion Inn, the Swan Inn, Mariners Arms (which was used for storage of timber whilst I was a boy), and the Waterloo Inn. There were many other pubs in the village, The Shepherds Arms, The Star, The Railway Inn, the Kings Head, The Rising Sun and the Anchor Inn at Ham Green

    I was the second eldest of a family of six children, four girls and two boys.

    Although a large house, there was no garden. The walls were so thick, the window sills were large enough to place the babies on (on a cushion and coats). We had no cots or cribs. The house was very cold and damp, continually smelling of the drains. It seemed that at high tide the smell was exceptionally bad inside the house. Each evening before my father was due home from work, my mother would light a rag and go from room to room with it to disguise the stench.

    Although we had an indoor toilet (no bath of course), it was in a very dark corner of the kitchen. We had no electricity, just oil lamps. The water was supplied through a standpipe in the back kitchen, into a bucket (no sink), which was then poured down the toilet. We cooked on an open fire in the kitchen. We had no ovens. The house originally had built-in ovens at the side of the fire, but during my time there they were unusable as at some time in the past before I was born they had caved in and were never repaired.

    My mother would buy a joint of meat on Saturdays, it would hang on a tripod in front of the fire. As a young child I would sit and baste and turn the meat for her. I recall Dr Newsome, when visiting one of my sick sisters, saying that we were the last house in the village to cook this way, but we had no other way.

    As we were surrounded by pubs, every weekend there were fights in Pump Square. The Avonmouth boys would come over on the ferry. My mother insisted that we go inside early in the evening before the Avonmouth boys arrived. The local policeman who was based in the police house next to the school would arrive, but often there was nothing he could do and left them to get on with it. Many times men were thrown into the Creek during the fights.

    I attended Pill school from 1922 when I was 5 years old until I was 14 in 1931. Discipline was very strict. The cane was in daily use and I recall one child having 12 strokes of the cane.

    I attended Pill Baptist Church until I was 14. I attended twice each Sunday.

    When I was a child I had an old aunt who lived on the river-front. The houses on the river-front had shutters which would slide over the front door to stop the high tide from going in to the house. Often I would stay home from school at high tide to collect the clay-type mud from the slip-way. I would plaster this mud on the front of the shutters to act as a barrier against the rising tide. However the river would still come up under her floorboards and up through her toilet. I would often sit on her stairs and watch the tide rise into her house, far enough to put the fire out in the grate.

    When I was about 7 years old a boat called the “Ettric” went aground at Horseshoe Bend. It tipped over on its side and the general cargo washed out of the holds. Everyone in Pill did well with the salvage ! I recall Frys Five Boys Chocolate which we were eating for weeks. I recall a policeman was guarding a pile of salvage on the slip-way and Captain Preston came over to me and my mate and said “I will take the policeman round to see some more salvage round the corner, when I am gone, help yourselves”. We loaded all we could carry and ran to the back alleyways to hide our bounty.

    My parents did very well out of the salvage. My uncle who lived with us was a hobbler and he was able to salvage from the wreckage using his own boat. At the top of our stairs we had a cupboard, My father took the latches off, put the loot in (which was mostly Puriton soap and Woodbines) and wallpapered over it so the customs men would not find out, as they were asking everyone to give back the loot.

    My uncle used to take men up the river to look at the boat on its side and I used to go with them. He used to charge 1 shilling a trip!

    Hundreds of people would view the ship from the shore. It stayed there a long time and was eventually towed away.

    When my uncle worked as a ferryman, it is said that he would take the fare in the boat, which was overlooked by the Old Customs House (The Watchhouse). An old lady used to sit in the window knitting – she had a pin cushion to her side and for every person who crossed the ferry she would put a pin in the pin cushion. At the end of his shift, the ferryman had to walk to the Watchhouse and pay in the takings for his shift. The money had to tally with the pins in her pin cushion.

    There was not much to do in the village for children. There were three “mobs”. The Park Mob, The Longshore Mob and the Pill Field Mob. Pill Field is where we used to play football (it now Newsome Avenue).

    My mother always told us to keep away from Watchhouse, as the “Oakum Boys” would get us. She told us that they lived in Ham Green Woods, but this was just a story to stop us going there. She did not like us collecting chestnuts at Ham Green because there were lots of men walking around who had “consumption” (Ham Green was a fever hospital at the time). Before I was born the pilots used to have their boats built at Watchhouse. The Oakum boys were the labourers to the men who would caulk the boats. (Oakem is a hemp which was treated with tar, and was used for caulking seams in wooden ships)

    On the river-side at Ham Green there were steps leading to the river. Three nurses were there in the 1930’s, paddling their feet in the high tide. Two of them slipped in and were drowned. My uncle who was a ferryman at the time picked them up from the river some time later.

    During the winter months the lake at Ham Green would sometimes freeze. One year two boys were playing on the ice, it gave way beneath then and they were drowned.

    I also recall a ferryman was drowned whilst I was a child.

    There are many stories of how “Pill Sharks” got its name. One of the stories is the name was derived because if a dead body was found in the river, the person who recovered it would get paid (usually a ferryman). He would take the body to the Shirehampton side because if taken there would get more money than if he had taken it to the Pill, Somerset side.

    There were almost no cars when I was a child. The roads were mostly gravel. Eventually they were tarmaced, but they were still narrow. People mainly travelled by train which ran every half hour from Portishead to Temple Meads.

    As a child we would play lots of street games such as Knock Out Ginger, knocking on doors and running away, and we would put black cotton across the road to knock people’s hats off. We would get chased but we would disappear in the alleyways.

    Pill Rag was always an occasion that we looked forward to. It used to be held in November. Of course there were no lorries to decorate so we used to have a huge bonfire on the green. We had home made masks on our faces, and would carry a tin with a rag and paraffin, which we would light up and carry through the streets, something that would not be allowed now !

    Pill Regatta was another occasion that we loved. There were so many boats on the river, there were men on greasy poles falling into the water, and many boat races.

    Another highlight of the year was our annual trip to Weston Super Mare with The Baptist Chapel and the other churches in Pill. Several charabancs each year were loaded with people and we spent a lovely day at Weston Super Mare rain or shine.

    At weekends I would help my father on his allotment I would buy one penny worth of yellow sherbet, and put it into two bottles of water to make lemonade to enjoy while we gardened.

    There were plenty of horses in Pill. I would go around the streets with a hand made barrow collecting the manure for the garden. I would also sometimes call into the slaughterhouse at Back Lane for two buckets of blood to put on the allotment. By the time I got there it had often congealed like jelly, but it was good fertiliser. I recall getting told off by my father one day. I had poured the blood onto the garden, it was in a lump as it had congealed and the crows had eaten it. He was cross because I should have waited for him to dilute it in the rain-water barrel.

    Another of our pleasures was that sometimes a boatman would take us, when the tide went out, to the mouth of the river Avon, and we would scrape the sand for coal to take home for the fire. We could usually get one bucket full which we thought was wonderful. The tide would then lift the boat off the sand and we would float back up to Pill.

    Good pickings could also be had at Horseshoe Bend. But we had to row against the tide to get there and back again, so we did not go there so often.

    In the posh area of Pill, Monmouth Road, a house had a wireless set. We would creep under the front wall and wait for the music to be played. We were soon chased away, and the owners would call us “urchins”.

    Pill was a lucky village during the war. Although we had lots of bombs around us, there were only two casualties, Pill Church and a house at Watchhouse Road were bombed by incendiaries.

    In about 1932 our house in Pump Square was demolished. We moved into a brand new Council House facing the river. The fields were surrounding us and it was good to have a large garden, with a view of the ships going up and down the river.

    We were able to grow our own produce in the large garden. The whole family would walk “down Longshore to the Wharf” to collect wood washed up by the tide for our fire. During the mushroom season we would get up at about 5.00 am to go mushrooming in the fields.

    We had electricity and proper sanitation, My mother thought it was absolutely wonderful.

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