Monday, December 21, 2009

Ferry Hut

Along the Manchester Ship Canal in Runcorn there is a strip of land called Ferry Hut. The name is a vestige of the ferry that operated across the river between Runcorn and Widnes until the MSC was channeled and opened in 1894. The ferry cost 2d per person per trip.The hut was a little protective building for the ferryman.
There is a song famous around the area about the ferryman and a family who wanted to get across the river cheaply.
Here's link. You'll need to hit the return button after listening to get back to my blog.
This is how the unspoiled Ferry Hut looked.

In 1905 the Transporter Bridge was built as another means of crossing the river. As you can deduce from the proximity of the railway bridge in both these photos its footprint was right on the hut building.

In 1961 the bridge was demolished as a new road bridge was constructed to allow cars
to cross the river easily.

One of the most prominent memories I have of Ferry Hut was an unpleasant one- I was 3 years old and reaching for a stick in the water and I fell in. I was with my mate Joey who was 4. Luckily I had on an overcoat which I think had a little buoyancy and kept me relatively close to the surface until 16 year old Jackie Gleave, who had a magnet tied to the end of a length of string, swung the magnet my way and on the second attempt, just as I was going down for my third gobful of canal water, I grabbed it and they pulled me ashore. I vaguely remember being carried/dragged up the wall to safety but I remember well grabbing the magnet.
I have good memories of all the football matches that we played down there. We seldom had a real soccer ball. Usually it was a (new at the time) plastic ball about 1/2 the size of a regulation soccer ball. It wouldn't last but 1/2 an hour before bursting under the pressure of all the scrambling feet and from being in the cut (water) every 4 or 5 minutes. Then they'd fill the thing with rags and kick it about for another half hour till it was so split it wouldn't hold rags..

I remember pogging (throwing stones)at those stumps that came out of the water near the hill (under the bridge)by where the original hut had been.
We'd make a game of seeing who could hit the most stumps with 10 stones each, or we'd line up glass bottles on the wall and pog at them till all were broken.
Another activity we enjoyed was digging. We would spend all day digging 6 ft deep trenches in the sand at Ferry Hut. High up enough above water line so it didn't fill with water and cave in. Alfie Collins had a shovel that was cut off at about 7 inches of blade and he could dig like an prairie dog with that thing. His brother Leslie was my friend and we would watch with awe as he went deeper and deeper.

Climbing the sandstone wall that led up to the Transporter was another scary thing some kids would do. With lifelong acrophobia I was only able to go up the wire alongside the wall about halfway, Joey went all the way. However on the western side of the approach road there was an easier climb where I got a real scare one day. I climbed about 8 ft high and grabbed a wire coming from a little utility building. I got an electric shock so bad that my hand was frozen to the wire and I was dangling 6 ft off the ground. Fortunately the electric sputtered and I was able to let go and tumble to the ground scared as hell but grateful.

Another great memory of Ferry Hut is the American ships that would come carrying goods to Manchester. Ships as big as 10,000 tons were able to make the trek up to Manchester from Liverpool. We knew which ones were American because the same liners came year after year. Lykes Lines had a few repeaters. When a ship came into view by the bridge you would hear the kids in the street yelling " Big feller" and everyone would scramble down to FH and beg the Americans to "Throw us summat Mister"
And they more than not did. They threw cigarettes, apples, oranges, candy and chocolate. Every one would fight and scramble on the shore for the goodies. One guy tried to throw a watermelon. It dropped real close to the ship and after the ship was gone we spent an hour pogging at the water just beyond the melon to make it come closer to shore where we could wade in and retrieve it. It tasted great and was the first watermelon I'd ever had. Must have been the same for my mother too for she put salt on her slices!

Ferry Hut was unhealthy because effluence from the sewers overflowed into it, and also the petroleum sludge from the nearby Stanlow Refinery was evident throughout the year, still many people swam in the canal every summer. It was a growing up rite for boys to be able to swim out to the gantry wall separating the river from the canal. You had to go out about 50 feet and look both ways to be sure no boat traffic was coming. Some of the tugs and smaller ships moved quickly and once you decided to continue on to the gantry, speed was required.

My sister Sybil recalled the time I took my nephew Roy out to the gantry on my back. He could not swim but had more guts than sense and was confident I could do it. It turned out OK.

There's other stuff I could pass on but this has already become too hefty.


Anonymous said...

I love all these old stories from Grandad's past! And I always learn something new.

I wonder what other readers think?

Anonymous said...

Hi,Bev. I never tire of reading these memories and what a memory! I can only remember some of the stuff so it's very interesting for me to read..I don't think Eric was only three years old when he nearly met Ginny Greenteeth! surely our Mum wouldn't have let him out THAT young :( anyway it's good stuff to read..


Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

As soon as I started reading this, I thought: "Uh oh! Danger here." And sure enough there was plenty. We sure didn't lead "protected" lives as kids.

Emily said...

Wow, I'm amazed you remember so many details and names from your childhood. I don't remember things like that! I'd heard many of these stories from you before, of course, but I enjoyed reading some of the new details. Like Alfie digging like a prairie dog. LOL!
And I'm so glad you caught the magnet. :-)

Anonymous said...

Well I have just listened to the 'Ferryman' and thoroughly enjoyed it..I have never heard it all the way through so thanks for that..

Norma. :)

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I inclination not approve on it. I think warm-hearted post. Particularly the title attracted me to study the unscathed story.

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