1 Worcester Cathedral ferry pictured in around 1905

2 Ferryman Gilbert Morgan stands by “Betty” in 1958 when the Cathedral authorities stopped the service because of the cost.

3 The Ferryman’s House occupied by Gilbert Morgan and generations of ferrymen and one ferrywoman, Elizabeth Wise, before him.

4 Volunteer ferryman Clive Tyler puts his back into it in 1983.

5 King’s School cricketers are regular customers, crossing the river to their playing fields in New Road. Here some 1984 players make the return trip.

6 Volunteer ferryman Ted Burnham, invariably there when anything nautical was happening in Worcester, takes “Doris” for a trial run before the 1991 season gets under way..

7 Eddie Rogers and Mark Glossop, who has been the saviour of Worcester Cathedral ferry, smarted up “Doris” ready for summer 1996.

A PICTURE on the daily “old photographs” page earlier this week of the Worcester Cathedral ferryboat being unveiled from its winter storage in 1999 ready for a summer on the river, sent us ferreting even deeper into the files to discover the history of this time honoured service.

A ferry is known to have operated from the Cathedral Watergate to the west bank of the Severn for several centuries, although it is believed there may have been a boat crossing at this point for more than 4,000 years. Or back in the Bronze Age, when presumably citizens were not nipping across the river to watch Worcestershire play Somerset at New Road.

Images do exist of the ferry in use back in 1905, when it was most likely being paid for by the Cathedral’s Dean and Chapter. Certainly when the plug was pulled on the service in the mid-1950s it was because the D & C said they couldn’t afford the £30 a year it cost to run and maintain.

At that time the boat was named “Betty”, after Elizabeth Wise, one of the very first ferrywomen. History shows she kept the ferry going for nearly 40 years. The ferryman in the Fifties was Gilbert Morgan, who carried on the tradition of occupying the old house above the Watergate, which became known as Waterman’s House or Ferryman’s Cottage. Gilbert was not a full time ferryman, but employed on the Cathedral’s maintenance staff with his ferry work as a part time job.

After closing down in 1958, the ferry did not operate again until the early 1980s when local architect Nicolette Baines advocated its revival in a Worcester Civic Society newsletter. The call was taken up by Nicola Milne, whose husband Andrew was headmaster of Worcester King’s School. A fighting fund was set up and the ferry, now named “Doris”, was relaunched in 1983, only to lose more than £400 in its first season because full time ferrymen had to be paid. However, operator Mark Glossop managed to do a deal with the British Waterways Board, which agreed to train volunteer ferrymen to cut costs.

By the mid-1990s there was a team of 8-10 volunteer oarsmen ferrying up to 12 passengers at a time on weekend afternoons from the Watergate to Chapter Meadows and back again. In 1995 more than 3,000 people used the service, which cost 25p per trip, raising £800 for charity.

The good news is the Cathedral Ferry is still running today, well into the 21st century, and still raising money for charity. This year it started in mid-April and will run until the end of the summer or as long as weather and river conditions allow. Although the cost of a crossing may gave risen to 40p, it’s surely a bargain at the price for the fun and the convenience and the experience of making a trip Bronze Age Man (and Woman) made all those years ago sitting in or on a hollow log. Who rowed and who steered is anyone’s guess.