Recovery of the Aust Ferry

Talk by Tim Ryan
8 November 2006

Members and visitors enjoyed a most enjoyable afternoon when Mr Tim Ryan spoke to us about the history of Aust Ferry and his efforts to preserve this living yesterday so familiar to many of us travelling to Chepstow prior to the Severn Bridge opening on September 8th 1966Aust Ferry pre war from Pier end at Aust.

Tim Ryan started his talk by covering a general history of the ferry. Ferry's he told us had plied their trade from earliest times, he cited a ferry price list for 1775 which is now in Bristol museum. The three last ferries were the Severn King and the Severn Queen built in 1931 and for the last few years, the Severn Princess built in Hull in 1959. These vessels were custom built having two independent Leyland 680 Bus engines. Tim had many interesting anecdotes about the history of the ferries, not least the trip from Hull to Beachley which took five days, the only accommodation for the crew of five provided, was a two berth caravan. In operation, the whole enterprise had to pay its way, and this was further illustrated when a Hearse using the crossing, in addition to the normal charge was invoiced a further 1/6d for the coffin.Ferry aopproaching Betchley

The whole ferry operation was efficient and served the needs of the day. The crossing took 12 minutes, not counting loading and unloading times. Capacity was 98 passengers and up to 19 cars. Health and Safety was largely left to luck with support from the other ferry if it was available. Only six life belts were provided and presumably thought quite sufficient in the circumstances.

The speaker played an interesting DVD covering various aspects of the history of the Ferry, and these were offered for sale. I can't say they were really good value at £10 as mine was very grainy and jerky. However purchase was in a good cause.

Once used by hundreds of cars and vans each day. The last days of the sole surviving vessel, the Severn Princess, were rather unhappy, sold to a firm in Ireland, it was used for general carriage of goods which included just about anything. In the absence of a pier, the ferry was run ashore for unloading which for a 98 ton vessel, eventually so damaged the hull that leakage became unacceptable. It was sailed to Kilkieran in Galway Connemara, and during a storm was thrown onto the quay where it as found by Tim Ryan and colleagues.

The talk included details of the ships salvage, its eventful passage back to Beachley and salvage work to date at Beachley.Today, overshadowed by the bridge that replaced it.

Enquiry revealing that Health and Safety regulations would preclude necessary licences to sail even if it was in perfect condition, it has been decided to cosmetically restore the vessel for show purposes only. A recent offer by Network Rail of a site in Chester is to be taken up, and the ship will be towed there to form the centre attraction of an exhibition site..

All in all a most interesting afternoon supported by a lively question time, it was well attended and in view of its being very much local history, greatly appreciated by a knowledgeable audience.

Michael C Clinch.

The talk needed little encouragement for questions - so many members recalled their experiences when using the ferry. Mike Rowe travelled often with a motorbike when working in South Wales and must have experienced some slippery moments when transferring to the slipway from the ferry, it was exciting enough in a car. My personal experience was of returning once from a day in the Wye Valley to catch the last ferry and finding a longer than normal queue and being cut off before getting to the ferry and facing a long drive home. Very popular and enjoyable talk.