an ancient crossing point of the River Avon
Rownham Ferry is an ancient crossing point of the River Avon. The Ferry's history goes back at least to the twelfth century and it may have been a fording point at very low tides (doubtless a very unpleasant muddy one) before that.
For most of its life the Ferry crossed the River Avon near the entrance of the Avon Gorge. From the New Inn on the then Somerset side of the river, crossing the River Avon to Rownham Tavern, (demolished in 1873) in Hotwells.
Rownham Ferry 1596-1610 John Speed's - The Counties of Britain
In John Speed's Tudor atlas: The Counties of Britain mapped between 1596 and 1610. Rownham Ferry at this time is shown as 'Rounam Pafage' on the Somersetshire map and as 'Rownam Pafsage' on the Gloucestershire map.
Rownham Ferry is given the same significance as the then villages of Clifton and Bedminfter (Bedminster) and was plainly an important crossing, I think particularly significant as the first crossing of the River Avon at that time.
Rownham Ferry (or Passage) is shown in the Hartcliff and Bedminster hundred of Somersetshire. The hundred being an administrative subdivision at that time.
John Speed's maps make a colourful and fascinating atlas of well drawn maps that for the time are very accurate, each county or region with a description and often with city maps too. See a zoomable not bad quality online version below -
The New Inn 1808 during the construction of the Floating Harbour
This is a photo of a Bristol Council board (1 of 3) on the landing island at the docks entrance, thats the island shown above but somewhat larger now. The boards celebrates the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Floating Harbour in 2009 and they are well worth a look.
Bristol from Rownham Ferry from 1841/2. From a print by the illustrator William Henry Bartlett engraved by S.Bradshaw.
Close up of Bristol Docks entrance, Rownham Tavern and Ferry on the left above.
Rownham Ferry from Hotwells my (I hope) informed guess at dates is somewhere between 1842 and 1866 but I would welcome another opinion about its date and the artist name -
contact me if you have any information or guesses on this.
Its certainly dated before 1873 without the major changes to the Hotwells riverside made in 1873. Also likely to be pre 1866 too as there are no signs of the railway built behind the New Inn (see below) in 1866. Dates are based on Reece Winstone's - Bristol as it was books 1879-1874 and 1874-1866.
Above photo and the following two close ups photos courtesy of Cort Day from Los Angeles.
Note there is some damage to the painting, the aerial object is a rip in the fabric rather than an early flying machine.
Rownham Ferry approaching the New Inn.
Hotwells riverside, with a queue for the ferry on the Bristol side as well. The main entrance to Bristol Docks is the inlet visible between the queue and the white signal post/flag pole
Above Rownham Ferry in 1913, high tide and a rather busy waterway, in a new location opposite Cumberland Basin.
The ferry moved after the expansion of Cumberland Basin in 1873, surviving up to December 31st 1932. With slipways built on the Ashton Meadows and Cumberland Basin sides.
The history page has a another view again in 1913, from Ashton Meadows on the (then) Somerset side.
For a good photo showing the start of the Cumberland Road slipway, see the link at the end of page titled 'c 1900 Cumberland Basin'.
At the lowest tide it was actually a bridge of boats rather than a ferry trip. Cost in 1932, 1d rather than the ½d of most other ferries at the time, due to the tidal nature of the crossing and the mud which had to be cleaned off the slipways after each high tide.
I will note my father remembers at least one of the old Rownham Ferry boats still on the riverside during WW2.
The Rownham Ferry crossing point is now only visible at low tide in Ashton Meadows or from the riverside path beside Brunel Lock Road. The slipway on the Cumberland Basin side is rarely visible and usually completely covered in mud.
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