Aust Ferry

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Aust / Beachley Ferry
Industry Passenger and Freight transportation
Fate Superseded by Severn Bridge
Founded 1829
Founders Duke of Beaufort
Old Passage Ferry Association
Defunct 8 September 1966
Area served River Severn

Aust Ferry or Beachley Ferry was a ferry service that operated across the River Severn between Aust and Beachley both in Gloucestershire, England. Before the Severn Bridge opened in 1966, it provided service for road traffic crossing between the West Country and South Wales. The nearest fixed crossing was a 60 miles (97 km) round trip to Gloucester.


The passage of the Severn between Aust and Beachley (51°36′47.80″N 2°38′51.62″W / 51.6132778°N 2.6476722°W / 51.6132778; -2.6476722) was probably in use from antiquity and was long the chief route between south west England and Wales. It was perhaps the site of the Trajectus (throwing-across) where the Roman legions used to be ferried across the Severn.[1] It was recorded in the 12th century when the de Clares, lords of Tidenham, granted quittance of the passage to the monks of Tintern. It was evidently much used in 1405 when great numbers of the English and Welsh were said to resort to the nearby chapel of St. Twrog. The manor of Tidenham retained rights over the passage, and received rents from the parishes of Aust and Beachley, until the 19th century.[2]

The journey, a distance of over a mile at a point where the tides run swiftly, was a dangerous one, and its reputation, the roughness of the water, and the smallness of the boats deterred Daniel Defoe from making the crossing from the Aust side early in the 18th century. He referred to it as an ugly, dangerous, and very inconvenient ferry.[3] By that time, ferry crossings from New Passage, between Redwick near Pilning and Sudbrook on the Welsh side, rivalled the Aust passage, which became known as the Old Passage.

In 1825 a new era opened with the formation of the Old Passage Ferry Association, sponsored by the Duke of Beaufort, as Lord of Tidenham. The company built stone piers on both banks, and commissioned a steamboat which began to ply in 1827, with a second one five years later, although sailing boats also continued to be used. By virtue of these improvements the company achieved the transfer of most of the cross-Severn mail routes from the rival New Passage.[2] However, the passage remained dangerous. The Beachley-Aust ferry was lost with all hands on 1 September 1839. The same thing happened on 12 March 1844; the master, James Whitchurch was the son of the captain lost in 1839.[4]

In 1863, the railway reached the downstream, New Passage shores on both sides of the river, and this became the standard route. The Old Passage, not connected to the railway, therefore lost much of its traffic. In 1886, the railway Severn Tunnel opened, broadly following the line of the New Passage, and this removed the demand for all ferries until the late 1920s, when the increase in motor vehicles, which were not well catered for by the railway operator, led to new demand for a crossing.

The advent of railways, in particular the opening of the South Wales railway in 1852, the Severn Railway Bridge in 1879 and then the Severn tunnel in 1886, brought a sharp decrease in traffic. Both the steamboats were scrapped by 1860 and eventually the service was closed altogether.[2]

The car ferry[edit]

Aust Ferry Terminal
In use in 1966
Dilapidated in 2006

The ferry service gained a new lease of life, however, with the growth of motor traffic, and a service was re-opened in 1926. Between 1931 and 1966, a ferry service was operated by Enoch Williams of the Old Passage Severn Ferry Company Ltd.[5] Initially, this was only able to transport passengers with bicycles and motorbikes, but, by 1934, the Severn Queen was launched as a car ferry. It was able to carry just 17 cars. Each car had to turn sharply off the ramp onto the ferry, then be turned on a manually operated turntable before being parked. The process was reversed for unloading.[6] The ferry timetable was notoriously affected by the huge tidal range on the Severn. It was unable to operate at low tide or at very high tides. The last ferry crossing occurred on 8 September 1966,[7] the day before the first Severn Bridge opened.

Album cover showing Bob Dylan at Aust ferry terminal, 11 May 1966. The car number plate has been digitally altered to read 1235RD - a reference to Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35.

The Martin Scorsese film No Direction Home about the life of Bob Dylan has a promotional shot of Dylan standing in front of the Aust ferry terminal in May 1966, not long before it closed for good.[8]

The last remaining ferry boat, the Severn Princess which had been launched in 1959, was found wrecked, abandoned and full of fertiliser in Ireland in 1999 by Dr. Richard Jones, the grandson of Enoch Williams, and returned to Beachley in 2003. For some years the vessel rested alongside the Beachley slipway[9] but was then moved to the west bank of the River Wye in Chepstow, beneath the railway bridge.[10] After some years of delays, during which the condition of the boat deteriorated, restoration of the boat as a permanent heritage feature beside the Brunel railway bridge in Chepstow began in 2014.[11]

As late as 2007, several older roadsigns around central Bristol showed directions to "Aust Ferry", but with the word "ferry" painted out.[12]


The Severn Princess derelict beneath the railway bridge at Chepstow, 2010
  • MV Princess Ida (built Chepstow, 1931). Wooden. Withdrawn 1935.
  • MV Severn Queen (built Chepstow, 1934). Wheelhouse and funnel in centre of car deck. Withdrawn 1966.
  • MV Severn King (built Beverley, Woodward & Scarr (Yorkshire), 1935). Similar to the Severn Queen but Wheelhouse elevated over car deck, originally a single funnel but twin side funnels a later addition. Withdrawn 1966. In 1970 this boat was in use to support the demolition of the damaged Severn Railway Bridge, when it collided with one of the bridge piers and was sunk.[5][13]
  • MV Severn Princess (built Yorkshire Dry Dock, Hull, 1959). Wheelhouse and funnel in centre of car deck. Withdrawn 1966.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Jordan, Christopher (1977). Severn Enterprise. Arthur H Stockwell. ISBN 0-7223-0967-8. 
  • Greeves, John (September 2012). "Return of the Princess". Vintage Roadscene (Key Publishing). ISSN 0266-8947. 


  1. ^ Wilson, John, Imperial Gazeteer, 1870-72
  2. ^ a b c Ancient ferries
  3. ^ Daniel Defoe on the 18th century ferry
  4. ^ 1844 ferry loss
  5. ^ a b Jordan, Severn Enterprise
  6. ^ Car ferry
  7. ^ Coast (BBC). 28 July 2009. 
  8. ^ Bob Dylan
  9. ^ "Photos of the returned Severn Princess at Beachley". 2007. 
  10. ^ "Ferrytale ending for the Princess". This is Gloucestershire. 13 August 2009. 
  11. ^ "Severn Princess car ferry restoration begins". BBC News: Gloucestershire. BBC. Retrieved 1 July 2014. 
  12. ^ "Surviving road sign to the old ferry". 2007. 
  13. ^ Huxley, Ron (1984). The rise and fall of the Severn Bridge Railway. ISBN 978-1-84868-033-3. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°35′55.97″N 2°37′58.83″W / 51.5988806°N 2.6330083°W / 51.5988806; -2.6330083