Ferry Bridge, Dorset

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Ferry Bridge

Ferry Bridge, sometimes spelt Ferrybridge, is at the beginning of the causeway to the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England, and is the point at which the Fleet lagoon joins Portland Harbour. It is situated several hundred metres south of the Portland's boundary with the village of Wyke Regis, Weymouth. To the west of Ferry Bridge is the start of The Fleet, which is an internationally important nature reserve that extends to Abbotsbury Swannery, whilst to the east of the area is Portland Harbour. Along the harbour side is Smallmouth Beach.

The last building before entering Portland is the Ferry Bridge pub, which was once known as the Royal Victoria Inn. The first building on Portland is the Chesil Beach Centre; a nature study centre with toilets and a cafe. The waters of Portland harbour to the east of the Chesil causeway is very popular with windsurfers, being shallow yet catching the full force of the south-westerly winds. However, the water stays relatively calm because it lies inside Portland Harbour.[1] Ferry Bridge is also a popular dive site.[2] A boom is in place at Ferry Bridge to minimise the impact on the Fleet of any potential oil pollution from within Portland Harbour.[3]


The bridge at Ferry Bridge.
The bridge with the Fleet running under towards Portland Harbour.

The only road between Portland and the Mainland (the A354) passes across Ferry Bridge. Before 1839 there was no road connection between the Royal Manor of Portland and mainland England. The crossing was treacherous and people and animals were carried in a small boat between ropes slung across the gap. Historically many Portlanders had no need or desire to travel to Weymouth and beyond, and even in the early 20th century there reportedly were locals alive who had never left Portland. The short water crossing at the mouth of the Fleet could be extremely hazardous due to strong currents in the Smallmouth Passage.

In 1824 a viscous storm hit Portland's coast, and devastated the village of Chiswell. This storm also did major damage to the ferry boat at Smallmouth, the Passage House, and the natural area itself. After the storm the water channel had become four times its former width. A sand bar was also destroyed, which had once allowed horses and wagons to travel between the passage at times of low tide. Despite his best efforts, ferryman Richard Best could not save a horse which drowned at the site. With the ferry link lost it would be four days before any relief supplies arrived from the mainland.[4]

The storm became infamously known as 'The Great Gale of 1824', while the event sparked further demand for a more reliable link between the mainland and the island. However the crossing remained in a dangerous state, after a number of public meetings failed to accomplish anything. With each succeeding storm, passengers and commercial traffic travelling between the mainland and Portland was completely halted. Three years later a wagon with horses was swept away when attempting to travel across the remains of the sand bar.[5]

The ongoing demand for action led to the first bridge being built in 1839. This bridge was supported by timber trestle piles. In 1895 it was replaced by an iron bridge, which remained in place for 90 years. By the late 20th century the iron bridge had become rusted and worn-out, which led to the construction of a new concrete bridge, made of Portland stone. This bridge was situated several hundred metres south of the original bridge's position, due to the channel being realigned during the 1970s.[6] By 1865 a railway extension from Weymouth to Portland was completed, and this railway ran between the main road to island, and Portland Harbour.[1] The decision was made to build a railway viaduct across Smallmouth, and this 1864 construction was later rebuilt in 1902. The railway closed to passengers in 1952, and goods traffic in 1965. After spending over five years deciding what to do with the line, the government made the decision to remove the line completely. In 1971 the viaduct was demolished, and two remaining rusted metal stumps can be seen today, which were the original supports for the mainland side of Smallmouth.[7]

On the Wyke Regis side of Ferry Bridge, and the northern part of Portland Harbour, was once the Robert Whitehead's Torpedo Works - a factory built to manufacture torpedoes. In connection to this, torpedo testing and practice firing would occur from the northern-most breakwater in the harbour, while a purpose-built pier projecting into the harbour from the factory was also used for a similar role. Whitehead had overcome the problems encountered in the early experiments with torpedoes and went on to establish this factory in Weymouth. When he died in 1905 the ownership was acquired by the Armstrong-Whitworth and Vickers Company. Before the outbreak of World War 2 there were 1500 workers on the site, and much housing in Wyke Regis was constructed for the factory workers. The factory itself, later purchased by Wellworthy, became increasingly outdated and unusable, resulting in closure and demolition in 1997. The site of the factory is now a housing estate, named Whitehead Drive, and includes a memorial stone and plaque to commemorate the factory.[8]

At Ferry Bridge, close to the bridge itself, west of Portland Road, at the shoreline of the Fleet Lagoon, is a World War II type 22 pillbox. This is one of a number of anti-invasion structures placed along the east of the Fleet. However it is this particular pillbox that can be seen clearly from the Ferry Bridge area. The pillbox was constructed in 1940-41, is hexagonal in plan and constructed of brick and reinforced concrete. A field visit in 2001 found the structure to be extant, and of 2014 it still remains in existence. The pillbox has an external blast wall - an L-shaped roofed 'porch' structure, which is now separate from the pillbox, possibly due to subsidence. It has red brick shuttering.[9]


  1. ^ a b "Ferrybridge, Portland, Dorset". Geoffkirby.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  2. ^ "ferrybridge". Underwater Explorers. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  3. ^ http://www.chesilbeach.org/cfatoz/cfatoz_OR.html
  4. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland, an Illustrated History. Dorset: The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset. ISBN 0-946159-34-3. 
  5. ^ Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland, an Illustrated History. Dorset:: The Dovecote Press, Wimborne, Dorset. ISBN 0-946159-34-3. 
  6. ^ "Pictures - Ferrybridge". Chesilbeach.org. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  7. ^ Morris, Stuart (2006). Portland Then and Now. Dovecote Press. pp. Photo 141. 
  8. ^ http://www.weymouthinoldpostcards.co.uk/whitehead%20torpedo%20woirks.htm
  9. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1419087&sort=2&rational=m&recordsperpage=10&maplat=50.58531843&maplong=-2.47678731&mapisa=100&mapist=os&mapilo=-2.4768&mapila=50.5853&mapiloe=w&mapilan=n&mapios=SY662763&mapigrn=76350&mapigre=366250&mapipc=

Coordinates: 50°34′59″N 2°28′16″W / 50.5830°N 2.4712°W / 50.5830; -2.4712