The ferry is an ancient institution and there is documentary evidence that is was in existence in the reign of Richard the 2nd (14th Century). There has been no change on the site of the ferry for almost 400 years. Up until the mid 1800's the ferry was called the 'boat stake'. The pathway from the Burton side led from the Fleetstones across the Fleet Green and Shipley Meadow (Later to be Baldwin's Meadow). Who owned the ferry is one of those puzzles that is lost in time. We doubt that in any way that is was connected with the Burton Abbey because legend has it for some unknown reason, that the Monks of Burton had a desire to stop a passage over the Trent to Stapenhill. When Henry XIII was king he had the desire to own everything and with his generous ability to give away other peoples property, he seized the ferry and gave it as a gift to Lord William Paget. Lord Paget was responsible for the upkeep of the ferry. It was probable that there was initially no fee to cross the Trent via the ferry as there was free passage over the old Burton Bridge.
At a later time the Paget family began to charge a fee to cross the river. This was continued by the Marquis of Anglesey up until the ferry's last trip on April 3rd 1889. In approximately 1831 the ferry was in the hands of a Mr. Lee. After acting as ferryman for some years he sublet the post to a Mr. Preece. On Mr. Preece's retirement, Mr Dalton who was a hatter in the town took it on. It remained in his hands and the hands of his family right up to the late 1800's when it once again passed into the management of the Marquis of Angelsey. In 1879 the ferry carried no fewer than 17,754 people per month. The journey to the boatstake was sometimes a treacherous one, with muddy banks and a 2ft viaduct to venture over a sometimes Niagara acting brook, this was indeed for only the hardy traveler. Dalton introduced many improvements, such as old chain hand rails across the brook and the firming of the boggy banks, Although the ferry became more popular it couldn't stop the proposed plan of a bridge to be built, and after this, it was a matter of time before the ferry was outdated.
The Ferry Bridge
in 1865 the Marquis of Angelsey obtained an Act of Parliament authorizing him to make and maintain a bridge over the River Trent at or near the site of the Stapenhill ferry. This bridge was originally intended to be a second river crossing that was on par or better than the existing Burton Bridge. The work never went beyond the planning stage much to the dismay of the local ferry users. The ferry users were still hopeful that a river crossing would still be built. It was perceived that the Marquis of Angelsey was a stumbling block in the process. In 1886 the Marquis obtained parliamentary powers to erect a foot bridge and to sell those powers and the ferry to the Corporation, but the price he was asking was considered too excessive. After considerable time and negotiations between the council and the Marquis, Lord Burton came forward and offered to build a foot bridge free of charge, if the council bought the rights from the Marquis. Eventually the difficulties between the Marquis and the Council over remuneration were settled when the Marquis eventually agreed to sell the rights for the Ferry and the Bridge for which he received the sum of £12,950 from the Corporation.
Lord Burton arranged with Messrs Thornewell & Warham, the eminent iron founders to proceed with the erection of the bridge. The design of the bridge was suggested by Mr Langley an eminent engineer of the Midland Railway Company, he took great interest in the construction of the bridge and gave the contractors the benefit of his great experience in bridge building. The construction of the bridge was on a suspension principle. Its distinctive feature being the chains which are made of flat bar iron, riveted to the ends of the main girders. These chains are continuous from one end to the other and are not anchored at the ends as they would normally would be on a traditional suspension design. This form of construction had not been previously used and was the first bridge in Europe to be constructed in this way. The bridge is 240 feet long and the roadway is 10ft wide. It crosses the River Trent in three spans, the centre span being 115 feet wide between the piers and the two side spans each being 57 feet wide between the piers and the stone abutments. The height of the underside of the bridge from the average water level is 9 feet at the ends and 11 feet in the middle.
The towers over which the chains pass are carried on four cylindrical piers and are placed in 2 pairs, 15 feet apart from centre to centre, 5 feet in diameter (the diameter of the cylinders was fixed upon as giving the smallest area in which the men could conveniently work) and are sunk to a depth from 12 to 15 feet below the bed of the river to a solid foundation of marl and sandstone. The water was pumped out of the cylinders by a pulseometer supplied with steam by a portable boiler and the earth and rock was hoisted to the surface in a bucket. Large piles were driven at the sides of the cylinders to keep them vertical and to strengthen the overall structure. The cylinders were filled with concrete and upon this is laid 3 feet of blue bricks and a stone bed onto which the towers were erected. The towers are contracted of wrought-iron lattice work 2'3½" at the bottom to 1'4½" at the top and 20'3" high.
They are braced together at the top by a lattice girder 11'¼" deep. The towers are cased externally with ornamental cast iron work 23'6" high, the bases being paneled and decorated with the arms and supporters of Lord Burton and his motto: Basis virtutum constantia. The towers are surmounted with lions rampant (his lordships supporters) carrying wrought-iron staffs with gilded copper veins with his monogram. The girders are continuous from one end of the bridge to the other. They are 6 feet deep, the top and bottom flanges are made of "T" iron 6" by 6" by ½" thick. The lattice bars 3" by 3/8" of flat iron and stiffened by double angle irons and gusset plates. The longitudinal girders are tied together by lattice cross girders 12" deep in the middle and 6" deep at the ends, and wind ties of flat iron are also placed between these girders. The longitudinal girders formed the parapet of the bridge, the top and bottom flanges being cased with ornamental iron work, and the junction of the lattice bars enriched with ornamental castings. The chains are made of flat bars 3" in thickness , riveted in the middle of the centre span and at the ends of the bridge to the main girders. The piers and towers are placed outside the main girders, which increases the resistance of the bridge to wind pressure, the distance between the chains being wider at the tower than at the middle and ends of the girders.
The chains are simply riveted to the ends of the girders and not anchored to the masonry of the abutments, so that the whole bridge is self contained. The main girders are hung from the chains by suspension rods 1½" in diameter. The roadway was originally red deal 3" higher in the middle than at the sides to allow run off of rain water. The bridge was tested by loading the middle section of the bridge with several tons of old rails and its rigidity was further tested by 20 men from the Stafford shire regiment marching at double time across the bridge. This was considered the most severe test that a suspension bridge could be exposed too. The lattice girders which tie the towers together are cased with more ornamental iron work bearing the date of the erection of the bridge, 1889 and underneath this the inscription The gift of Michael Arthur First Baron Burton.
The bridge was lit by two lamps hanging from each of the cross braces between the towers and the heavy cast iron lamp pillars in character with the towers at the ends of the bridge, bearing four more lamps. Lord Burton also diverted the pathway so as it was to make it lead directly to the bridge from the fleetstones and replaced the small wooden bridge over the ditch cut to the silver way with a small lattice girder bridge of similar design to the main bridge. The total weight of the iron work of the bridge is upwards of 200 tons. The stone abutments were built by Messrs Lowe and Sons, and the carving of the patterns being executed by Mr Hilton of Victoria Street Burton. The total cost of the structure including the diversion of the roadway the iron work approach, the small bridge, the earth work embankments, and the purchase of the land for the improvement of the roadway on the Stapenhill side of the river was between £6000-£7000. Once built the bridge was testament to the quality of the local workforce and the expertise of the contractors concerned.
The bridge was opened at 10 o'clock on Wednesday the 3rd of April 1889 by Lord and Lady Burton. They firstly made the last journey across the Trent to the Burton side of the river via the old ferry. They were met by a barrage of cheers and jubilation from the large crowd of approximately 8,000-10,000 people that had gathered. Lord and Lady Burton stepped onto the bridge and were met by Cathleen and Violet Thornewill (The little daughters of Mr & Mrs R.Thornewill) who presented her Ladyship with a large bouquet of flowers. His Lordship and Lady Burton were then received onto the bridge by the Mayor and members of the Council. After the speeches from the dignitaries Lady Burton in a clear voice declared the Bridge Open and said I hope it will be of great benefit to the public. The crowd responded with loud and prolonged cheering and waved their handkerchiefs.
At a banquet given to the Mayor and Corporation by Lord Burton he signified his intention of building a viaduct which would connect the bridge and the town. This would do away with the muddy trek from the Fleetstones bridge across the meadows to the new Ferry Bridge. This was completed shortly afterwards and brought the total cost of the bridge and viaduct to over £10,000. A toll of ½d per person was maintained on the bridge for nine years until the 13th April 1898, when it was declared free of toll. The bridge is still in use today by thousands of Burtonions and visitors every week and is set in a glorious setting with the Gardens and Washlands. For a few years there was again a ferry (The Dingle Bell) in operation from the Ferry Bridge, but this time it is for the tourists, which took trips from the Ferry Bridge down river to the Burton bridge and back, sadly this is no longer running
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