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You'd never think to look at today's sprawling city of Worcester that hidden below lie the remains of its past - such remnants as the old fortified wall and eight gateways. Sections of wall, including a buttress which was part of the original St. Martin's gate can be seen along the busy City Walls Road, but much more lies under ground. Discovered sections being brought to light now and then with the building, rebuilding and alterations that is part of modern life.
Although only one of the original gateways remains - the Water Gate - the position of the other seven have been thoughtfully marked by a plaque in its appropriate place. Armed with an hour and a half, a comfortable pair of shoes and a little imagination it is possible to follow the line of the walls, to see the plaques marking each gateway, and judge for yourself the enclosure this fortified structure encircled and which current day buildings lay within.
Long before there were bridges there were ferries, and in days long gone,, landowners, ecclesiastical and municipal authorities maintained the crossings of the river. In days when labour was cheap, the ferries were a valuable source of income not only for the ferryman, who paid for his right to ply the crossing, but for the owners as well. For centuries ferries had an important place in the communications of this country and the closing of them in this century has been a loss to the community. In the 19th century, the Severn Commissioners granted licences annually to operate a ferry, for the ferry was a right of way and the ferryman had to conform to the regulations and ply his boat between the hours of sunrise and sunset.
Although most ferries were in operation until the Second World War, Information concerning them is difficult to find. Mrs. Berkeley, in 1932, wrote a valuable paper to the Worcestershlre Archaeological Society on the Ferries of Worcestershire for, although most were still operating at that time, It was obvious that, with the more general use of the motor car, the ferries would be difficult to maintain economically.
I have included in this account some of the older crossings of the Severn, for even before the ferries came into existence, the crossings at low water, on a hard bar of rock, were undertaken by prehistoric man and his animals. Before the building of the locks and weirs, the tide came daily to Worcester and beyond but, because of these fords, navigation at low water became difficult if not impossible. At an Admiralty Inquiry of 1849, John Burton, a trowman of Ironbridge, reported that in the 28 miles of river from Coalbrookdale to Stourport there were 54 fords; from Stourport to Worcester there were 11, or one every mile and from Worcester to Gloucester there were 15 or 16. Not all these fords were used by travellers, but many were and, when we find roads or trackways leading to the river at these places, we can be sure that, in days past, the crossing was well used.
Few of the ferry houses remain on the river bank but the watermen’s inns from which some of the ferries were operated mostly still exist and, in the summer months, are still alive with laughter and song. This account starts with the most northerly of the Worcestershire ferries, that of Upper Arley, and ends at Uckinghall, in the parish of Ripple, below Upton.on-Severn.