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Who Pays The Ferryman?

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Perhaps sometime soon we'll lose this snow and I'll be able to get back out on the bike to visit some bygone boozers, but as I type more white stuff is descending so, for now, here's another post which developed from a memory stirred by a post I saw on Facebook.

Who Pays the Ferryman? In the late 1970s I did. Twice a day.

At the time the BBC drama which went by that name was one of my late mother's mustn't miss programmes. No on-demand streaming in those days. No recordable hard drive. Not even a video recorder. Around the same time I was working at Birds Eye Foods in Great Yarmouth. In the crumbed comminutes department. Crumbed what? Crumbed comminutes. Pulverised meaty stuff covered in breadcrumbs. And those crumbed comminutes were: Rissoles – pulverised lamb in breadcrumbs; Chicklets – pulverised chicken and chicken skin in breadcrumbs; and Brunchies – not so much pulverised egg and sausagemeat in breadcrumbs but more a mix of yellow slime and pink slime in breadcrumbs.

Early shifts would see me up at 5:15, wash, dress and set off for the start of the 6 o'clock shift. No need to eat as we had a breakfast break at 7. Afternoon shifts would be the same, but several hours later as clocking on was at 2pm. And, of course, no breakfast.

The journey to work involved taking the pedestrian ferry across the river, and along with all of my fellow passengers, I'd offer up a coin to Charon who'd ferry us across the Styx to our destination in Hades. Just what the nature of that coin was escapes me. I have a memory of it being a twenty pence piece, but my memory must be playing up as these weren't introduced until 1982. It certainly wasn't the twelve-sided thrupenny bit which was the going rate when Great Aunt Elvie, who used to keep the now defunct Lifeboat Tavern, gave the helmsman a shilling to carry my sister and I across the river and back again in the early 1960s.

Charon steers in to dock on the Hades side of the Styx.

A little over eight hours and twenty thousand Brunchies later, workmate Steve and I would each tender another coin, but with lighter hearts, and we'd pop into the Ferry Boat on the way back to his place to listen to Steely Dan's Aja, or possibly something from the Alan Parson's Project. Apart from the fact that mixing Greek mythology with allusion to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy would be really pretentious, as if I'm not being sufficiently grandiloquent as it is, it would also be stretching things a bit too far to say that we had passed though Hell and emerged into paradise when the best brew that landlord Ray Frost could offer in those days was Norwich Bitter, and the only decent song on the jukebox was Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street. So I won't. (I think it was in the Ferry Boat that Steve and I, having been exposed to far too much of the stuff, penned the lyrics to a County & Western song which started 'My wife has left me, my dog has died and the baby's just burned down the barn...'.)

Ye Olde Ferry Boat Inn stood above the ferry jetty, at the point where Malthouse Lane converged with Ferry Hill, Ferryboat Lane and Riverside Road.

Walter High had the Ferry Boat Inn from 1949-58. Just look at those lovely windows.

Although it was in the late 1970s that I was frequenting the place it seems that it dates from a couple of centuries earlier. According to the Norfolk Pubs website deeds dated to 1760 are in existence and that it was offered, in October 1782, " be Let or Sold. Freehold premises in occupation of John Nobbs at the yearly rent of Six Pounds."

The current building carries a pair of panels with the words

Ye Olde


Boat Inn



This and the style of the building strongly suggest that the Ferry Inn was rebuilt at the end of the nineteenth century when it was owned by Steward, Patteson, Finch & Co., who'd acquired the premises in 1865.

It was in 1980 that landlord Ray Frost went a-knocking on the door of an occasional drinking companion of mine and her boyfriend. They were living in another bygone boozer, the converted Barking Fishery, just along the road. From what I recall Ray had been attacked in the pub, had made his escape and sought safety with a couple of his regulars. The police were called and informed that Ray was at the old Barking Fishery. This caused a bit of confusion with the boys in blue as the assailant's surname just happened to be Ray (or Rae).

Whilst doing a bit of digging for this post that it came to my attention that the pub may well have been the scene of another attack. I'd noticed that the place was referred to as 'The Murderers' by some locals. Rumours abound that a body was discovered in a wardrobe. True? I've no idea. I've no details or memory of this supposed event, having left Gorleston in 1979, only occasionally popping back to visit the folks until Dad died in 2014, but there is reference to one taking place in 1985 on the Great Yarmouth History website and also in a note attached to a photograph of the pub used by the local paper.

So it looks as if a life probably was taken there and that a picture of the pub taken earlier was used in the newspaper's coverage. The pub's life is over too. It ceased trading in 2016. Gone too is the Birds Eye factory - closed in 1986. The ferry survived a bit longer but the ferryman took his final payment in the 1990s. Steve? I last saw him in 1982. Married with a young son and working as a postman in Huddersfield. We reminisced over a mug of coffee whilst listening to Springsteen's Nebraska. Or was it Chris de Burgh's Don't Pay The Ferryman?

August 2016 - the month it closed. The lovely earlier windows replaced or bricked up. ©2019 Google

And from a different angle ©2019 Google

March 2019 ©2019 Google

Thanks to Debbie Larke and Russell Walker for the non-Google images.

If you've read this far then thank you. Like me, you possibly have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. If you haven't done so already, you can subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could just follow the link at the top of this page.

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