Ferry Boat Inn

Viewing history:/Ferry Boat Inn
Ferry Boat Inn 2016-10-13T12:17:50+00:00


Courtesy of Russell Eyre

The history of

The ferry boat inn

1665 to 1887

Russell Eyre 2011

One night at Ferry House, as the Ferry Boat Inn is now called, I read a story called the” Fisherman and the Fiddler”, by Thomas Cooper published in 1845, (click for full text) about the wedding of Lucy, of the Ferry Boat Inn, to young Farmer Brown. I also discovered that the history of the Inn went back to, at least, 1820, when William Wilkinson paid for a licence for the Ferry Boat Inn.

This caused some discussion and Andy presented me with a file of documents, maps and letters relating to Ferry House and the Ferry Boat Inn. He asked, in his inimitable way, if I could “do something with this lot”.

This was the start of a journey that had me looking up “Wills and Probates 1681 to 1911” at 2am and crawling round churchyards, photographing and recording gravestones.

I’ve tried to provide more than just a list of names and dates. Through this journey in time, I’ve come to know these people, better than some of my own family and much better than the man who lives across the road. Where I could, I’ve tried to give a picture of the people who lived, worked and died in this house. This is a story of the families who ran the Ferry Boat Inn. This is their story, their lives, success, failures, triumphs and tragedies. I hope I’ve done them justice.

But, the big question I wanted to answer was. Did Polly exist; did she marry young Farmer Brown and dance to the Blind Fiddler, Phil Garrett in this very kitchen of the Ferry Boat Inn?

Now read on.

The Ashtons

1665: In April, 1665 at the Parish Church of Bole, John Ashton of Sturton-le-Steeple married Mary Maultbey of Littleborough. John had borrowed money from his father, also called John, of Sturton High Hall, and his brothers Bryan and William Ashton also of Sturton. With the money, he bought land and the Ferry Rights and was the founder and the first Landlord of the Ferry Boat Inn, opened to cater to people making the crossing of the Trent at Littleborough.

John was a newcomer to Littleborough, but he soon settled in and in 1675 he became the churchwarden at Littleborough church.

1684: John Ashton died on the 14th September.

The Ferry Boat Inn passed to John’s eldest son, Willyam, christened 5th February 1665, three months before his parents were married. William (as his name was now spelt) married Sarah Branston on 20th April 1674 and had a son, again called John Ashton, born in 1690.

1714: John Ashton married Margaret Bilby, 20th April 1714

1749: John Ashton died 22 September.

The Ferry Boat Inn was definitely run by John Ashton. On his death a detailed inventory showed he had a stock of ale valued at £12 and brewing vessels and implements worth £18. 10s.0d. a farm labourer would earn about £15 per year in 1749, so there was enough beer in John’s cellar to keep a man drunk for a year.

He also owned a boat, valued at £90, which indicates that he also ran the ferry.

John would also have been the landlord when William Stukeley arrived in Littleborough, in September 1722, to investigate the Roman remains of Agelocum. For many years the village pigs had been digging up Roman coins. So common were they that they were called “Swine Pennies” in Littleborough.

William Stukeley was one of England’s first archaeologists and the first president of the Antiquarian Society.

He observed that two Roman altars were being used as “piers in a wall on the side of the steps that lead from the waterside to the inn”.


Littleborough Roman Altar



He also drew the first detailed plan of Littleborough, marking the Church, Ferry, Inn and Gibbet. This plan confirms, what we know as Ferry House, was the Ferry Boat Inn in 1722.

Daniel Defoe passed by in 1734 and wrote in his book “Curious and Diverting Journies, thro’ the whole Island of Great Britain.”

We were obliged to go over the river in a ferry boat and then we saw Rhetford, a pretty little borough town of good trade, situate on the River Idle; the mayor treated us like gentlemen, though himself but a tradesman; he gave us a dish of fish from the River Idle, and another from the Trent, which I only note, to intimate that the salmon of the Trent is very valuable in this country, and is oftentimes brought to London, exceeding large and fine; at Newark they have it very large, and likewise at Nottingham.

John Ashton had three children who survived him, William (born 1720), Benjamin (born 1722) and a daughter, Mary (born 1717).



Mary Aston married William Wilkinson, a neighbour and a farmer on 22nd December 1740.

William Ashton left Littleborough to be a farmer in Fenton and married Anne Peck on 1st November 1748.

Benjamin Ashton took over the running of the Ferry Boat Inn, married a woman called Catherine and ran a prosperous business.

Although Benjamin Ashton was a staunch member of the community, on the 16th October 1754 the churchwarden presented to the Archdeaconry Court, “Benjamin Ashton for being the reputed father of Margaret Parkinson’s bastard child”.

1765: Benjamin Ashton died on 28th November at the young age of 43. In his will, dated 26th November 1764, he left £50 to his daughter Anne, £50 to his daughter Mary and only one shilling each, to his sister Mary Wilkinson and brother William Ashton, the remainder to his wife Catherine and son John.

1812: Catherine Ashton died. She left £600 and the Ferry Boat Inn to her son John, £300 to daughter Mary, £100 to grandson William Wilkinson and £40 each to grandchildren John Wilkinson, Ann Wilkinson, Catherine Wilkinson, Mary Wilkinson and Maria Wilkinson. Daughter Mary Ashton also got the Plate, Linen, China, Beds, Bedding, Household Goods and Furniture from the Ferry Boat Inn. In total a sizeable bequest from a very rich lady of the time.


They were so well regarded, that a plaque to their memory was placed in the chancel of Littleborough church


The Ferry Boat Inn passed to Benjamin and Catherine’s son John and at a date unknown: John Ashton married Margaret.

John’s sister, Anne, married a John Wilkinson and gave birth to the five children named in Catherine’s will, including two sons John, the elder, and William.

1837: John Ashton died


The Wilkinsons’

I can’t find any evidence of when the Ferry Boat Inn was passed on to William Wilkinson from, his uncle, John Ashton.

It should have gone to his elder brother John Wilkinson, but he returned to Sturton-Le-Steeple to be a farmer.

1816: William Wilkinson married Elizabeth Fox on 21st November.

1820: William Wilkinson recorded as paying £20 for a yearly licence to be Innkeeper at the Ferry Boat Inn, Littleborough.

1820: Roman ford removed as a hazard to navigation.

1821: Accounts lodged showing that William Wilkinson, as well as being a Farmer and Innkeeper he was also a Fishmonger; more than likely dealing in Salmon..

1822: Inn inspected and found to be legally complying with the law to display a sign: “Ferry Boat.”

1840: Elizabeth died. It appears that William and Elizabeth did not have any children.

1841: Census, William Wilkinson is down as a Brewer in Littleborough with his sister Ann Wilkinson. Although the Census does not mention it specifically, it can reasonably be assumed that the Brewery was part of the Ferry Boat Inn.



1 843: William Wilkinson dies aged 60. A plaque is placed, in his memory, in the chancel of Littleborough church.








Following the death of William Wilkinson, the Ferry Boat Inn passes into the hands of William and Lucy Black.

Ann Wilkinson continued to live in Littleborough.

1851: Census, down as a farmer with a ”servant of all work”, Hannah Scott, age 16.

1861: Census, down as a farmer of 60 acres living with her sister Maria and a House Servant, Emma Eyre age 27. (I knew an Eyre would appear somewhere. We always do. R. E.)

1871: Census, still down as a farmer, with Maria down as a Company Keeper plus a housekeeper and a servant. Ann is registered as a Lunatic.




1873: Ann Wilkinson dies aged 85.

Ann is a woman of a varying age, according to the records she was 85 when she died, but her gravestone shows 89. She also appears to have acquired a letter E in her name. Something she never had in life.

1874: Maria Wilkinson dies 26th October, leaving less than £200.