Hartlepool boatman died on the steps to his beloved ferry

A shot of the Hartlepool ferry - popular with workers at the shipyards and engineering works in and around Middleton for generations.
A shot of the Hartlepool ferry - popular with workers at the shipyards and engineering works in and around Middleton for generations.
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The death of ferryman Thomas “Bull” Boagey brought a 350-year-old tradition to an end in Hartlepool - just weeks after he had predicted its demise.

Bull, a former Royal Naval Reserve sailor, slipped and cracked his head on the ferry steps in December 1952. He died before reaching hospital.

A shot of one of the ferries in bygone days.

A shot of one of the ferries in bygone days.

“He had complained just days beforehand about how hard it was to make a living ferrying people between Middleton and Hartlepool,” said historian Norman Kirtlan.

“Tragically, it was just after he returned from a fishing trip - trying to make a little extra money - that he died. It was a very sad end to a tradition.”

The earliest ferry records date to 1600, when William Porrett rowed the 100-yard route. Then, in 1854, the Commissioners’ Ferry launched a service too.

Generations of workers commuted via ferry to the William Gray shipyards and Thomas Richardson Engineworks - while children used it to get to school.

“The ferry saved travellers a long walk around the Slake. For the sake of a copper or two, they could be rowed the short distance to work,” said Norman.

The future of the ancient ferry was left in jeopardy, however, in 1947 - following the retirement of one of the last part-time ferryboatmen to run it.

But former riveter and boatswain Bull Boagey stepped in, together with ex-serviceman pal Robert Pounder, to re-open the service in December that year.

“They petitioned the Corporation to let them take over. It was a tough job, but they wanted to do it - working from 6.45am until 6pm each day,” said Norman.

“Bull then took on full responsibility in 1950 and, with the position, came a house at 6 Town Wall. It was, perhaps, to prove more of a curse than a blessing.”

One of Bull’s first acts was to restore the penny fare but, after six weeks, he had to raise it to 2d - after finding scores of foreign coins in the ticket box.

Just a year later, in September 1951, the service had to be suspended after Bull fell ill with flu. And, in 1952, the ferry was losing money “hand over fist”.

“In an era of mounting prices, I feel I am getting a poor reward for working from daylight to dark,” he told the Mail at the time.

“There just isn’t the money about to increase fares. I’ll carry on as long as I can, but my takings are as little as 1/6 a week.”

Indeed, Bull - a father of ten children - was forced to supplement his meagre income with fishing. Ultimately, his extra work was to kill him.

“The rent for the house and ferry totalled 32 shillings a week, but hard-working Bull just wasn’t making enough to cover his costs,” said Norman.

“The 58-year-old was forced to fish to supplement his income and, on December 2, 1952, he had just returned from fishing when he slipped on the ferry steps.

“He was apparently carrying a bucket of water to clean the fish when he tripped. He was dead within minutes and, just days later, the ferry was closed.”