The date was July 27, 1957. The occasion was the end of the old Sunderland Ferry – an occasion which stirred Wearsiders deeply.
A thousand years of service was finished and the names of the ferryboats W.F. Vint and Sir Walter Raine were consigned to the history books.
But the ferry had great significance. It was in the days when the monks first came to Wearmouth and first set up their wooden church before building St Peter’s that they rowed their boats back and forth to the little hamlet which Sunderland then was.
Our thanks go yet again to the Sunderland Antiquarian Society for a delve into the history books which is fascinating.
The exact year in which it began is impossible to know but Bede tells us that the Abbot Coelfrid crossed from Wearmouth to Sunderland by boat in 716AD. Ferrying continued to play an important role right until the opening of the first Wearmouth Bridge in 1796. The landing was at Bodlewell Lane and the ferry ran across the river to close to what is today the Sunderland University campus next to the National Glass Centre.
In its early days it helped to make Church Street North and the neighbouring streets in Monkwearmouth almost as prosperous as High Street East and the surrounding streets on the Sunderland side of the river.
But as time passed and slum clearance came in, the population moved. And as modern transport emerged, there wasn’t the need for it.
It really took a football Saturday, with thousands of people using the ferry, to recall the days when it was not only a necessity but a paying proposition.
However, even as one of the cheapest rides in the world – the fare was one halfpenny – it became too heavy a burden for the Town, which had acquired the rights of running the ferry, to continue to do so and consequently it terminated the service.