The Story of the Southwold-Walberswick Ferry
A new book by Dani Church with Ann Gander
Ferrywoman Dani Church is a familiar sight as she rows locals and tourists across the River Blyth (see photo top right), but few people realise that there is a fascinating history behind the service, going back to at least the 13th century. Now Dani, with the help of author-publisher Ann Gander, has put together a book telling all about the history of the ferry and of the ferrymen and women who have worked the route.
Each one of the ferrymen is a memorable character, including the most famous of all, George Todd, who takes up a chapter on his own. His story also introduces the spooky subject of ghosts: various sightings are mentioned later in the book along with the controversial issue of circus elephants: did they or didn’t they cross over on the ferry, many years ago?
There is a chapter full of miscellaneous memories, with extracts of letters sent in to newspapers, plus photographs and anecdotes from those for whom the ferry has happy memories. Also, covered in detail for the first time is the mechanised chain ferry (photo, bottom right), which was much like the present one at Reedham, but came to a sad and untimely end. Dani’s own family worked the route then, and have now been associated with the ferry for five generations.
Dani spent four years collecting stories and photographs for the project, after her late father, ferryman David Church had suggested that a ‘booklet’ might be a good idea. Such was the response to Dani’s request for photos and stories that the end result was a paperback of over 200 pages, packed with superb photographs and anecdotes.
Dani says, ‘The book is a tribute to my dad, who sadly died in 2001, and also to all those who have worked this route over the years, including the great team who help out nowadays in the busy summer months – I certainly know how hard that can be at times, but how rewarding it is too.’
Asked why she enjoys the job so much, Dani says, ‘I love being in the fresh air and having time to watch the river, the birds and the weather. I enjoy the challenge of the rowing and knowing I’m keeping a tradition alive. And then there’s all the people I meet, so many wonderful, friendly people.’
Dani steadfasly refuses to use a motorised boat, preferring the traditional, more peaceful method of rowing. She says, 'It would be all too easy to use a motor boat all the time, although I couldn’t stand the smell of fuel and the noise. I like rowing - it means I can eat what I like and never get fat!' Her passengers certainly appreciate this few minutes’ break from the usual madcap pace of life and transport.
In these days of increased health and safety legislation, Dani has a list of regulations to meet, and she worries about the effects of changing weather and tides, but she adds optimistically, ‘My dad told me to keep the ferry going for as long as I enjoy it, so that’s what I plan to do.’
The Story of the Southwold-Walberswick Ferry was written by Dani with Ann Gander and has a foreword by award-winning writer and journalist Simon Barnes. Published through Holm Oak Publishing, it is priced £9.99. You’ll find it in most local bookshops or it can be ordered from bookshops nationwide. ISBN 9780953340644
To purchase online, visit the website www.holmoakpublishing.co.uk or send a cheque or postal order payable to Holm Oak Publishing for £11.50 per copy to:
Holm Oak Publishing, 24 Church View, Holton, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 8PB. For any queries, please phone Ann Gander on 01986 875999.