Hidden away, down an overgrown path at the back of an ordinary housing estate, is a little-known ferry that has been taking people across the Manchester Ship Canal – free of charge – for more than a century.
The Hulmes Ferry began running in 1885 to replace a low-lying bridge that was demolished during the building of the canal.
The service was set up by an Act of Parliament, making the canal owners responsible for providing a free ferry crossing between Urmston, in Trafford, and Irlam, in Salford.
By the early 1900s, it had become essential for workers who wanted to get to and from their jobs at the steel, soap and margarine works in Irlam.
Rear-oared scull boats would bring passengers across daily from 6am to 11pm – and trips in the early hours could be taken by knocking awake the ferryman who lived in the cottage next to the Urmston jetty.
But as the factories closed and cars came into fashion, the ferry became less popular. Now it only runs four days a week for a few hours a day between April and November.
Earlier this week, we arranged to meet retired ferryman Stuart Smith for a trip across the canal. . . . . .
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