RIVERSIDE pubs are a special feature of our district.

Both Maldon’s Hythe and Burnham’s Quay have excellent examples of these inns of history, but there are others in more remote waterside locations.

Among them is the Ferry Boat Inn at North Fambridge.

The route to its time-honoured door epitomises the saltwater heritage of the pub.

As David Fairhall puts it in East Anglian Shores (Nautical 1988): “A lane takes you down to the Ferry Boat Inn, tucked in alongside the boatyard behind post-1953 sea defences.”

Go there, as I did recently, and you will find a typical, Essex weather-boarded building, complete with a mixture of casement and sash windows and roofed with handmade red clay tiles and slates, along with a modern, tasteful extension.

The old part is quite rightly recognised as a Grade II listed building. The official record has it as 18th century, altered in the 19th, but its timber frame makes me think it is much older than that – perhaps as early as the 16th century.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Ferry Boat Inn as it was in the 1920sFerry Boat Inn as it was in the 1920s

That ancient core is certainly well balanced in external appearance, with three bays facing to the west and a stack at each end.

But why is it called the Ferry Boat?

Since time immemorial, the ancient route out of Maldon that we now call Fambridge Road, has come to an abrupt end at the windswept banks of the River Crouch.

South Fambridge is in sight, but is miles away by road. It was only natural that a ferry was established to take travellers over the short crossing. That ferry has featured throughout the annals of our local history.

It could well have been the “fenn brycg” that gives the place its Anglo-Saxon name. It was owned by Godric then, a freeman during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066).

In the 1580s, the ferry was the location of an attempted elopement involving Maldon man Thomas Cammock and Frances, the only daughter of Lord Rich.

Around the same time the ferryman was accused of “obstructing the highway” and, 20 years later (in 1599), his boat was described as “dangerous and insufficient”.

With that long heritage, the ferry became inextricably linked to the village and lent its name to a riverside farmstead – Ferry Farm.

That farm, with its 50 acres, appears in the Tithe Award of 1840 and it was the farmhouse that eventually doubled as the Ferry Boat Public House (which had actually been serving beer, officially or otherwise, since at least 1807).

The first landlord that we know of was William Palmer, “victualler”, and he continued there for the next 40 or so years. He appears in the census returns for 1851 as a 36-year-old locally born man with his older wife, Susanna, 45, sons William Jnr and John, daughters Hannah, Rebecca and Mary, servant Sarah England, of Stow Maries, and three lodgers James Potter, James Chapman and John Lord.

Thirty-year-old John Lord of Little Wakering, is described as a “waterman” and was the resident ferryman.

By 1881 the landlord’s son, John Palmer, was the ferryman and is listed as such in the census for that year.

By 1891 the Palmers had given way to William Morgan, “innkeeper”, from Bradwell.

He was at the pub with his wife Lottie, two lodgers and the next ferryman – William Harrington, of Steeple.

Frederick Bedford took over as landlord around 1898, and then it was briefly with Edwin Longstaff.

George Barnard Osborne had it from 1906 until the Great War.

During the 1920s it was the turn of Robert Clement Walker (1922) and Edwin George Ballard (from 1925).

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Messing about on the river near the Ferry Boat Inn (by permission Kevin Fuller)Messing about on the river near the Ferry Boat Inn (by permission Kevin Fuller)

On the eve of the Second World War, Ernest James Blackman was the publican. Ernest would have been behind the bar when North Fambridge saw its fair share of action – 14 high explosives bombs, 504 incendiaries, two doodlebugs and two V2 rockets.

During the height of the Battle of Britain, a Hurricane crashed and burned out to the rear of the village post office, killing the pilot.

Then on Sunday, November 5, 1944, an American B17 Flying Fortress force landed in a field 400 yards north east of Barn Farm.

Thankfully, on that occasion, the pilot and his crew were unhurt.

The crash site is only seven minutes walk from the pub, close enough for nine relieved airmen to call in for a stiff drink before being picked up to return to their base at RAF Deenethorpe, near Corby.

In my imagination I can still picture them walking down the lane in their leather flying gear, passing over the threshold of the pub, across the worn stone floor and asking a somewhat bemused Ernie Blackman if he had any Bourbon.

The Ferry Boat Inn has now been through a major renovation project to give it the new lease of life it so richly deserves.

And following my recent visit, I am pleased to report that, as well as all that good history, it now offers exemplary hospitality, service, food and drink.