Hotwells and the Rownham Ferry

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Crossing of the River Avon at Hotwells

On William Dyer:

“Leigh Woods used to be our favourite resort. In those days there was no suspension bridge. We crossed the ferry, and clambered up the sides of Nightingale Valley until we found some coign of vantage where we rested. Not a soul disturbed our solitude. The wild rabbits were not more innocent of guile than we were.1

For centuries, the Rownham ferry was the main crossing between the Hotwells/Clifton and Leigh Woods sides of the River Avon. Though work began on the Bristol Suspension Bridge before Symonds’ birth, financial difficulties halted construction, and for decades the two stone towers stood alone with no more than a metal rod connecting the two banks. This was the case in the 1850s, when the two teenaged lads stole away from their families to the shade of Leigh Woods.

The writer and publisher Charles Knight recorded an image of the ferry’s passengers on a fine day in the 1850s: “a group of artists proceeding to Leigh Woods to sketch; next to them, a posse of country girls returning from market; the great mass, however, is generally composed of the humbler citizens and their families, well provided with bulky baskets of provender for a picnic in the woods, or for an early tea in the public gardens which lie among the river side.” maintains a history of the Rownham Ferry.

  1. John Addington Symonds, The Memoirs of John Addington Symonds, ed. by Phyllis Groskurth (New York: Random House, 1984), p.105 []