Bablock Hythe, the Ferryman Inn and slipways

Street view Bablock Hythe Inn and north bank slipway
Street view Bablock Hythe south bank slipway and head of Google Cameraman on his Google cycle
Street view Bablock Hythe south bank lane. Muddy Slipway is on left before gate

1909: Bablock Hythe in The Stripling Thames by Fred Thacker

Bablock Hythe Right Bank Slipway

Good Right bank slipway with parking in pub carpark (talk to landlord).
He will charge you £10 per use (in or out). The Southern unregulated slip is about eight miles round by road.

Ferry slipway, Bablock Hythe, Right bank.

Bablock Hythe Left Bank Slipway

The Bablock Hythe Left Bank Slipway which is now concreted, with informal parking. Light manually launched boats only. There may be mud!

Ferry slipway Bablock Hythe, LEFT bank
Ferry slipway Bablock Hythe, Left bank.

Bablock Hythe Caravan Camping Park Office: 01865 882236, Mobile: 07881 923924
Camping: The Ferryman Inn, Bablock Hythe, Northmoor, Witney, Oxon  OX29 5AT. 01865 880028
5 pitches, all year except Christmas & New Year. WC and water. Wheelchair access.

from 'Singing Water' by R C Lehmann -

The eddies have an air too, and brave it is and blithe;
I think I may have heard it that day at Bablockhythe.

1910: This section in Thames Valley Villages by Charles G Harper -

At Bablockhythe remains the last of the old river ferries, capable of taking a wheeled conveyance across ; and capable, too, of giving an unwary oarsman or punter a very nasty check with its rope, permanently stretched athwart the stream.
There is some very noble, still, quiet scenery at, and just above and below, Bablockhythe, where the water runs with a deep and silent stealthiness, and the bushy poplars and pendant weeping willows are reflected with such startling faithfulness that the reflection in the water beneath looks more solid- much more real than the foliage above. It is an illusion of the weirdest kind.

Here you are looking at history - at least a thousand years there has been a ferry here and who knows how much longer. 

The Ferryman Inn is not the most striking of traditional pubs - but it is friendly, has a loo, and serves drink and food.

The Ferryman, Bablock Hythe
The Ferryman, Bablock Hythe, Right bank.

1279: John Cocus held the ferry of Babbelak rented from Deerhurst Priory.
1320: Babbelak in la More  has belonged for a century to Deerhurst Priory.  The tenant had to maintain a ferry for the Prior and his servants and those of the Church of St Denis in France.
1692: Baskervile: Bablock Hythe has a great boat to carry over Carts & Coaches.
1853: Matthew Arnold wrote of the Scholar Gypsy -

In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey,
Crossing the Thames at Bablock Hithe.
Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,
Trailing in the cool stream thy fingers wet,
As the slow punt swings round.
[OR] As the punt's rope chops round.

1859: The Thames, Mr & Mrs Hall


We rejoin the Thames at the Ferry of Bablock Hythe; it is a horse-ferry, as will be observed by the appended engraving.

[ ie a ferry for taking horses across - not horse drawn - though in the drawing I think they are cows! ]

The river is narrow here, and for some distance, above and below, it passes by the sides of low meadows — famous pasture land for cattle, though occasionally under water in winter, and when there have been heavy and continuous falls of rain. We keep in view, as we descend the stream, the pleasant hills — those of Witham — which environ Oxford, distant about five miles; but the distance is doubled to those who make "the voyage" in boats — so continually does the river "wind".

While crossing the Thames in the primitive "horse-boat", at Bablock Hithe, our attention was attracted by an unusually tall man, who was leaning, in an attitude at once careless and graceful, against the door of the ferry-house; ...
[ Story of the Owl Finder continued in Mr & Mrs Hall's book 'The Thames' ]

1887: Bablock Hythe, A J Bartholomew, however don't make too much of the date, this is a copy of the 1859 print -

A J Bartholomew, 1887
A J Bartholomew, 1859 copied in 1887.

1860: Bablock Hythe Rope Ferry -

Bablock Hythe 1860
Bablock Hythe 1860

1885: Bablock Hythe Ferry, Henry Taunt -

Bablock Hythe Ferry, Henry Taunt, 1885
Bablock Hythe Ferry, Henry Taunt, 1885
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT04284

1885:  Bablock Hythe, The Royal River -

Bablock Hythe 1885
Bablock Hythe 1885, The Royal River.

1888: from " The Thames: Oxford to its source -

At Bablock Hythe, where there is a ferry, the river becomes narrow. There is an inn, the Chequers, where one bed is to be obtained. It was fortunate, then, the crew did not want to put up there.
The water hereabouts is fairly deep, and progress was not difficult, though at one spot, where the river divides for a time and the remains of an old weir obstruct the towing, it was necessary for all to enter the boat. Then the path was all right up to Ridge's Weir

1893: Ravenstein, The Oarsman's and Angler's Map -

The ferry is worked by ropes suspended above the stream and needs care in passing.

1894:  The Thames Conservancy disliked the ferry rope (seen above) presumably on the grounds of obstruction to boats.  They provided a chain which would have lain along the bottom and be hauled wet and dripping into the ferry punt.
[ I know which I would prefer if I was ferryman! ]
1898:  Mr. Aubrey Harcourt (Lord of the Manor) decided a chain was more dangerous than a rope and reinstated the rope almost at the level of the surface of the water.
1900: The Conservancy removed the rope and replaced it with a chain.
1920: Fred Thatcher: - the rope won ...

Sweet-named Bablock Hithe is eleven miles by water from Folly Bridge, but only four by road.
Its rope ferry is the only one now remaining on the Thames of these frequent worries. The line hangs at times a bare two feet or less above the water, and is heavy and rigid withal; so that unless you manage your approach carefully it will rap your head pretty shrewdly. Crede experto.

Crede experto means literally believe the expert so Fred is I think saying Believe me, I know!

Joseph Ashby-Sterry wrote 'A SECRET' -

( The Sculler was lazy, the Pilot was merry,
That morning they drifted by Bablock Hythe Ferry !
He leant on his sculls and he gazed in her eyes,
But what he read there I don't dare to surmise ;
'Mid the sigh of the sedges, the song of the trees,
This question came borne on the light summer breeze. )

Di ! Away from friends suspicious,
Shyly sweet, and sweetly shy
Do not think me injudicious,
Di !

Tell me, darling, tell me why,
If the Fates should be propitious.
Tell me why you softly sigh ?

Drooping hazel eyes delicious,
Will you tell me by-and-by ?
Curly, coyful, and capricious,

It can't be expected that I should reveal
The private affairs of the Girl at the Wheel,
But young men and maidens, I clearly foresee,
Will wonder what Diana's answer could be !

John Galsworthy, Over the River, a letter from Bablock Hythe -

The difficulty is going to be acclimatisation; its supposed to be mild here, and the pasture looks as if it would be tip-top. This part of the world is quite pretty, especially the river. Thank God the inn's cheap, and I can live indefinitely on eggs and bacon.

1938: E K W Ryan, The Thames from the Towpath -

Arriving at the horse ferry at Bablockhythe, we entered Oxfordshire again, and lunched on bread and cheese and cider at the primitive Chequers Inn. The inn's sign resembles a black and white chess-board.

1938: 'An Oxford University Chest' by John Betjeman -

... The best country remains, however, to the west. Cross the stripling Thames at Bablockhythe, trying to forget the modernistical public house, and the bungalows, and see Northmoor and Stanton Harcourt.
Do not take your stinking motor-car. Use footpaths. Walk by high hedges and heavy elms and melancholy stretches of water.

Bab-Lock-Hythe, by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
Listen to 'Bablockhythe'

In the time of wild roses
As up Thames we travelled
Where 'mid water-reeds ravelled
The lily uncloses,
To his old shores the river
A new song was singing,
And young shoots were springing
On old roots for ever.
Dog-daisies were dancing,
And flags flamed in cluster,
On the dark stream's lustre
Now blurred and now glancing.
A tall reed down-weighing,
The sedge-warbler fluttered;
One sweet note he uttered,
Then left it soft-swaying.
By the bank's sandy hollow
My dipt oars went beating,
And past our bows fleeting
Blue-backed shone the swallow.
High woods, heron-haunted,
Rose, changed, as we rounded
Old hills greenly mounded
To meadows enchanted;
A dream ever moulded
Afresh for our wonder,
Still opening asunder
For the stream many-folded;
Till sunset was rimming
The west with pale flushes;
Behind the black rushes
The last light was dimming;
And the lonely stream, hiding
Shy birds, grew more lonely,
And with us was only
The noise of our gliding.
In clouds of grey weather
The evening o'erdarkened,
In the stillness we hearkened;
Our hearts sang together.

The Ferry, Bablock Hythe
The Ferry, Bablock Hythe, provided by John Askins

1953-1959: John Askins writes -

My mother, Eleanor, and my stepfather, Munro Stevenson, owned and ran "The Chequers Inn" between 1953-1959. And I spent some of my teenage years there helping out, not only in the pub but also operating the ferry.
The full time ferryman, "John", a wartime refugee from Poland, operated the ferry from eight o'clock in the morning until eleven at night. Of course, he would take time off to eat breakfeast, lunch and dinner as well as have his one day off per week and that's when I would stand in for him when at home.
At that time there was a steel rope spanning the river that could be lowered or raised using a winch located on the pub side.
The ferry was easy to operate. One had an approximately eighteen inch long wooden handle with a groove cut into it that was just a fraction larger than the diameter of the rope. One placed the handle over the rope and pulled. A crossing would take a couple of minutes or so. Once the ferry had grounded on the opposite bank it would be secured by two chains, one on either side of the ferry, and only then were the cars, bicycles and people allowed to get off.
A small toll fee was changed for using it. The ferry could hold up to three cars or one medium size lorry.
Certainly in the early 50s the ferry was popular with the local people who used it regularly and, as a result, it was quite busy. Well worth paying the small fee as it was a short cut through to Cumnor and Oxford. It's a shame that it hasn't survived.

The Ferry, Bablock Hythe
The Ferry, Bablock Hythe, provided by John Askins

1964 - John McCarthy -

In 1964 we took our new Hillman Minx complete with the family onboard the ferry but as we crossed it began to take on water and slowly started to sink! However we made the other side without recourse to putting women and children in the lifeboat and my wife even managed to take cine film during the crossing so I have full proof we did the passage.
I was subsequently told it was the last time it 'sailed', which was not surprising. As you can see from this scanned print, my attached photo was obviously taken with the ferryman using a rope to pull the ferry across to our landing.

1994: Mollie Harris, in her tribute to Fred Thacker's 'The Stripling Thames' writes -

When I was young, 'Bab' - as it was called locally - was a quiet river crossing with a very large flat wooden ferry-boat which carried cars, farm vehicles and passengers backwards and forwards. It was the only way at that point to cross over from the Oxfordshire side into Berkshire, to reach Cumnor village and beyond.
There has been a ferry of some sort there for at least six hundred years. I remember riding across the river on it. I can't remember how much the ride cost, probably a penny.
There were only six people on the wooden barge-like contraption, and I thought that a man operated the ferry by levering it across with a paddle attached to the chain.
But if the ferry was loaded up with heavier things then (I think) that a man worked it by turning a huge handle which was connected to heavy chains fixed from one side of the river bank to the other.
Today the old ferry is no more; apparenty it was smashed in a very bad storm some years ago, although you can still see part of the equipment outside the pub - the Ferryman Inn.
When boats came along, the chains were in some way lowered on to the river bed so that they could pass through.
Mind you, that was long ago, so I hope my memories are correct!
Of course, there has been an inn there for centuries - in my young days it was called The Chequers - but in fairly recent times it closed for about five years.
Then it was bought by a young man called Peter Kellard. Now it has been completely refurbished, but keeping many of the old interesting features. Peter told me that there is now comfortable accommodation there, and they serve a wonderful variety of meals to residents and to passing boat people and travellers.
Today, if anyone wants to cross over to "t'other side" of the river, they are taken across in a small boat powered by an outboard motor. The owner of the inn is trying to get a proper ferry crossing for vehicles - but so far without success.

Bablock Hythe
Bablock Hythe, from Upstream.

I have a confession to make - see my tent?  Well there is no camping here on the moorings upstream.  I had to take it down again.  The reason given was fire risk.  The chances of my single burner calor stove setting fire to short damp grass seem small to me.  But what do I know?  We need to be able to camp along the Thames!  I would like to set George Leslie and Jerome K Jerome on to those who try to stop us!  There is the five pitch campsite downstream of the pub - but what harm was I doing there?

1951: Edward Ardizzone. Spend a dampish night somewhere below Bablock Hythe -

On the Left bank is Cumnor. The Upper Thames, Harpers New Monthly Magazine -

Cumnor Hurst rears its picturesque head by-and-by on the Berkshire banks of the river, fitting scene for the troubles of Amy Robsart, whose romantic life Sir Walter Scott has blended with the local history of Cumnor.
"Never heard of the lady, as I knows on", said a fisherman who was trolling for pike close by;
"You'd better inquire of yon chap on the bank there; he knows."
We inquired of the chap on the bank. He was setting some night lines, he said. Oh yes, he had heard tell of Kenilworth, but it was not anywhere hereabouts; he believed it was somewhere in Scotland; but it was quite true that Amy Robsart, Countess of Leicester, was a prisoner at Cumnor Place - leastwise he had always understood so. Old King Harry the Eighth had had a good deal to do with this neighborhood, he had always been told, but that was before his day, and he had quite enough to do to get a living without bothering his head about such things.
So he turned to his night lines for fish, and we pulled away.
His head was a rough one, and he scratched it as he talked to us. He wore an old velvet shooting coat, a pair of jack-boots, and a colored neckerchief, and as we drew away he stood up to watch us with a stolid gaze and a farewell nod, as much as to say,
"If pulling a boat down-stream were honest labor[sic], you loafers would be doing something else".
As a rule, the fishermen and boatmen on the Upper Thames are civil and intelligent men. If they are not well up in the current history of the time, nor deeply conversant with the ancient history of the country in which they live, they know all about the river, its course, its depth, its currents, its weirs, its fish, its bathing-places, and the natural history of its banks. They are a sort of combination of fisherman and keeper, with a touch of the farmer and joiner-handy men, who can shoot and fish, mend a boat, construct the most elaborate tackle, row, punt, sail; and they are curiously weather-wise. They are not witty or humorous, except in a clumsy sort of fashion; they are characteristic of the Upper Thames, which is a softly flowing stream, with now and then a quiet lock or a noisy weir, whose rushing waters soon subside in the bosom of the flood, and whose mimic thunders are soon lost in the drowsy hum of sheep bells, lowing cattle, and dreamy villages.