The History of 'The Ferry'

The information on this page has been gathered personally by us and is to the best of our knowledge. It will constantly be under construction and may contain some inaccuracies. If you have any information, photographs, newspaper article etc relating to our pub then we'd be more than pleased to hear from you.

The Ferry Inn - Date of photograph unknown
(But I think that's Rob Wilkinson outside the door waiting for it to open... Only joking, sorry Rob)

Photograph of Licencee, John Johnson (seated in the centre) and family ~ Taken in 1885
Photograph of Licencee, John Johnson (seated in the centre) and family ~ Taken in 1885

Photograph of Licencees John Johnson and Martha Johnson
Photograph of Licencees John Johnson and Martha Johnson (nee Gandy) taken outside The Ferry Inn in 1899

Extract from Warrington Guardian 13 March 1909


We regret to record the death which took place on Monday, at the age of 85, of Mr Johnson, for many years the landlord of the Ferry Inn, Fidlers Ferry. Mr Johnson, who was born at Halton, Cheshire, in the year 1824 was widely known and respected and was one of, if not the oldest licensed victualler in the United Kingdom. He came to the Ferry Inn when 9 years of age, and was one of the first five apprentices that the late Robert Garnett’s father had when he first started the cabinet making business at Vine House, Penketh. Mr Johnson, on the death of his father, took over the licence of the Ferry Inn. Throughout his life he was an enthusiastic painter, and when quite a boy he used to cut the hair from the horse’s tails in order to make paint brushes for himself. A number of his works are now to be seen in the Ferry Inn. He took the Paris prize for the painting of the ‘Wounded Hound’, his passport on that occasion being signed by the Earl of Clarendon. He maintained a steady interest in his painting and did some excellent work right up to a few weeks ago, showing his unimpaired faculties. Not only had he the gift of painting but he was also a great carver in ivory, and a bowl maker, probably at one time the only bowl maker in the North of England. He was a companion of the late Dr. Gerrard of Widnes. As a sportsman Mr Johnson was in his element. He was a true shot. He loved bowling, and another phase of his sport was yachting, and years ago he owned his yacht on the river Mersey. In his younger days he had a boat of reeds and dressed himself in a calf and sheep skin while wild fowling on the Mersey. He was a friend of the late Sir Richard Brooke who always allowed him to walk over his estate for the purpose of his studies.

Extract from Warrington Examiner 13 March 1909


It is with regret we report the death of one of the oldest parishioners in the person of Mr John Johnson who passed away at his residence on Monday. The deceased, who was 85 years of age, had been ailing for some time. A bad attack of bronchitis was the cause of death. Mr Johnson died at his birthplace, “Ye Olde Ferry Inn”, on the riverside. As landlord he managed the business up to the time of his illness. The deceased was highly respected by all who knew him. He served his time as a cabinet maker with the late Mr Robert Garnett’s father at the Penketh works. On the death of his father he took over the management of the Ferry Inn. Deceased took a great liking to making bowls, and a great many of his bowls are still in use. He also took great interest in painting and when a young man won a prize at the Warrington School of Art. Many of his pictures can be seen at the Ferry Inn. The deceased leaves four daughters.


JOHN JOHNSON of the Ferry Inn, Penketh, Lancashire, licensed victualler died 8 March 1909.
Probate Liverpool 20 April to Mary Johnson spinster. Effects £811-10-3.

Photograph of gentlemen outside the front door of The Ferry Inn about to 'Beat the Boundaries of Penketh'
Photograph of gentlemen outside the front door of The Ferry Inn about to 'Beat the Boundaries of Penketh' ~ Taken 28th January 1911.
Left-Right: Harry Mainley, Joseph Leigh, James Woodward, Frank Ward, Ernest Davis. In the doorway: Mr. Davies.

Copy of original oil painting by Mr Frank Ward
Copy of original oil painting by Mr Frank Ward who was manager of the old sheep dip factory at Fidlers Ferry.
The painting is initialled but not dated. Frank Ward was born 1875 and died 1922.

Warrington Guardian, Wednesday 10th April 1912.


The boisterous elements on Saturday served to mark Eastertide and the annual boat race of the Warrington Sailing Club by a sad tragedy in which two married men named Walter Warburton, 40, a rangefitter, 7 Fairclough Avenue, Warrington and James Edward Crookes, 38, a labourer, 41 Lord Nelson Street, Warrington, lost their lives in the River Mersey, the boat in which they were sailing capsizing.

The course of the race was from Cooper’s Yard, Widnes, to Bank Quay, Warrington and eight boats competed, the Zennia, the property of Mr. Warburton, being one of them. The owner was accompanied by his two sons, Walter aged 14 and John Henry aged 16 and Mr. Crookes. When the starting signal was given all went well until Zennia, which was the scratch boat, got into midstream. The water was very choppy and half a gale was blowing at the time. Opposite Widnes Marsh, where the Mersey is quite open, Warburton’s boat got into difficulties and it was conjectured by those witnessing the race that the crew had too much sail on. The boom was suddenly seen to snap and the top half of the sail fell into the water. The small craft which was an 18 feet racing boat swerved to the right and owing to the weight of the broken mast and sails was dragged over on to one side. Suddenly the boat dived down stern foremost into the river and disappeared. One of the Warrington competing boats, seeing the helpless condition of the Zennia, gallantly threw up their chances in the race and turned back to the rescue. The owner of the ill-fated boat and his eldest son were picked up exhausted and unconscious, while the second son was rescued by a Widnes boat which had been cruising in the vicinity and from which a number of spectators had witnessed the start. The Warrington rescuers conveyed the two elder Warburtons to Fiddler’s Ferry, the headquarters of the club, and on the way artificial respiration was resorted to but the treatment was only successful in the case of the son, the father dying. The boy John was conveyed to the Mersey Hotel, Widnes, where he was brought round. He received every attention and he was taken home the following day (Sunday) little the worse for his startling escape, although anguished at the loss of his father.

The body of the man Crookes was picked up on the foreshore at Widnes two hours after the accident.

The tragedy caused great consternation amongst the Widnes spectators of whom there were quite a large number. Mr. Warburton had taken part in the races for a number of years and was an experienced yachtsman. The accident was rendered all the more tragic inasmuch as the other boats participating in the race finished the course ignorant of the tragedy that had taken place.



Mr.S.Brighouse and a jury held an inquiry at the Coroner’s Court, Warrington, on Tuesday morning, into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the victims of the disater.

Evidence of identification was tendered by the widows. Mrs. Warburton said that she heard of the accident at six o’clock on Saturday evening and went to see her husband but was not allowed to do so.

A flatman by the name of Henry Stacey of 31 St. Mary’s Road, Widnes, spoke of finding the body of Crookes on a sandbank opposite Messrs. Brock’s works, Widnes. He said that having heard of the mishap he borrowed a boat and went in search of the man who it was reported had been drowned. He recovered the body of Crookes at five o’ clock in the afternoon.


John Henry Warburton, one of the survivors of the Zennia’s crew, gave a graphic account of the accident through which his father and Crookes lost their lives. The crew, he said, consisted of four, his father, his brother, Crookes and himself. The Zennia was the scratch boat. The order to start from Widnes was received at 3 o’clock, the other boats having left at intervals of several minutes. A distance of about two miles had been covered when the accident happened at 3:15 p.m. “We were going well in a strong wind” explained the youth, “when the boom broke about 2½ feet from the mast. Crookes caught hold of the boom with his hands and my father told him to let it go, but he refused. My father told him again and said “My lads are here”. Just then a gust of wind capsized the boat and we were all thrown into the water. We all had lifebelts except Crookes and we all assisted to keep him afloat. My father got his arm round Crookes’ body and after being half an hour in the water both appeared exhausted and got unconscious. About this time the Red Rose came on the scene and threw a rope to me. I secured it and was dragged on board and was put in the cabin. Soon after, my father was rescued and I could hear him talking and murmuring. My brother Walter was swimming about the stern of the Red Rose when I saw him last and I didn’t see him again”.

The Coroner.—“How was it Crookes had no lifebelt?” We didn’t know he was coming with us.

“Have you sailed in this boat before?” Yes Sir.

“How many times?” Several times.

The youth explained that the Zennia was an 18 feet half decked vessel. The occupants were all on the windward side when the boom broke. Crookes had been in the boat before.

Henry Warburton, commodore of the Warrington Sailing Club, brother of Walter Warburton, who was called to give evidence, said that from what he could gather a gust of wind sent the boom against the mast and the boat capsized. If the sail had been allowed to float the boat would have “righted” herself in the wind.

A chemical labourer named Sutton, of 38 James Street, Widnes, said that Warburton was conveyed to the Ferry Inn, Penketh, Dr. Murray was summoned, and on his arrival he said that the man was dead.

The Coroner said that he used to sail in yachts similar to the Zennia’s class and could understand how the accident happened. If Crookes, who evidently was not well conversant with yachting, had allowed the boom to swing out everything would have been alright. The mistake was one which anybody, even an experienced man, might make on the spur of the moment.

The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deaths were due to accidental causes.

The Ferry Inn - 1925
The Ferry Inn - 1925

Date of photograph unknown

Copy of page 1 and page 10 from an original auction book from 1932

Copy of page 1 from an original auction book from 1932

Copy of page 10 from an original auction book from 1932

Warrington Guardian article - Saturday 22nd October 1932 ~ Page 14


The largest property auction sale in the district for many years, and which aroused considerable public interest, was conducted at the Blue Bell Inn, Horsemarket Street, on Wednesday evening.

Mr Stanley Johnson of Herbert Johnson and Son auctioneers, Sankey Street, sold a portion of the Sherdley estate comprising three farms and an inn and totalling about 145 acres. The amount realised was more than £17,000.


The company was so large that some difficulty was experienced in finding accommodation for all who wished to attend the sale and the bidding was brisk. Lots one and two – Sankey Lodge Farm, Great Sankey and Brookside Farm, Penketh respectively went quickly under the hammer and Lot three (Penketh Hall Farm, Penketh) was sold to the tenant before the auctioneer left the room.

The Fidlers Ferry Inn also found a buyer without difficulty.


The land includes valuable main road frontage and there is a probably that building developments will take place in the near future. It is understood that ther is a possibility of one of the sites being purchased for the erection of a works.

The vendor was Colonel Michael James Hughes and the solicitors Woods and Hancock, Bold Street.

Henry Burthem with his wife and dog outside The Ferry Inn - Served as licensee from 1913 to 1951
Henry Burthem with his wife and dog outside The Ferry Inn - Served as licensee from 1913 to 1951

The Ferry Inn - Date of photograph unknown.. discovered hanging on the wall at The Cuerdley Cross public house
The Ferry Inn - Date of photograph unknown.. discovered hanging on the wall at The Cuerdley Cross public house

Pip Tinne aged 6 years and Hilary Jerams aged 1 year (in the pram) outside the Ferry Inn - Summer of 1938
Pip Tinne aged 6 years and Hilary Jerams aged 1 year (in the pram) outside the Ferry Inn - Summer of 1938

Post card sent from The Ferry Inn to a Miss Hole of Somerset in January 1947

The card reads...
"Will ---- you up Monday night after I visit (wrebles). Will see about rooms. This place a bit rustic but adequate. NO EARLY TEA! Joan and I are going to Manchester this afternoon. It’s cold up here. Very B- journey after Crewe, mostly the total run healed gloom! Thanks to cup pressed on me by porter at Pontypool Road was able to keep up fluid intake. Love R"



Wednesday May 23, 1951 • Front Page


Reports that civilians threw stones at 20 year old Eugene D Pickering - American airman who was drowned in the Mersey at Fidlers Ferry on Saturday - are refuted by the USAF Public Relations Office, Burtonwood.

"They are completely erroneous." said a spokesman.

Five miles of the rivers banks from Fidlers Ferry to Widnes have been searched by civilian and US military police but no trace of the missing airman has yet been found.

Pickering and another airman, members of the 'soft-ball' team, went swimming near the Ferry Inn - apparently for a bet - but on the return trip to the Penketh side Pickering got into difficulties and disappeared.

A companion tried to hold on to him but became exhausted. He swam back after Pickerings disappearance.

Staff Sergeant Harry Kindaff made a second rescue bid in vain. He dived, fully clothed, from the river bank and after his search had to be helped from the water.

Wednesday May 30, 1951 • Front Page


The body of 20 year old Eugene D Pickering - the American airman who disappeared on May 19th whilst swimming in the Mersey was recovered early on Monday, on the bank of the river, near Walton Hey Farm, Penketh.

Since Pickerings disappearance miles of the river bank from Warrington to Widnes have been searched by US military and civilian police.

Pickering and another airman, members of the "soft-ball" team went swimming near the Ferry Inn - apparently for a bet - but on the return trip to Penketh side Pickering got into difficulties and disappeared.

A short article written in the mid 1990's by local historian, Colin Mason M.A.
The Ferry Tavern - Den of Iniquity

The solitude of the place is what is most striking, and entirely in keeping with the shrill cries of the curlew and gentle, monotonous lapping of the mighty river only feet away. Tired of the city, there have been times when I have craved this sort of quiet oneness with nature in the raw, on the marsh, with the salty air rushing eastwards from the Irish Sea.

Step over the level crossing which carries coal to the Fidlers Ferry Power Station some distance away, and cross the bridge over the first navigable canal, the Sankey Brook Navigation, 1757, and you are indeed in a calmer world, isolated almost from the stress and bustle of a modern industrial society.

Famous, in a manner of speaking, in these parts for at least 200 years as an inn of some repute, The Ferry at Penketh could have been the settling for a Dickensian drama in a sepia film where young boy meets chained convict bound for Australia, on the marsh at night. Many an ‘excellent farewell’ is recorded in the parish records for the 1860’s was served here and this certainly holds true today; but be warned, approach this intention with an empty stomach! Many an ill gotten gain was disposed of here ideally situated as the inn is to be remote from the long arm of the law based at Prescot. Prize fights of 80 rounds were often staged from here, under the squat oak tree across the river (still there today) where the locals from Moore and Daresbury and roundabout, would collect and defy the law on the Cheshire side of the marsh.

Not surprisingly, the Quaker community in Penketh did indeed keep an eye on his den of iniquity, hence the detailed records of the inn. This is the only inn along the river where an ancient law allowed for the keeping of a loaded revolver on the premises for maintaining the peace. As a collecting point for Irish navvies before they were shipped down the river to return home for the harvest, with good beer, food and isolation, this law is perhaps not so much a surprise as a necessity: Prescot was some 6 hours round trip away.

The Irish link has not been broken over time moreover. The best selection of Irish whiskeys in the UK that I know of is still to be found here, joined by some 150 or so malts, and real ales. Some things don’t change, thank goodness, and the ancient well which literally appeared doesn’t seem to have changed for a couple of centuries or more.

Did one or two of the Navvies not make it further than here perhaps, and it is their restless spirits that haunt this place and shift things around in the night, blocking stairs and rattling the bottles? (Earthquakes? Don’t be cynical!)

This ancient crossing point of the river has witnessed much change since its first recorded date in 1160, when Henry II was still on terms with his friend Thomas Beckett! Even Cromwell’s troopers used it to transport artillery across the river to attack Runcorn castle and since cannon balls from the Civil War turn up in the bank at low tide every so often they seem to have had an uncomfortable journey!

The low ceilings, comfort, and a roaring fire on a cold, blustery morning make the 100 yard ‘battle’ from the car park against the elemental forces of nature, thoroughly worthwhile however, as you rest, sipping a Middleton’s Very rare, a cask strength or wood finish malt, lulled by the life in the fire. What has been witnessed over time here? Who were the people and the mariners who have been dragged out of the river here and placed in the mortuary adjacent to the building? The link with history is as tangible as the tang of salt air in the brief walk from the realities of modern life.

Colin Mason M.A.

The Ferry Inn Licensees

1762 - The Ferry Inn became the first licenced public house in Penketh

  • Thomas Warburton 1762 – 1775
  • Thomas Ellison 1776 - 1824
  • Jane Ellison 1825 - 1826
  • Thomas Ellison (Junior) 1827 -1831
  • Samuel Johnson 1833 - 1854
  • John Johnson 1854 - 1909
  • Martha Johnson 1909 - 1913
  • Henry Burthem 1913 -1936 (No records discovered for this period)
  • Tom C Chapman 1951 - 1952
  • Derek Timmins 1954 – 1973
  • John Holland Dates Unknown
  • Bill & Pat Farquhar ??? - 1977
  • Robert Lee Williams 1979 - 1981
  • Paul Maxwell Pasquali 1981 – 1983
  • Alan Peter Barlow (Temporary) 1983
  • Gary Steven Taylor 1983 - 1984
  • Gerald David Hewitt 1984 - 1987
  • Alistair Houston 1987 1988
  • Linda Margaret Ward 1988
  • Jeff & Julie Schwarz 1988 - 1990

(The Ferry Inn was derelict and partly destroyed by fire between 1990 -1992 and then changed its name to ‘The Ferry Tavern’ when reopened in 1993)

  • Terence & Patricia Maxwell 1993 - 2005
  • Jade Mulholland nee Maxwell & Andrew Mulholland 2005 - Present



“Sankey Brook also overflowed leaving a trail of damage. The cellars of the Sloop Inn, Great Sankey and the Ferry Inn, Fiddlers Ferry, were flooded and the latter pub was closed temporarily”.



“BATTERED and bruised by 18 hours of whiplash gales, Warrington sighed with relief as normality returned late on Tuesday.

The town, along with many other parts of the country, had been hit by unrelenting winds, gusting up to 70mph, which with torrential rain caused widespread damage and flooding. The havoc resulted in a huge influx of emergency calls to Warrington Police by people seeking help in repairing damaged property and sandbags to check rising flood water.

Scores of slates where sent spinning from roofs, chimney stacks crashed, trees uprooted, roads cut off for hours by floods and cars and homes damaged.

And as police in the control room worked flat out answering distress calls, high winds ripped slates from the roof of the police HQ in Arpley Street, causing them to crash onto officers cars. One slate sliced through the roof of an unattended car.

Worts hit parts of the town were Penketh and Great Sankey, where flood water halted movement on some roads, caused thousands of pounds damage at a factory and a freak tide on the Mersey surged into the Fiddlers Ferry pub – and three feet up the bar!

In central Warrington, part of the roof of the kegging plant of the giant Tetley Walker brewery crashed 100 foot onto a parked lorry. Police sealed off a section of the A49 because of the danger to pedestrians and motorists from falling debris.

The gable end of a house in Orford Avenue was also sent crashing.



“CHAOS reigned supreme in Warrington on Monday as winds reaching 90mph battered the town.

Gales raged relentlessly during Sunday night, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Dawn broke upon a scene of devastation—roads were blocked up by uprooted trees and roofs were bereft of tiles.

But for the people of Warrington ‘Stormy Monday’ had only just begun.

Huge snarl-ups stretched some 15 miles on all sides of the town as thousands of commuters faced enormous tail backs on the motorways. Many did not arrive at work until late morning.

After two high sided lorries blew over and blocked the Thelwall Viaduct, police chiefs took the precaution of closing it in the interests of safety.

The weather also stopped rail services in their tracks after problems with overhead power lines caused disruption to the north and south of the town.

Buses were halted after an urgent meeting between management and unions, leaving hundreds of people with no means of transport.

As emergency services battled to keep the situation under control, winds continued to wreak havoc. The River Mersey burst it’s banks in at least three points after tides rose to a height of 27 feet. For the first time in 50 years, Eastford Road in Lower Walton was submerged three feet of water as the Mersey coursed down the hill and swept into residents homes. In Penketh the manager of the Ferry Inn fears he may have to close for more than a week after the flooding. In Victoria Park, police and firemen were turning people away as a precaution after the bowling greens and football pitches were hidden under five feet of water. With gales upto 80mph forecast for the rest of the week, officials are warning people to take all necessary precautions. More pictures and stories to follow in Fridays Warrington Guardian.



“WARRINGTON was washed out this week when freak weather conditions brought floods across the town. Westerly winds and a high tide saw the Mersey burst its banks at Howley, Walton Locks and Penketh.

Landlord and landlady, Terry and Pat Maxwell are still moping up after the deluge which caused thousands of pounds worth of damage at the Ferry Tavern.


Pat said she expect the pub will be closed for two weeks while the repair work is underway.

“The water was up to the top of the bar and the fridges and freezers were floating in the water.” she said. “The customers were very helpful and helped us to get things upstairs.

“It’s ruined the wallpaper and carpet. All the electrics have gone and we’ve no power. It has caused thousands of pounds of damage.” Meanwhile, boats went adrift at Fiddlers Ferry Sailing Club.

Member Jack Cox said “We lost five dingies and a sailing boat but we should be able to get them back—they’ll be in the riverbanks.

“We were very lucky. The water only lapped the back door step of the clubhouse. We’ve a workshed that’s still surrounded by water.”

A flood alert went out on Monday and council staff raced to build up sandbag barriers.

But the waters still managed to break through the weak spots at Walton Lock and at Howley, leaving Victoria Park’s bowling green and rugby pitches under water.




Mersey bursts its banks as solar eclipse causes unusually high tides and floods “A SOLAR eclipse caused flooding through Warrington on Thursday.

The sun and moon were lined up, which gave amateur astronomers in some parts of the world a spectacular view.

But the combined gravitational pull produced an unusually high tide, which burst the banks of the Mersey in several places between 1pm and 2pm.

Worst hit was The Ferry Tavern Pub in Penketh which is only around 15 feet from the river.

Up to four foot of water poured in. The carpets and fittings now need replacing and the water has made all the plaster peel away.

“The pub absolutely stinks. It smells like sour milk,” said licensee Jade Maxwell, aged 23, who lives there with partner, Andy Mulholland, aged 28.

The pub will be shut for around two months.

Jade said: “We haven’t got any heating because the boiler floated away from its mooring. The customers brought in blankets and one brought in aheater for us, but it’s still cold.”

The businesses at the bottom of the ‘Pink Eye’ tower in the town centre were also hit hard.

Steel Manufacturer Warrington Fabrications sits right on the riverbank and six employees had their cars flooded—one man had to cancel three viewings by potential buyers for his Peugeot 307 that night. Martin Simcock, managing director, said the the factory itself sits on stilts and was not affected.

However mechanics working in the garages at the foot of the tower were not so lucky. One said: “If the water touched the electrics while you are working you would go through the roof.”

Keith Cosgrove, the 29 year old owner of SPS Bodystyling, said the water costs hit two days work and a couple of hundred pounds worth of damaged equipment, including a heat gun and welder. He had to knock a hole in his wall to let the water escape.



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