Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Crossford Ferry

Still on the Clyde but much further upstream, I've posted before about legal aspects of ferries: how the LMS Railway Company interdicted a rival service to Skye across Kyle Akin (here) and MacBrayne's in the dock over a Ford Popular totalled in the sinking of the Lochiel (here). Well, here's another instalment of ferry law I chanced across the other day. It has some revealing historical and human interest insights. 

Today, we take bridges across rivers absolutely for granted. But you couldn't two hundred years ago when, often as not, rivers had to be crossed by a ferry. They explain the frequent "Boat of" names of which best known is Garten and the most bizarre Boat o' Brig: I gather it's because there had once been a bridge which was washed away and not replaced so the ferry was resumed.

One such river ferry crossed the Clyde at Crossford between Lanark and Hamilton. In 1810, its owner, one Archibald Martin, increased the fare for a passenger from a halfpenny to a penny. This prompted a complaint to the local Justices of the Peace who in these days had jurisdiction over ferries in terms of an Act of Parliament in 1669 expressed thus:-

With power also to the saids justices to visite the ferries in ther shire and, wher the ferries ly betuixt tuo shyres, that they correspond with the justices of the other shyre to the end they may appoint fit and sufficient boats and convenient landing places; and so to regulate all things concerning the ferries, as his majesties' leidges may be readily and conveniently served, and at reasonable rates, and to punish all such as shall neglect or transgress the rules set doun be them for the effect forsaid. 

In the Crossford Ferry petition, the Justices decided that, despite the 100% increase, a fare of 1d was "not unreasonable in respect of the expense incurred by the respondent [Martin] in fitting up a boat and otherwise of the present advance of the price of every article which has taken place in the country." Nevertheless, a compromise was reached that "work-people" going to and from their work should continue only to pay 1/2d.

A meeting of Irish Justices of the Peace in 1853 - closest I could find to Scotland in 1810.

There matters rested until 1827 when local residents presented a new petition to the Justices alleging that "under existing circumstances [not explained], the fare of a penny exacted from foot-passengers was exorbitant" and asking that the fare be reduced to 1/2d for everybody, not just work-people.

The justices ordered Archibald Martin, the owner of the ferry, to lodge a copy of the 1810 procedings but he dragged his heels over this and then, as a further delaying tactic, appealed to the Quarter Sessions challenging the Justices' jurisdiction over his ferry. The Quarter Sessions upheld their jurisdiction and appointed a committee "to inquire into the facts of the case, and the profits, or probable profits, of the ferry, and the rates of other ferries on the Clyde, and into all other facts bearing on the case; and to report to the next Quarter Sessions."

The committee duly carried out a site visit but Martin didn't turn up. In his absence, the committee felt that it hadn't been able to make "such minute inquiries as they could have wished" but nevertheless reported that they considered 1/2d an adequate fare for a foot passenger although a double fare could be charged for crossings between 10pm and 5am (8pm to 7am in winter) or when a passenger was carrying excess baggage. The committee added:-

"that though the establishment of a large horse-boat which had been set up by Martin was expensive, yet as it was a voluntary concern, such expense should not be taken into view, and that the proprietor of a ferry was not entitled to make it a source of private revenue, or to more than a merely remunerating rate." 

There are some interesting insights there: it's implied that the ferry operated 24 hours a day but Martin was not allowed to have the bread and butter clientele of foot passengers subsidise his horse boat which was a private venture at his risk. I don't know but the horse boat may have been like the one across the Clyde further upstream at Lampits near Carstairs Junction which operated until 1914: like the Erskine and Renfrew Ferries, it was hauled along a chain across the river:-

Lampits Ferry over the Clyde looking towards the north bank. The cottage has gone now: picture credit Hidden Glasgow

At the Quarter Sessions in August 1828, the Justices received the committee's report and Martin, having declined to participate in the site visit, now requested to see the report and time to respond to it. This the Justices were bound by natural justice to allow but, mindful of the ferryman's constant prevarications, they ordered the reduction in fare to 1/2d to take effect immediately on an interim basis pending decision of the case. Unfortunately, this merely gave Martin a golden opportunity for another stalling tactic: he appealed to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. There, the judge brushed aside Martin's renewed objection to the Justices' jurisdiction and ruled that the imposition of an interim reduction in fare was a reasonable step in the face of his prevarications. Thereupon Martin appealed again to the Inner House of the Court of Session, the Scottish equivalent of the Court of Appeal.   

Four judges heard the appeal and unanimously ruled that the interim reduction in fare to 1/2d was illegal. This was because the Quarter Sessions had ordered an enquiry into fares on other ferries over the Clyde but had acted precipitately without receiving that information (Martin's non-participation in the committee's site visit not preventing it being gathered). Lord Cringletie remarked:-

"If this ferry had been on the Tweed, I would have thought the Justices infected with Jeddart justice, as they decide first, and investigate afterwards." 

Martin's appeal to the Court of Session was what would be called nowadays a judicial review - that is it's not a decision on the merits of the case (what was the appropriate fare for the ferry) but a ruling that a decision (the interim reduction) has been made without due process and is therefore quashed. The result, therefore, was that the Court of Session remitted back to the Quarter Sessions to make a decision on the merits after they had received a full report from the committee in terms of its remit (including fares on other ferries). Nevertheless, one of the judges (the Lord Justice Clerk, Scotland's second most senior judge) strayed off into the merits a bit when he remarked:-

"They [the committee] report that the expense of the horse-boat should not be taken into view. Now the improvement by the large boat is the most important that could be suggested in regard even to foot passengers. Where a river is liable to floods, and where there is a large boat, individuals are entitled to insist on going in it when there is risk in the small one."  

The Caputh Ferry over the Tay in 1903 - it had a passenger rowing boat (left) and chain hauled horse boat (centre).

After typing the above, I remembered to consult my copy of "Ferries in Scotland" by Marie Weir (1988) which contained some more background information about the Crossford Ferry.  It appears Archibald Martin was a descendant of earlier ferrymen and acquired the ferry rights with some land he bought in the neighbourhood in 1809. Apparently the ferry had been in disuse for about 30 years previously and he resurrected it in, according to Weir, 1817 although that date doesn't square with the legal procedings previously described. But it's consistent with Martin having invested in the revived ferry and raising the fares to recoup his outlay. It also appears he was no stranger to the Court of Session having had to resort there previously to prevent an interloper from offering rival ferry services just down stream (much like the LMSR at Kyle Akin as described here). So perhaps instead of the obstructive recalcitrant I've painted him as, Archibald Martin was more sinned against than sinner in the legal field: he'd bought the ferry rights to revive and improve the service only to find himself beset by interlopers and busybodies.       

The Justices of the Peace's final decision about the fare for a foot passenger across the Crossford Ferry after it had been remitted back to them by Court of Session in 1830 is not recorded - the law reports tend to deal with the points of order of general applicability rather than the decisions on the particular facts - but it was shortly to be overtaken by the building of a bridge over the Clyde at Crossford four years later. (Note that there appears to be a mistake in the bridge's Canmore entry saying it was built in 1793.)  

Crossford Bridge viewed from upstream: picture credit Stevie C via walkhighlands

The bridge didn't mean the locals got a free passage across the river, however. That was because it was a turnpike bridge, that is one for which a Private Act of Parliament was obtained to create a body of trustees with power to raise money to build and maintain the bridge and finance this from tolls paid by users. Amongst other outlays, the bridge trustees would have had to compensate Archibald Martin for his redundant ferry rights. I don't know what the bridge toll was for a foot passenger but the 1859 Report of the Commissioners on Public Roads in Scotland (scroll up to page cxix) contains some interesting information about the bridge's finances: it had cost £2,650 to build (that would include Martin's compensation) of which £1,800 had been borrowed (and, by 1859, repaid) and £850 subscribed (i.e. invested by local landowners and businesses in expectation only of interest at 5% but not repayment). The bridge trustees didn't collect tolls themselves but, as was very common with turnpike roads and bridges, let that privilege annually to a "tacksman" (old Scottish word for a tenant or lessee) who a paid a fixed annual amount. In 1859 that was £108 which was enough to cover the bridge's overheads of £30 repairs, £10 clerk & treasurer's salary and £42:10s interest to the subscribers. No debt and revenue in excess of outgoings meant Crossford Bridge was in a pretty good position compared with many turnpikes but there was absolutely no room for complacency because the income had plummeted from £300pa two years earlier due to competition from the recently opened Lesmahagow branch of the Caledonian Railway - a common problem for turnpike roads and bridges in the mid 19th century.

OS 6 inch map surveyed 1858-69 showing the relative positions of the ferry and bridge at Crossford

The Public Roads Commission recommended the abolition of turnpikes and tolls and that all roads and bridges be paid for by the rates and that was achieved by degrees between 1878 and 1890. But it struck me that many of the issues thrown up by Crossford Ferry and its successor Bridge nearly 200 years ago still resonate today: Archibald Martin not being allowed to have his foot passengers subsidise his horse ferry reminded me a bit of Caledonian MacBrayne a few years back not being allowed to use a subsidy for carrying foot passengers between Gourock and Dunoon in effect to subsidise carrying vehicles on the same vessel because vehicle carrying was adequately being done in the private sector by Western Ferries. More generally, there's the issue of the role of the private sector and market forces in delivering vital public services. Replacing a ferry with a bridge you'd still have to pay for was famously played out at Skye twenty years ago. The difference was nobody was looking to make a profit out of Crossford Bridge (except perhaps the interest on the subscriptions) and the notion of not for (too much) profit local bridge trusts (or harbour trusts like the Clyde Navigation Trust or anything trusts) are perfectly in keeping with today's trends towards community ownership. I could ramble on in this vein but instead shall conclude with the more practical observation that, looking over the parapet of Crossford Bridge downstream to where the ferry used to be (here) ...

Looking down the Clyde from Crossford Bridge: the house on the left was the toll house

... the River Clyde looks scarcely deep enough for a rowing boat never mind a horse boat. Perhaps it's another ferry, like the Boat o' Brig, where the clue to more ancient history is in the name: Crossford. 

EDIT - I should have checked this before but I've just noticed that Taylor & Skinner's Survey of 1776 shows "Crossford Boat":-

Click to enlarge
Note how in 1776 there was no road along the west side of the Clyde between Lanark Bridge and Crossford as there is today. That means the ferry used to carry the main road from Lanark to Hamilton and was therefore a much more important crossing of the river than it is today. I think from the Public Roads Commissioners Report linked to above (page cxxii, No. 14 "The Lanark and Hamilton, or Clydeside Turnpike") that the road along west side of the Clyde from Lanark Bridge to Crossford (today's A72) may have been built at the same time as the Crossford Bridge in 1834. If so, the bridge came at the same time as the crossing being greatly diminished in importance to just being a local traffic link north to Carluke.

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