Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Creeksea Ferry, c. 1878-c. 1910

The Creeksea Horse Ferry

…I can just descry the Creeksea Ferry Inn as run by a man called Amos, assisted quite fittingly by a Mr. Wiseman who also ‘did the ferrying’. Prospective passengers rang a bell which hung from a post and out came the row-boat. If the horse ferry was required, there was an arm like a railway signal to be pulled down. In either case there might be a touch of adventure. At low tide the ferryman would have to put on a St. Christopher act and carry passengers over the muddy Crouch shoreline. The horse ferry was apparently a square float. --G. Bernard Wood

In England’s southeastern Essex, nestled between the River Crouch to the north and the River Roach to the south, and separated from lands to the west by the negligible barrier of Paglesham Creek—a creek so small that it was sometimes neglected on maps—lay Wallasea Island. Hundreds of years of land reclamation had so swollen Wallasea that it was now more a peninsula than an island, and much more contiguous than the three islands it had represented during the Middle Ages. For the most part, the fertile land had been used to grow wheat, but the beginning of importation of cheap American wheat in 1875 had sparked an agricultural depression, which the island was beginning to feel. Although it was enjoying its largest population in history (one hundred thirty-five), many of the farmers would soon be departing, leaving the fields to revert to pasture. Oysters, however, still grew in the Crouch, and they were considered to be among the best in all England.

Starting from the historic village of Canewdon, just east of the island, crossing Paglesham Creek to Wallasea and following the island’s main road, travelers would soon arrive at the road’s namesake, the Creeksea Ferry. This ferry, situated on the northeast edge of Wallasea, connected the island with Burnham-on-Crouch (or, more properly, the adjacent village of Creeksea) on the other side of the river. It had been in existence since at least the early seventeenth century, when it was operated by a certain John Harris, who “busied himself dredging oysters and doing other business instead of attending to passengers over the ferry” (Payne). Although this first ferryman proved “very slacke and necligent in the performance of his endevour in the carriage of his Magistes subjects over the said Ferry” (Pollitt), his successor George Amos nearly three centuries later seems to have performed his duties well. One passenger eulogized that “Perhaps few persons are equally indispensable,” and went on to say that no matter how late you arrive or the conditions of the weather, “if you ring with exemplary diligence, wakening the echoes with the uproar, you are certain to be ‘fetched off,’ and may even find a bed at the inn.” (Tompkins 188).

George Amos

Elizabeth (Filby) Amos

George Amos married his wife Elizabeth Filby on 7 Nov 1875 at Christ Church, in Southwark, London, and it seems that they settled at the Creeksea Ferry very soon afterward. George had come north to Essex from his birthplace near Dover after the deaths of his parents, but Elizabeth had grown up in the neighborhood of Maldon, not far from the ferry. Very likely they were influenced to come to Creeksea Ferry by William Filby, probably a relation of Elizabeth’s, working as the publican at the time. He is listed in Kelly’s Directory as the publican in 1878, according to the Essex Pub website, and could well have been there as early as 1875. Elizabeth had a brother named William Filby, but it has not yet been possible to determine with certainty whether this is the same William Filby, a more distant relation, or perhaps just a startling coincidence. However, her brother certainly was in the business of pub-keeping; in the 1881 census he was working as a publican and coal porter at the pub Chelmer in Heybridge Basin, near Maldon. [Update: further research has shown that the William Filby who was publican at Creeksea Ferry was almost certainly Elizabeths brother.] Although George and Elizabeth could have moved to the Creeksea Ferry anytime between their 1875 marriage and the 1881 census, it seems likely that they settled there around the time of William Filby’s residence. All of their children, including those born after 1881 and therefore definitely while residing at the ferry, are listed as being born in Canewdon. The city of Canewdon, of course, was a couple of miles away, but the parish extended to include Wallasea Island. While it is possible that they lived elsewhere within Canewdon until 1881, the possibility does not seem very strong, especially considering the number of years they remained at Creeksea Ferry. They hardly seem to have been a particularly mobile family.

The Ferry House

At first, George Amos was simply a ferryman, carrying people over the River Crouch on the ferry, in answer to the ringing of a bell on the north side of the Crouch. During these first few years, the pub was operated by his neighbor, John Powell, though it may be imagined that George helped out. The Amos family shared the Ferry House, a rather square building next to the pub, with the Powells, though in separate quarters. Also living there, listed in the census as a boarder at the Powells’, was a Frederick Wood, employed as ostler, or person employed at an inn to look after horses.

By 1890, George was not only a ferryman, but also the publican of the Ferry Boat Inn, as it was called at the time. He held this position until at least 1908. His granddaughter Elsie Crocker describes, “The girls wern’t aloud to work in the pub. Not lady like. They could help with the ferry” (Crocker 1). It seems that they may have done this often, as Elsie mentions that “[Mom] could rowe as well as the next one. Dad conceded she could rowe better than he” (Crocker 4).

By 1910, there was a new publican at the Ferry Boat Inn. Presumably George retired somewhere in the neighborhood, but little information from that period of time has yet been released to genealogists. George Amos died in 1928. Elizabeth followed in 1942. [Correction: George Amos died on 3 May 1931. I have not yet been able either to verify or disprove the date of Elizabeths death. See George Amos death certificate for more information.]


Crocker, Elsie. unpublished typescript.
Payne, J. K. “Travels in Essex Long Ago.” The Essex Countryside Winter 1955-56: 67. Quoted in HARRIS-HUNTERS-L Archives. Rootsweb, 26 July 2007. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

Pollitt, William. A History of Prittlewell. Southend-on-Sea: Southend-on-Sea Public Library & Museum, 1951. 33. Quoted in HARRIS-HUNTERS-L Archives. Rootsweb, 26 July 2007. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

Tompkins, Herbert W. Marsh-country Rambles. London: Chatto & Windus, 1904. Google Books. The University of California, 7 Dec. 2007. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

Wood, G. Bernard. Ferries & Ferrymen. London: Cassell &, 1969. 41. Print. 


  1. Awesome entry Amber... You missed your calling! You need to rethink what you do for a living. This is well done! You make me proud!!!!!

  2. Really interesting Amber. I found this a local interest website on facebook (Ros Southend Past in Photos) where someone had put up the photo. My Great Grandfather George Webb was also a Ferryman living on Wallasea Island according to the 1881 Census, and I think the ferryman closest to the camera in the dark top is he. There appears to be only the two Ferrymen listed on the Island that year. Quite a few of my family come from that area (Canewdon/Paglesham/Wallasea/Foulness). Its an area full of history and folklore. I live just a very few miles away in Southchurch, now part of Southend. Keep up the good work! Best wishes Les Harrod

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! How fascinating that our ancestors probably worked together. I hadn't noticed George Webb in the 1881, so perhaps I had better go back and take another look! I have never been to England, but someday I hope to go and visit what's left of the Creeksea Ferry.

  3. Hi, just found this blogg, thank you for this information, George and Elizabeth were my Great Great Grandparents. their daughter Grace Maude Amos was my grandfathers mother.

    1. Wonderful! We are cousins! George and Elizabeth were also my great-great-grandparents; my great-grandmother was Grace's sister Flora.

    2. Hi im amazed at what you have found and so grateful for you publishing it all .My grandfather was Nicholas son of Grace Maude Amos and Paulos Lachanudis . so George and Elizabeth were my great great grandparents .