The Ferry Heritage

A ferry has operated from Hythe to Southampton since the Middle Ages, and it is marked on a map by Christopher Saxton of 1575. Steam vessels were introduced in 1830. From 1889 the Percy family were involved in the running of the ferry, and from 1900 to 1980 the service was run by the General Estates Company, owned by the Percy family. As a consequence of this, many of the ferries used carried the name Hotspur, named after Henry Percy or Hotspur, who was immortalised by William Shakespeare.

On March 10, 1830 the “new steam boat” Emerald inaugurated the first steamer service to Hythe.

Prior to this and indeed for very many years later travellers to Southampton had to use sailing boats called wherries or sometimes row boats. The new steamer service was quick but very erratic as the owner would employ his new paddle steamer for more profitable runs to the Isle of Wight, often leaving Hythe bound passengers stranded.

However the owner continued to promote trips to Hythe with the Southampton Advertiser commenting that “the establishment of a steam packet communication with Hythe has already begun to operate most favourably. On Sunday last about 400 persons took a trip to that delightful little village, where we understand the formation of tea gardens and the erection of some new villas is contemplated”.

Sadly the new service didn’t last long and by 1832 the passage between Hythe and Southampton was back in the hands of the wherrymen. The tides and unreliable landings on the Hythe Hard were blamed – it seems some sort of landing stage reaching to deeper water would be required…

Hythe Ferry Fire Service – February 1888

During the afternoon of February 1, 1888 the Hythe ferry boat took on some extra custom at the Town Quay and immediately left for Hythe Pier, assuming the unlikely role of a fire engine. In answering a call to an outbreak of a fire at the home of a Mr West in Hythe, the Southampton Borough (Fire) Brigade sent a portion of its crew across on the ferry while the appliance hurriedly left to make the long road journey via Totton, Marchwood and Dibden. The forwarding of the ferry party was an outstanding success as it had the fire out in time to stop the appliance at Totton.