Beachley has been a crossing point over the River Severn possibly since Roman times. The crossing, known as Old Passage, connects Beachley with Aust on the Bristol side of the channel. Sailing ships once ferried passengers across the Severn. In 1827 Royal Mail Stage Coaches from Bristol and Liverpool used the crossing. By the first quarter of the 19th century steam vessels took over the route. In the 18th century three inns existed in Beachley to cater for passengers using the ferry crossing.
Possibly the oldest of these is the Old Ferry Inn, which lies under the shadow of the original Severn Road Bridge. An inn was recorded on the site in 1651 trading as the Green Dragon, which belonged to the Philpot family. By 1728 the name of the inn had changed to the Ostrich.
In 1828 the pub was described by Charles Heath of Monmouth as ‘A spacious and commodious inn, that occupies an easy elevation above the shore of the river, enlivened by an extensive prospect over Gloucestershire, interspersed with towns, villages, churches, and a variety of other interesting objects. Indeed, the pleasantness of the walk, through the finest meads and pasture lands, with the splendid rivers rolling on each side their waters to the ocean, added to its easy distance from Chepstow, renders it an object worthy the stranger’s attention. The house is fixed up in the most elegant manner, and visitors will meet with every accommodation, from its present occupier, Mr Williams. To the premises are attached two gardens, parallel with the course of the Severn, with seats in each, for enjoying their beauties, in which the Church of Oldbury is prominent feature in this fine picture.’
Heather Hurley in her book writes: “Due to an increase in travel and transport and the turnpiking of the road to Beachley in the mid-18th century, the old inn was modified and renamed the Beachley Passage Hotel to cater for those using this important link in the road network. Illustrations of the late 18th century reveal a large inn, sporting arched windows, pitched roofs and many chimneys on a building standing high above the tidal Severn and reached by a long-curved ramp.”
The premises later became known as the Beachley Inn (1855 reference). By 1863 the inn was known as the Ferry Hotel. In 1851 the occupier was Mrs Ann Williams who was 76 years old and widowed. She was still in residence four years later in 1856. Twenty years later (1876) a Miss Ann Williams (daughter?) was listed at the Ferry Inn and Refreshment Rooms.
The opening of the Severn Railway Tunnel in 1886 was significant as it took passengers away from the river crossing at Beachley. There are no records of the Ferry Hotel in the 1891 and 1903 licensing records indicating that it had also closed with the demise of the passenger ferry. The ferry went of use and did not reopen until 1926 to cater for those wishing to cross the channel with motorcars. The reopened Beachley Ferry Hotel was ideally situated to cater for the needs of the motorist – ‘a modern and well-appointed hotel overlooking the River Severn.” There were three ferries using the crossing, the largest of which could only accommodate 17 cars. Not surprisingly there were often lengthy queues waiting for the ferry. When the Severn Bridge opened for traffic in September 1966 the Beachley – Aust ferry was made redundant. The last remaining ferry ‘the Severn Princess’, which entered service in 1959, lay beached beneath the Old Ferry Inn for many years after it was rescued from Ireland in 1999 after being purchased for a guinea. There are plans to restore it to its former glory. It is now berthed in Chepstow under the railway bridge awaiting restoration.
At 9.15 pm on January 13th 1975 a telephone call was made to the Old Ferry Hotel claiming that a bomb had been planted in the cellar and there was a warning that it would go off in ten minutes. The hotelier of the Old Ferry, Mr Stanley Percival, went down to the cellar to investigate but found nothing suspicious. At the time of the call there were 15 army officers in residence there, plus sixty or seventy customers in the public house. The police were called and made an extensive search of the premises but as nothing was found it was declared a hoax. Upon further enquiries it was discovered that four young boys had been acting suspiciously and after being interviewed a 14-year old boy admitted making the threatening telephone call. It transpired that one of their friends had a job in the hotel and the prank was just to wind him up. The ringleader was fined £20 and the other boys £10 each.
A visit by Jon Hurley in 1981 (extracted from “The Pubs of the Royal Forest of Dean”) gave the following account: “To suddenly arrive at the ‘Ferry’, after spending a peaceful morning wandering about the Forest of Dean, is quite a shock to the system. Here, under the awe-inspiring steel skeleton of the Severn bridge, with its constant stream of juggernauts traversing the sky, and fronted by the swirling murkiness of the River Severn, crouches this rather unique pub. Anyone who has ever visited an English seaside resort and who has enjoyed hearty esplanade grub will feel suddenly nostalgic for the forgotten fifties when they walk into the Ferry.
New owners Les and Joyce Breakwell with their son Darren and daughter-in-law took over the Old Ferry Hotel in March 1987. They removed the juke boxes, gaming machines and pool tables that had been used by the younger clientele from the Beachley Army Apprentices College and put the emphasis on live music. Darren said: “It wasn’t that we had anything against the youngsters, it was simply that we envisaged a totally different type of operation. What we want to do is provide something for over 25s rather than under 25s and that means regular live music in pleasant surroundings, good food and a quality pint.”
Forest of Dean & Ross-on-Wye Pubs. A critical guide by Jon Hurley (booklet, 1991): Now almost completely altered this is the place for the young, particularly the army recruits based locally, to enjoy a few lagers with their disco. Nautical corks and nets attempt a sea faring ambiance. Popular beers include Castlemaine 4X. The view from the underside of the imposing Severn Bridge is really something, especially on a windy day with the wide open expanse of water here looking very ruffled and menacing.
In August 2000 staff and guests escaped in their night clothes when fire caused damage estimated between £20,000 and £30,000 at the Old Ferry Hotel.
In May 2018 the Old Ferry Inn was put on the market with a guide price of between £260,000 and £300,000. A spokesman for the auction company said ‘In view of the impending abolition of the tolls on the Severn Bridges at the end of the year it could be an extremely attractive opportunity either to be operated as a going concern with more people likely to be attracted to the area or, subject to planning, to be developed for alternate uses.’
The Beachley Barracks, a British Army base and home of First Battalion the Rifles, is earmarked for closure in 2027. The viability of the Old Ferry Inn had no long-term future with the de-commissioning of the Army Barracks. Situated at the end of the Beachley peninsular and having no trade from passing traffic, the Old Ferry Inn had to be an exclusive destination pub for its continued survival. It appears to have closed for good before the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.