There was once a ferry crossing from Purton to Sharpness and the Passage House Inn provided refreshment for travellers using the Severn crossing. In 1726 Martin Inman was operating the ferry and was also innkeeper of the Purton Passage. Twenty-six years later James Inman was keeping the Passage House Inn and operating the ferry. The rates of passage across the River Severn in 1798 were one shilling for a man and horse, nine pennies of a horse, three pennies for a foot person, six pennies each for horn calves, three pennies each for calves and two shillings and nine pennies per score of pigs and sheep.
The Great Western Railway opened their South Wales line from Gloucester to Chepstow in September 1851 and the railway took the route of the banks of the Severn through Purton. There must have been access across the railway to the river ferry, which was still in operation. The Severn & Wye and Midland Railway Company opened their railway from Lydney Junction to Sharpness in 1879 and it crossed the river over an impressive bridge, which was 4,162 feet long in total with a thirteen arch stone approach viaduct on the Forest of Dean side. There were two dominant 327 feet spans on the Severn Railway Bridge with nineteen smaller spans. There was also a swing bridge on the opposite side of the river taking the railway over the Gloucester-Sharpness canal. A railway station called Severn Bridge was opened in 17th October 1879 at Purton.
The Purton Passage House Inn is also listed in the 1861 and 1870 Kelly’s commercial directories. In 1875 both the Purton Ferry and ‘Purton Passage House or Ship Inn’ was offered for sale in lots. The inn was described as full-licensed freehold and ‘the house, which stands on the Banks of the Severn, is Stone-built and Slate-roofed, in good repair, and commands extensive views. It contains good entrance hall, large smoking room, parlour, kitchen, back kitchen, pantry, store-room, cellars etc, and eight capital bedrooms.’ The outbuildings comprised a brewhouse with furnace, indicating that the Purton Passage House or Ship Inn once brewed its own beer. Also included were stabling for four horses together with a stone-built cottage and about two and a half acres of productive orchard, meadow land, kitchen and pleasure gardens.
By 1885 the name of the inn had been changed to the Severn Bridge Inn and a 1901 advertisement noted that it was ‘five minutes-walk from the Severn Bridge Railway Station. The hotel is situated on the banks of the Severn overlooking the Severn Bridge, the Sharpness Docks, the Stroud Valleys and the Cotswold Hills. Good accommodation for parties, etc.’
The Minister for Parliament J.T. Agg-Gardner, proprietor and owner of the Cheltenham Original Brewery, owned the Severn Bridge Hotel in 1891 and 1903. It was classified as an ale house with an annual rateable value of £25.15s.0d. Closing time was at 10 pm.
On the fateful night of 25th October 1960 the landlady of the Severn Bridge Hotel was clearing up after closing the pub. Gertrude Harris told the ‘Citizen’ in October 1985: “A customer turned back and said there was a big fire across the river at Sharpness. I looked out of the door and saw the river was on fire. It was tragic. The worst thing was the men crying out in the water. We didn’t know how many there were.” She continued. “I turned on all the lights in the house so that anyone struggling in the water could see. The lights and a dog barking guided the captain of one of the tankers. It saved his life. My son Rutherford helped him ashore. He was in a very poor state and covered in oil.” Mrs Harris was telling her part in the Severn Railway Bridge Disaster in which two tankers collided in fog trying to negotiate passage into Sharpness Docks and were carried downstream spectacularly crashing into the Severn Railway Bridge and bringing part of the structure down. The bridge carried a gas main over the river which was breached. Sparks from the debris lit the oil slick which had spread across the estuary turning it to a raging inferno. Five crewmen died in the disaster, but some had miraculous escapes. Two further men also managed to get to the shore Mrs Harris said that after the disaster she had recurring nightmares and couldn’t get to sleep for two days.
In the 1993 of ‘Real Ale in Gloucestershire’, compiled and researched by CAMRA, the Old Severn Bridge Hotel was described as ‘Named after the now demolished railway bridge. Spacious Hotel with three bars. Children’s play equipment in the garden with excellent views across the river. Good value home-made food.’ The three beers on tap at the time of the survey were Draught Bass, Hook Norton Best Bitter and Marston’s Pedigree.
The Severn Bridge Hotel closed in 1996.
Landlords at the Purton Passage / Severn Bridge Hotel include:
1726 Martin Inman
1798 James Inman
1861 Charles Vale (Purton Passage Hotel)
1870 James Sallibank
1876 Isaac Godfrey (Ship Inn, Purton Passage House)
1885 Arthur Fryer (Severn Bridge Inn)
1891,1906 John Thomas Franklin (Severn Bridge Hotel)
1919 Charles J. Thomas
1927 William Joseph Brooks
1939 Arthur William J. Morley
1960 Gertrude Harris