The Alnmouth Ferry Hut

HUTS have always had a certain fascination for Judi Hill. She has a hut in the garden of her home in Alnmouth in Northumberland, and a beach hut at nearby Boulmer.

Yesterday, Judi unveiled the latest hut in her collection and which can claim to be the smallest heritage centre in the North East.

The 9ft by 7ft hut, which is around a century old, was used by the ferryman who would row people across the estuary of the River Aln at Alnmouth.

The last ferryman, John Brown, is believed to have stopped working in the 1960s.

The ferryman's hut on Riverside Road, overlooking the estuary, was rented out for storage by Northumberland Estates.

Judi, who is chairman of Alnmouth Parish Council, said: "It was starting to look a bit derelict and I was worried it would become an eyesore and then it would be gone."

She found out that the man who rented the hut no longer needed it, and so Judi took over the tenancy.

She decided to kit out the hut as a mini-museum with photographs of John Brown, the ferrymen who preceded him, called John Earle, various images of old Alnmouth fishermen, information about the ferry, and assorted memorabilia.

She won a grant from the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, which paid for repairs to the structure.

Yesterday there was a champagne opening for the hut-cum-heritage centre.

"I am a bit of a hut person. It isn't just about men and their huts, there are also women and their huts," said Judi.

Alnmouth historian Fred Bettess knew ferryman John Brown from the late 1950s.

He had worked as a miner and a fisherman, and his rowing boat would take up to six adults.

Prices were based on tidal conditions. At high tide, when the estuary was at its widest, the charge was three pence.

When the tide went out the fee dropped by a penny.

"As he had been born and brought up in Alnmouth, and sailed out of the river as a fisherman, he knew the vagaries of the estuary and the tides, and so you always felt very safe in his boat," said Fred.

"I would like to see a ferry service operating across the estuary but realise that the barricade of regulations that would have to be surmounted in the modern world would stifle the enterprise before it ever got started."

(An article in the Journal, May 26, 2008)

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