Restoration of last Aust ferry finally starts

Gazette Series: From left, Richard Jones and Tim Ryan, trustees of the Severn Princess Restoration Group, Jane Campion of Mabey Bridge, trustee Ned Heyward and Steve Armstrong of Mabey Bridge in front of the Severn Princess car ferry.METADATA-START (7868880) From left, Richard Jones and Tim Ryan, trustees of the Severn Princess Restoration Group, Jane Campion of Mabey Bridge, trustee Ned Heyward and Steve Armstrong of Mabey Bridge in front of the Severn Princess car ferry.METADATA-START (7868880)

A CAR ferry that used to transport vehicles across the Severn estuary is finally undergoing restoration.

The Severn Princess is the last remaining of three ferries that provided a vital link across the river for 35 years before the Severn Bridge was opened in 1966.

With the Severn King and Severn Queen, it carried drivers and their vehicles between Aust and Beachley, offering a far more direct route than the 60-mile, two-and-a-half hour trip via Gloucester.

Among those who had used the service were The Beatles and Bob Dylan, with the Aust jetty featuring in a documentary about Dylan's life.

But the opening of the road bridge made the service redundant, leading to the Severn Queen being scrapped. The Severn King, until being damaged beyond repair, was used in the operation to dismantle the damaged railway crossing from Sharpness to Lydney, while the Severn Princess was sold to Ireland as a ferry on the River Shannon until being deemed too small for the task.

The vessel later featured in a Roger Moore film but was eventually abandoned in Connemara in 1995 in a poor condition.

A few years later, a group of enthusiasts tracked the ferry down and managed to repair it enough to be towed to Chepstow, where the first phase of restoration work has started. The aim is to turn the vessel into a permanent heritage attraction.

Tim Ryan, co-ordinator of the Severn Princess Restoration Group and one of three trustees, said: "The historic importance of the ferry service should not be underestimated.

"It was a hugely popular service and in the last year of operation around half a million vehicles used the ferries.

"It’s very important that the Severn Princess is restored and preserved as a permanent relic of that crucial period in the history of the region and the importance of the crossing point between Wales and England.”

Specialist bridging and steel manufacturer Mabey Bridge is donating its expertise, materials and staff to carry out the repairs, with its apprentices getting involved in the project.

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