Plans to create permanent heritage display take first important steps
The first phase of restoration work has started on the derelict and historic Severn Princess car ferry, the last remaining of a fleet of three ferries that provided a vital link across the Severn Estuary from 1931 until the opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966.
In Picture Richard Jones & Tim Ryan (Severn Princess Restoration Group), Jane Campion (Mabey Bridge), Cllr Ned Heyward MBE (Severn Princess Restoration Group), and Steve Armstrong (Mabey Bridge) in front of the Severn Princess car ferry.
Once restored it is hoped that the Severn Princess will become a major feature on the Welsh Coastal Path and form a permanent heritage attraction and reminder of Chepstow’s history and importance to the economic growth of South Wales.
“The historic importance of the ferry service should not be underestimated,” said Tim Ryan, Coordinator of the Severn Princess Restoration Group. “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 as a tribute to Chepstow as both a crossing point between Wales and England and as an industrial base.”
Along with sister vessels the Severn King and Severn Queen, the Severn Princess transported vehicles between Beachley and Aust. Prior to the establishment of the ferry service, vehicles would have to detour 60 miles through Gloucester – a considerable challenge as the first stretch of UK motorway did not open until 1958.
The first stage of the restoration programme has been enabled thanks to the involvement of specialist bridging and steel manufacturer Mabey Bridge, which is donating expertise, materials and staff to initially assess the condition of the vessel and then conduct the vital repair and replacement of the metal fabric. The physical repair work will be carried out by apprentices from the company’s award-winning apprenticeship programme.
“Mabey Bridge has a long history of supporting industrial heritage and community projects,” said Chris Droogan, CEO of Mabey Bridge. “Our company’s industrial heritage is rich and we have the skills and capability to support projects that preserve industrial history. It will take a significant amount of effort, management and investment to fully restore the ferry to good condition, but we will support the Severn Princess Restoration Group where we can.”
Steve Armstrong, Special Projects Engineer at Mabey Bridge added, “The pressing need is to stop the further degradation of the Severn Princess, and that alone is a considerable challenge. Once this phase is complete we will be in a better position to further assess and plan the next stage of the restoration programme.”
The Severn Princess Restoration Group has three trustees - Tim Ryan, Richard Jones (a former GP), and Councillor Ned Heyward MBE (the Town Mayor) – and can call on around 20 supporters to get involved with physical work and fundraising.
“We are delighted that the physical restoration work has finally started in earnest and that the Severn Princess will get the care and attention she deserves,” said Cllr Ned Heyward MBE. “It’s also good that Mabey Bridge apprentices will learn new skills on this important community project.
“It’s been a long and difficult process to get this far and at times it has looked as if she might disappear altogether. It is very important to Chepstow that we preserve this last relic of what was a significant service. Once this first stage of the restoration is complete, there will plenty of opportunities for local people to get involved in the programme, right up until the final presentation to the public when the project is completed.”
You can find out more about the project by visiting the dedicated pages on the Mabey Bridge website or the Severn Princess Preservation Group website at www.severnprincess.org.uk