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East Midlands Owston Ferry, Lincolnshire

Owston Ferry is a small village on the west bank of the River Trent, about ten miles north of Gainsborough.

As its name implies, Owston ferry has been an important crossing point on the River Trent since ancient times. Before good roads and rail links, the river was also an important trade route between Gainsborough and Hull.

It was originally two settlements, Owston (from the old Norse for east farmstead) and based on the higher ground to the west of the Trent where the church is, and West Kinnard’s Ferry on the river bank. This was a corruption of King Edward, who granted a market charter and annual fair in the C14th. It wasn’t called Owston Ferry until around 1900.

A motte and bailey castle was built after the Norman Conquest to control river traffic. This may have been built on the site of a Roman Castrum as a hoard of Roman coins was found near the site.

A church was built in the inner bailey of the castle. Both castle and church were built of wood and nothing remains of them, although the motte can be glimpsed through the trees to the south of the church. The site of the motte can be best seen on google satellite.

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The present Church of St Martin (#2 ) dates from the late C13th and was restored in the C19th. It is at the western end of the village and reached through a splendid C19th ceremonial archway and wooded driveway.


The church is an attractive building surrounded by the old graveyard and still has the pre-reformation stone altar in the south chapel.


By the C19th, Owston Ferry was a very important and thriving local centre with a population of around 1,600. There were thirty shops and brewery, ropery, boat builders, gas works, brick and tile yard, corn mills and sail cloth manufacturers. Many of the buildings along High Street date from then.




The row of six almshouses were built in the 1860s.

The ferry finished working in the 1940s and there is now nothing to see of the ferry landing next to the White Hart public house.

The industry and most of the shops have now gone. The Market Place, with the Millennium Clock and red phone box survives but there is no longer a market.

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The old school with separate doors for boys and girls, is now a private house, and there is now a new primary school on the edge of the village.

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The Smithy (#3) stopped working in 1975 when the last owner retired and shut the door, leaving everything in situ.


This has since been restored as a heritage centre with the two forges on the ground floor. There is a collection of old agricultural implements and the upper two rooms contain a collection of old photographs and artefacts from the area.

The area used to flood regularly and a series of pumping stations were built along the banks of the river in the C19th to improve drainage. A small pumping station (#4) was built to the south of the village in 1910 powered by two steam boilers. These were later replaced by larger and more powerful diesel engines.



The pumping station became redundant a few years ago, it was leased to the Owston Ferry Pumping Engine Preservation Society to preserve it as an example of a once familiar part of the landscape.

This part of Lincolnshire, the Isle of Axholme, gets few visitors. It is an attractive drive down the west bank of the Trent through a series of small villages that have been left behind by time. There is a lot of history here as the remains of the medieval open field system, with its long strips, can still be seen around the neighbouring villages of Haxey, Epworth and Belton.

Epworth, four miles away was the childhood home of John Wesley.
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1000+ Posts
St Martin's Church

As its name implies, Owston ferry has been an important crossing point on the River Trent since ancient times. Before good roads and rail links, the river was also an important trade route between Gainsborough and Hull.

A motte and bailey castle was built after the Norman Conquest to control river traffic. A church was built in the inner bailey of the castle. Both castle and church were built of wood and nothing remains of them, although the motte can still be seen through the trees to the south of the church.

The present church dates from 1280, although the tower wasn’t completed until the C14th.The nave and aisle roofs were replaced at the end of the C18th. The church was restored in the mid C19th when the north aisle was rebuilt, vestry and porch added, along with a new organ.

It is an attractive church with a square stone tower and rendered nave and chancel, surrounded by the old graveyard.


The village war memorial is in front of the church.


The grand Gothic triple archway to the church grounds was added, an indication of the standing and importance of Owston Ferry in the C19th.


The lychgate dates from just before the First World War.


It is a big church and reflects the size of the community in the C19th. An arcade of pillars with pointed arches separates the nave and side aisles.



The unusual late C18th flat nave ceiling has carved roundels.


The functional pulpit is in front of the rood screen.


The rood screen separating nave and chancel was carved by local craftsmen as part of the C19th restoration and has the Instruments of Christ’s Passion below a Crucifix with the Virgin Mary and St John.


Steps lead up to a simple altar. Behind is a carved dark wood reredos, designed to fit round the east window. On either side are carvings of St Martin and the Virgin Mary.


Choir stalls are simple dark wood. On the north wall is the organ, placed here in the late C19th and there is only just space for it between the memorial tablets. The splendid chandelier is mid C19th.


The stone slab top of the south aisle altar is marked with consecration crosses and is the original pre-reformation altar. Very few survived, so this is a real ‘treasure’.



The two stained glass windows in the south aisle are early C20th.


The north aisle is wider than the south aisle and was rebuilt in the C19th and has a flat panelled Georgian ceiling. It is now the Lady Chapel.


The simple wood table altar may be the C17th post reformation altar, replacing the stone slab now in the south chapel. In front of it is a highly carved wooden chest dating from the late C15th which was given to the church in the mid C19th and is now used to store old registers.


At the back of the north aisle is the baptistry with the font, set beneath three arches.


Above the door into what was the old vestry, is the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne.


The brass memorial is just inside the south door and is unusual as it not only lists those who died in the First World War, it also lists those injured and those who returned home unharmed.


The church is on the western edge of the village, on the Haxey road. There is plenty of parking along the road by the ceremonial arch. The church is open everyday. The nearest post code is DN9 1RG and the grid reference is SE804003.


1000+ Posts
Owston Ferry Smithy Museum and Heritage Centre - the forge where time stands still...

A hundred years ago every village would have had a working blacksmith. As well as shoeing horses they made and repaired farm equipment.

The Smithy was owned by five generations of the Laming Family, who lived next door. Although shoeing horses had all but ceased by the 1950s with the advent of tractors, the smithy struggled on until 1958. The last owner, George Laming, never married and when he retired he just locked the door, leaving everything in situ. Fortunately the building was listed and survived.

After George died, the building was acquired by the Owston Ferry Society which have turned it into a small museum. The ground floor with its two forges is just as it was left with the upper two floors housing a collection of old photographs and artefacts from the area.


It is an attractive brick building. The oldest part is the forge on the left and was built in 1859. It has been preserved exactly as George left it. This was unusual in that it had two working forges at either end of the building, indicating that in its heyday it was a thriving business. One still has a set of leather bellows.


Horse shoes and equipment hang from the walls and the workbench is piled with different tools.



The filing system was a big pile of invoices hanging on a wire from the wall.


Originally horses would have been shod in the street, but around 1900, a shoeing shop with a stone flagged floor was added next to the forge. Two horses at a time could be shod. This is now the reception area and on the wall is an exhibition of tools used in the construction of drainage ditches and dykes.


Later, the building was extended upwards with a first floor storage space. The brickwork is very different.


The smithy originally had a carpenter’s shop at the back where carts, wheelbarrows and other wooden equipment was made. The remains of the wheel pit can still be seen in the yard.


The open storage sheds in the yard now contain a variety of agricultural equipment donated by local families.


This includes a potato sorter, a fiddle drill for sowing seeds, as well as the bells from the old school.




The two upstairs rooms above the smithy have been set up as a Heritage Centre for the local area.


The ledgers from the Smithy are kept here as well as invoices.



There are files containing hundreds of pictures of village scenes, village life and people as well as artefacts given by the community. These include corn dollies, crockery, a milk separator and butter churns as well as coins, children’s toys and clothes.




The Smithy Museum and Heritage centre is on High Street, opposite the junction with Bagsby Road. There is on road parking outside the Old Smithy. The post code is DN9 1RE and the grid reference is SE 810003.

The centre is popular with people researching local or family history. Staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. There is a small entry charge. Details of opening can be found on their Facebook page.


1000+ Posts
Owston Ferry Pumping Engine - Draining the Isle of Axholme

The Isle of Axholme is a low lying area bounded by the Rivers Trent, Idle, Torne and Don. These meandered with no real directional flow gradient. The soil was waterlogged and the area used to flood regularly in the winter and was unattractive for farming.

There had been attempts to improve drainage in the Middle Ages with a series of barriers and embankments to control water flow and flooding but these were largely ineffectual. In the C17th the Dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden was commissioned by Charles I to drain and reclaim parts of the Isle of Axholme, so increasing the area of land for cultivation. Vermuyden was to receive one third of the drained land, most of which had been common land. The loss of their common land as well as hunting and fishing rights, made the plans very unpopular with the local population.

His work wasn’t altogether a success as diverting and straightening rivers caused flooding in other areas. Peat also shrunk as it dried resulting in a drop in the land level, in cases to below that of the river.

Further efforts were made to improve drainage in the C18th and C19th with gravity flow of water down drains and dykes and sluice gates controlling the flow of water into the rivers. This worked unless water levels in the rivers were higher than that in the feeder dykes and drainage ditches. During the winter months, flood water in the River Trent could prevent sluice gates being opened for several weeks. The low lying areas around the river flooded regularly.

From the mid C19th pumping stations were built along the Trent using stationary steam engines to pump water into the river.


A small brick pumping station was built on South Street in Owston Ferry in 1910 to improve drainage. It was extended in 1964 for a modern oil engine to replace the earlier steam and diesel engines.



The pumping station was made redundant and was taken over by the Owston Ferry Pumping Engine Preservation Society to preserve it as an example of a once familiar part of the landscape, as well as preserving the engineering skills to look after the engines.

Two large Cornish Steam boilers made by Marshall Sons and Co. in Gainsborough provided the power for two steam engines in the main building. The coal came from Rossington Colliery and was brought by train to Haxey and then brought by cart.

These were relatively inefficient compared with other boilers but were easy to maintain and clean and could use any water. Rain water was collected for use, or, failing that, water was taken from the drain. The water in the header tank was pre warmed before being fed into the boilers. Normally only one boiler would be needed, except in exceptional circumstances. Neither of the engines is fit to be used now and they are purely museum exhibits.


The boilers provided steam for two stationary steam engines, again built by Marshalls, in the main building.


These worked the two massive Drysdale centrifugal pumps which were capable of moving 90000 litres of water per minute.


Water from the drain flowed beneath the pumps, with a weed screen removing vegetation that could block the pumps.




A sluice could be closed stopping water flowing back from the river at high tide and back into the drains.


By 1952, one of the steam engines was in poor condition and was replaced by a Ruston and Hornsby horizontal diesel engine with two fly wheels.

Compressed air is used to start the diesel engine. Once moving and after several revolutions, diesel enters and fires the engine. A belt reduces the speed of the second wheel, allowing the machine to be use with the original pump.


By the 1960s, this was the main pumping engine as the Cornish boilers were no longer able to produce steam.

The pumping station was extended in 1964 to house a small Lister Blackstone vertical oil engine which drove a submerged pump through a Brown gearbox. This engine is still potentially able to pump water.



The Pumping Station is on South Street at the edge of the village and next to the River Trent. It open for a few days each summer when the Ruston and Hornsby diesel engine and Marshall steam engine are run. (These pictures were taken during a visit in 2017.) Otherwise visits can be arranged by contacting the society.

There is parking by the pumping station. The post code is DN9 1RR and the grid reference is SK 813995.

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