Renfrew Ferry

By on Jul 10, 2017 in Clyde River and Firth, Renfrew, Renfrew Ferry, Yoker | 3 comments

Marlin Ford, about five miles down the Clyde from the center of Glasgow allowed people and livestock to wade across the river when the tide was low. For those who had more urgent business or were unwilling to get their feet wet, there was also a ferry and the rights ferry were granted to the burgh of Renfrew from the time of the charter making Renfrew a Royal Burgh in 1614. The land on both sides of the river was part of Renfrewshire.

The land to the south of the ferry formed King’s Inch and in 1760, the tobacco lord, Alexander Spiers acquire the ground on which he built his Elderslie Estate. It was Spier’s son, Archibald, who approached the Renfrew Town Council with a plan to re-site the ferry about half a mile downstream at the outflow of the Pudzeoch burn. Public access through the estate to the original ferry inn would be curtailed and the estate would furnish a new ferry boat, together with a new road to the ferry and ferry houses on both sides of the river.

The ferry used a rope running on rollers and strung across the river to propel from either landing point but as traffic on the river increased, particularly after the introduction of the steam boat, a new larger ferry was required with chain that ran across the bottom of the river replacing the rope. In addition, a rowing boat was available as the ferry was a point where passengers from Renfrew and Paisley could join the steamboats passing up and down the river. In the late 1830s, a wharf was built a little downriver from the ferry but disputes with the owners over the charges levied on steamboat calls encouraged the continuation of the rowing boat for a few years.

The first steam ferry

The first steam-driven ferry was built be Messrs Wingate of Whiteinch in 1868. It was built of iron and employed a single chain to propel itself across the river. Ramps at either end were raised and lowered by a large wheel onto the slipways that had been improved for the increased traffic.

The second steam ferry of 1897

The second steam ferry at Renfrew

The second steam ferry

The second steam ferry approaching Renfrew with the harbour area undeveloped

A new ferry was built by Messrs S. McKnight & Co., of Ayr in 1897 and the old ferry was retained as a spare until 1912. The new steel ferry used a double chain that entailed alteration of the slipways. It was larger than its predecessor and could accommodate five carts at a time.

The second steam ferry at Yoker with Renfrew Wharf in the background

An early car venturing on board the second steam ferry at Yoker

The Clyde Navigation Trust purchased Renfrew Harbour in 1905 and shortly thereafter, began construction of their workshops. The also purchased the ferry in 1911 and the following year placed a larger, more powerful vessel on the station. Built by Messrs Ritchie, Graham & Milne of Whiteinch in 1903 for the Govan crossing, she could accommodate eight carts and could be distinguished by her two funnels on the boiler side of her superstructure. She became available when the vehicular crossing at Govan was switched to a high-level ferry.

The third steam ferry at Yoker with the new Dalmarnock in the Pudzeoch around 1925

The third steam ferry approaching Yoker in 1926

The third steam ferry at Renfrew in 1931 with Yoker Power Station in the background

The third steam ferry at Renfrew with hopper barges in the Pudzeoch

This ferry served through the first world war and the 1920s and it was 1935 before a new, more modern steam vessel appeared from the yard of Messrs Fleming and Ferguson, Ltd., of Paisley. Much larger and more powerful, she could accommodate 18 cars and 250 passengers with passenger shelters in the superstructure. This was a distinct improvement over the earlier ferries and was most welcome in view of the West of Scotland weather.

The fourth steam ferry at Renfrew in 1938

The fourth steam ferry at Yoker

The fourth steam ferry at Renfrew

The fourth steam ferry at Renfrew in 1951

The fourth and last steam-powered ferry in mid-river

When the 1935 ferry was replaced in June 1952, she was modified to place her engine and boilers on the same side of the vessel and increase her car capacity as she entered service at Erskine.

The last chain driven ferry at Renfrew in 1961

Yoker power station and the ferry

The replacement at Renfrew was a diesel-electric vessel, like her predecessor from the yard of Messrs Fleming and Ferguson, Ltd. She could carry 24 cars and her passenger accommodation was both inside and on an upper deck. I recall many trips on this ferry, occasionally in a car, waiting in a long queue on the Yoker side but more commonly as a foot passenger where the upper deck was a favourite spot as long as the rain was not too heavy. By 1984, traffic had diminished to the point where the large ferry was taken out of service and replaced by two smaller and more maneuverable diesel-engined craft built on the principle of landing craft, designed mainly for foot traffic but capable of carrying an ambulance in an emergency. The were named Yoker Swan and Renfrew Rose.

J. Walls and G. Hamilton, The Renfrew Ferry, Renfrew Historical Society, 1984.

C.L.D. Duckworth and G. E. Langmuir, Clyde River and Other Steamers, Brown, Son, & Ferguson, Glasgow, 1990.


  1. Iain Nevill

    August 5, 2017

    Post a Reply


    Thanks for this brilliant and very informative site about our beloved River Clyde. Since I became aware of it a few days ago I visit each day and much of the detail contained has taken me many years to accumulate by purchasing ( at great expense) dozens of publications. In addition a great deal of the information is new to me and for many of us who are obsessed with the river it will be a great research source.

    Iain Nevill

    • valeman

      August 5, 2017

      Post a Reply

      Iain: Glad you are enjoying my little attempts. Like you, I have accumulated a great deal of material over the years and it is fun to try to make sense of it all and put it in some sort of order. Graham

  2. T Alastair McLachlan

    September 4, 2017

    Post a Reply

    Thank you for this informative article, all the information on one page. The photos/postcards are especially helpful. Born and brought up in Renfrew over 70 years ago I have many memories of the Ferry, including seeing the diesel electric vessel in Fleming and Ferguson’s yard. Many thanks.

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