There is evidence to suggest that the ferry at Rock Ferry existed in 1660, however it is first recorded in 1805 when on 27th June, Joseph White obtained powers by Act of Parliament to operate a ferry to Liverpool. The act enabled him “.... to demand rates for the passage of the river there [Rock Ferry], and to erect slips, wharfs and piers on both sides for the convenience of passengers and goods conveyed over the said river. .... If the piers, &c. are not kept up, the tolls are to cease.”
About 1820 a stone slipway was built. The ferry rights passed to Liverpool Solicitor, Thomas Morecroft and on 5th July 1836 the “Royal Rock Ferry Steam Packet Company” was formed. The company took over a wooden paddle steamer called Aimwell
which had been bought second hand by Morecroft in 1832 As well as the ferry, the company also bought Rock House and Rock House Farm. Two more boats were bought, Alexandra
in 1836 and Cheshire Witch
in 1837, these were both iron paddle steamers.
In 1837 a new Sunday service to Herculaneum Dock in Liverpool was started, however this was not successful and it was discontinued the following year.
The new company expanded and refurbished the Royal Rock Hotel in 1836. Behind the hotel they laid out pleasure gardens. Ladies entrance to the Royal Rock Pleasure Gardens
Rock Ferry to some extent relied on Stage Coaches for its passengers, but by 1844 the new railways had removed all but two of the stage coaches, those to Holywell and Mold, these had also gone by the following year. A bus service from Parkgate to Rock Ferry pier started in 1850. Coach House and Stables at Royal Rock Hotel
The ferry prospered for some years, but with the opening of New Ferry with its pier and floating landing stage in 1865 its fortunes turned, and after struggling on for some years a lease was granted to Thompson and Gough in 1879.
Thompson and Gough also leased New Ferry and Eastham ferries and they started a triangular service between New Ferry, Rock Ferry and Liverpool. In the summer a similar service was run between Eastham, Rock Ferry and Liverpool. The Mersey
In 1887 a gale destroyed New Ferry landing stage and Thompson and Gough suspended services. Rock Ferry was sold to R.A.Macfie in 1889. Macfie continued the ferry service until June 1891, when the Rock Ferry extension of the Mersey Railway opened.
Following the closure of the ferry, there was a public outcry for it to be re-opened, so in 1897 the Birkenhead Corporation (Ferries) Act transferred Rock Ferry, New Ferry and the steamer firefly to the corporation on the 22nd September 1897. The act bound the corporation into running a service to Liverpool for a period of 30 years.
The corporation drew up plans for a new pier and landing stage at Rock Ferry and a contract was placed on the 1st April 1898 with Jenkins Brothers of Birkenhead to build the new pier. As well as the pier a new red brick terminal building, complete with clock tower, was built at the landward end of the pier.
The new pier and landing stage were opened on Friday 30th June 1899 by the Mayor, Alderman J T Thompson at 5.30pm, public services started at 6.30pm. Birkenhead Corporation operated the triangular service between Rock Ferry, New Ferry and Liverpool using two of the smaller existing Birkenhead boats, Mersey
. Both of these were steel steamers built by J Jones and Son in 1890. Firefly
, the former New Ferry boat, built in 1887 by J F Waddington & Co of Seacombe, was held in reserve.
was replaced by the Storeton
in 1910. The Storeton was a new steel steamer built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company in Ayr.
Also in 1910 Charles Boult brought his pierrot shows and concert parties to Rock Ferry. The shows were held in the pleasure gardens (now called the Olympian Gardens) behind the Royal Rock Hotel. There was a permanent brick built stage in the gardens and a marquee was erected to house the audience. The shows continued each summer until the death of Boult in 1925.
In July 1919 Birkenhead Corporation started a bus service from New Ferry pier to Park Station. A second route, to Port Sunlight started in March 1921. Other routes followed, and Crosville were allowed to run a few routes to the pier.
On the 30th January 1922, a Dutch Coaster, the Stad Vlaardingen
ran into New Ferry pier in thick fog. After this, ferries only ran between Rock Ferry and Liverpool. The pier was not repaired although Bebington and Bromborough Councils tried to take over the pier and restore the service.
built a new boat, called Upton
, for the Rock Ferry service in 1925. With the introduction of the new boat the Mersey
was withdrawn and sold for scrap. The Upton
Losses continued to mount, in 1938 the ferry carried about 3,000 passengers a day, with heavy seasonal weekend traffic. On the 26th April 1939 the Mersey Tunnel Joint Committee passed a resolution to close Rock Ferry. The Storeton
The last service was run by Upton
which left Liverpool at 10.00pm on the 30th June 1939, the 40th anniversary of the opening of the new pier. There was no official ceremony, but a large number of Birkenhead Councillors travelled on the journey. Upton
left Rock Ferry for the last time at 10.20pm arriving at Liverpool as the waiting crowd sang Auld Lang Syne and ships on the river sounded their sirens.
A year later Storeton
was sold to the Leith Salvage and Towing Company, while Upton
was requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport, on her return in April 1946 she was sold to the Southampton, Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Co Ltd (later renamed Red Funnel Line) with whom she sailed until being broken up in 1953. The Upton at Southampton
After the closure of the ferry, the pier and landing stage remained in use, with various organisations paying to use it, most notably being the training ships Conway and Indefatigable. In 1955 Cammel Laird
bought the pier from Birkenhead Corporation for it to become part of a tanker cleaning and degreasing berth. The bridge was removed and the landing stage broken up in March 1957.
Today, the Royal Rock Hotel has gone, the Olympian Gardens are a wilderness, but the stone slipway remains, as does the much modified pier. Rock Ferry Slipway and Pier Today