Will Hythe Ferry keep afloat?

Saturday 31st December 2022

Today was going to be the last day of operation for the Hythe Ferry. The hourly service links the town, on the west side of Southampton Water, with Southampton.

Blue Funnel Ferries have been running the service since taking it over from previous owners White Horse Ferries in April 2017. Rising costs and falling passenger numbers led the company to make its shock closure announcement ten days ago.

Company owner Lee Rayment was quoted as saying “ideally the hope would be to sell the business and assets to keep the ferry operating” but this seems unlikely when he also admitted “Hythe Ferry has reached a position whereby it is no longer financially viable to continue trading despite best efforts, cutbacks and voluntary assistance”.

But in another surprise development on Thursday, the Ferry owner announced a stay of execution on its Facebook page with a more positive announcement……

A ferry of some kind has operated between Hythe and Southampton since the Middle Ages although Hythe Pier was constructed relatively recently between 1879 and 1881. The Hythe Pier Railway in its electrified form began in 1922 and is officially the World’s Oldest Pier Railway but alas 100 years later it now faces an uncertain future.

I went down to Southampton early on Thursday morning with my friend Ray for what we thought would be one last trip on both the ferry and the pier train on what turned out to be a very busy day for custom.

Whether it was local people also having one last nostalgic trip (as we were doing) or just getting out of the house for something to do during the Christmas and New Year interregnum, the ferry seemed to be having one of its busiest weeks for a very long time, perhaps explaining the updated post on Facebook.

We arrived for the first departure of the day at 10:30 from Southampton’s Town Quay and there was already a substantial queue. When the ferry arrived from Hythe a little late at nearly 10:40 it brought in at least 60 passengers although I admit I lost count.

A regular passenger expecting it to close remarked what a pity people hadn’t used it previously in such numbers.

We were soon on our way passing the large container ships in Southampton Water and after around 10 minutes approached the end of the pier in Hythe.

The train was waiting for us but there were far too many passengers for its three small carriages but the driver reassured those who couldn’t fit on board and didn’t fancy a walk he’d soon be back.

No one seemed to know whether the Pier railway will also cease running if the ferry stops. The assumption was it would as it’s sole reason for existing is to take passengers to and from the ferry. There’s nothing else at the sea end of the pier.

It will be a great shame to confine this operation to history although it’s good to see there’s an upbeat positive message on the Hythe Pier Heritage Association’s Facebook page stating…..

Everything is therefore rather uncertain at the moment for both the ferry and the train. Sadly I have doubts their long term future is very secure.

We returned from Hythe to Southampton on Bluestar’s route 9 and while we were in a ferry frame of mind took a ride on First Bus City Red route 6 to Hamble-le-Rice on the west bank of the River Hamble for the short and rather quirky ferry crossing across the river to Warsash (see map above).

This small ferry shuttles across to no fixed timetable and was also proving popular on Thursday lunch time.

It’s famed for its bright pink colour scheme on its boats as well as the ferry shelter on the Warsash bank.

It was a very friendly service and here’s hoping its future is more certain than the Hythe Ferry where developments are awaited with interest.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

8 thoughts on “Will Hythe Ferry keep afloat?

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  1. I myself would be sorry if the Hythe Ferry ceases to operate, however if it’s not viable there are alternatives. Roger, you mentioned that you returned to Southampton on the bus, a more reliable service and it runs every 20 minutes through much of the day.

    Regrettably the Hythe Ferry is a point to point service and is only really effective if both your starting point and destination are within a few minutes walk of the ferry terminals. I live in Marchwood, which is three miles from Hythe and seven miles from central Southampton, it makes no sense for me to go to Hythe and catch the ferry to Southampton and the Bluestar 8 runs a daytime service between both points.

    There is talk of reintroducing the Southampton Waterside railway, many more people would be within a short walk of the stations than the ferry terminals and I don’t believe the users of Hythe ferry terminal would be disadvantaged, just walk in a different direction.

    On arrival in Southampton, the bus is most likely to get you close to where you need to be, the railway station is a bit further out, but the Southampton end of the Hythe Ferry is least likely to be close to a passenger’s destination.

    When White Horse Ferries took over the ferry’s operation they talked about converting it into a river bus service stopping at multiple points on the Waterside, this came to nothing.

    I’ve not checked the history of requests for funding, but it feels like we are advised if funding isn’t provided via local authorities or public appeal the ferry will cease to operate three or four times a year. They also insist that the ferry will cease if the train service commences.

    Regrettably, I can’t help but feel that the ferry has had it’s day and hope that the train gets the go ahead, as the broader Waterside area is desperate for transport infrastructure improvements

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We were there in the summer. At Hythe it wasn’t clear how much a trip would cost. It was also a couple of quid to walk on the pier – which, as you say, has nothing there!!!

    The New Forest Tour (open top) included a ferry trip from Southampton. I wonder if a major transport company will open an aquatics division.

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  3. Surely the train is a historical asset worth putting on the Solent tourist trail, hopefully attracting some City or County funding. The ferry must be more environmentally friendly than driving round the local road system.

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  4. Further east you obviously have the Gosport ferry which is run as an essential service. Then there is the equally essential Portsmouth -Hayling Island ferry , that sometimes appears to run on a whim.

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  5. The Hayling Ferry is perhaps not as essential as the others mentioned, not least because there is no onward bus service on the Hayling side. It does run to an advertised timetable that can be relied upon. https://www.haylingferry.net/
    And if you should be tempted to Hayling try the Hayling Light Railway now run as a charitable trust by volunteers, well worth a visit (well I would say that I’m a volunteer guard!) Happy New Year to all.
    https://haylinglightrailway.wixsite.com/ehlr

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  6. It’s really doesn’t have to be this way, the only reason that there is a problem here is because of a failed economic model called neoliberal economics. Not enough profit, local authorities starved of cash, the outcome being yet another service to the local community lost. Solution, slot ferry services into a integrated transport infrastructure like they do in the Netherlands.

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    1. Exactly that. Once the for profit ideology is jettisoned, it opens up a new world of public transport as a public good, just like in other countries. The Hyth ferry would be part of an integrated Solent area public transport system.

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