Weird Norfolk: Haunting stories from Norwich’s abandoned Ferry Boat Inn
- Credit: Archant Library/Antony Kelly
Icy chills and the sound of a baby crying, floating faces caught on CCTV, shadowy figures after closing time, threatening whispers…Norwich’s The Ferry Boat Inn has many haunting stories.
The now abandoned pub on King Street used to be a lively watering hole which welcomed local and national bands and has been part of the city’s pub scene since 1811.
Those with long memories might remember the well-worn seats in the front bar that looked remarkably similar to those used by the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company, the stuffed cat guarding the chimney breast or Fag Ash Lil’ on the piano in the 1970s and 1980s.
Maybe you can recall Ted the rag-and-bone-man who still used a cart into the 1980s and spent his earnings behind the bar or were one of the Argyll Street squatters who adopted the pub as their local.
Stretch even further back and there was famous landlady Mottie Warminger, who ran the pub from the Second World War for three decades, presiding over the bar “with queenly grace” until the ripe old age of 84.
It has been run by male and female landlords, by fishermen and the Sheriff of Norwich.
Alan Thorpe and his wife leased the riverside pub for two years from 2004 to 2006, until it was forced to close due to noise complaints from the recently-built blocks of flats nearby.
- 1 Weather warning as thunderstorms set to hit Norfolk
- 2 Fears over town gridlock as years of A11 improvement works begin
- 3 Prince Harry's ex marries north Norfolk hotelier
- 4 Villagers' anger after meadow is mowed causing 'destruction' of plants
- 5 'We will always miss you' - tributes to QEH pharmacist who died in A47 crash
- 6 Green light for park and ride, drive throughs and offices near Norwich
- 7 Tractor being used for A11 roadworks had faulty brakes
- 8 'It's a nightmare' - Roadworks leave town 'gridlocked'
- 9 'Like a Halloween scene' - huge caterpillar webs engulf hedges
- 10 Police called to 'altercation' between pupils at Norfolk school
Number 191 King Street has been an inn since it was built in the 17th century and became the Ferry Boat during World War One when Boulton and Paul opened their works on the other side of the Wensum and a ferry operated to bring workers across.
It has three storeys, original fireplaces and attics, two Elizabethan cellars and a blocked door to what was once a secret room, or possibly (less romantically) a garderobe or old toilet.
The remains of a 16th century arch can be found in an outbuilding next to the inn.
Alan told Weird Norfolk: “I was very much a sceptic about things that go bump in the night but that all changed in the two years we were at The Ferry Boat.
“The pub had been a live music pub for many years and we continued this, having live local and national upcoming bands most nights of the week, so the pub had a young crowd and vibrant atmosphere.
“When the pub was closed to the public, things were a bit different…
“As the pub was old it had hidden stairs, five bedrooms, tight, twisty main stairs and walls warped with oak beams in the ceiling. Obviously, some rooms, due to their age, felt creepy and cold but you would expect that.
“There was one bedroom on its own on the third floor. About six months after moving in, we decided to use this bedroom as it was furthest away from the normal noises of the pub and was brightest room of the staff accommodation.
“The only problem was that the atmosphere in the bedroom was icy cold. You felt like you could cut the air with knife it was so cold, no other room in the pub was so bad, not even the beer cellar.
“In the mornings I would be woken by the thick, icy atmosphere even when the sun was bright and warm, also, I was woken by sound of baby crying every day even though my wife never heard it and most buildings near the pub at that point were non- residential.”
The Thorpes quickly abandoned the bedroom, moving to a second-floor bedroom until they left the pub in 2006.
Alan said: “When we closed the pub at the end of the day we used to sit in the front bar and have a couple of drinks or a cup of tea to soak up the quiet and put our feet up while we cashed-up the till.
“Every night we would look down a narrow hallway which led into a wider hallway between a games room with pool table and the public toilets – we’d see people-shaped shadows walk from side to side of the hallway like they were just wandering around.
“We had always checked the rooms to make sure we had no straggling customers and the rooms were always empty, but the spirits were not threatening so we just got used to them being there each night.”
Alan added that there had been two separate incidents where items had gone missing which he and his wife had blamed on the spirits in the pub that weren’t in bottles behind the bar.
One involved essential parts of a television being moved to a strange location while no one was in the pub, another saw a desperately-needed warranty turn up – three months too late – under a heavy ice machine that was never moved and had been in place for years.
“I am now a firm believer in ghosts!” said Alan.
Another Weird Norfolk reader shared her stories of The Ferry Boat Inn from when she worked behind the bar.
“I was working late one night clearing up towards the end of my shift when I heard an indiscernible whispering in my ear which I heard as ‘get out…’ and it really spooked me!
“There were only two regulars at the bar as it was the end of the night. They didn’t hear it, but I did, it scared me and I’ve questioned myself ever since! But I did hear it, no doubt!”
She added that staff felt uneasy about working in the “middle bar” and that a landlord prior to Alan’s tenure had lived upstairs in the pub with his wife and daughters and had reported strange events at the inn.
The youngest daughter told her parents she was continually woken up by a man touching her feet while she was trying to sleep…“and another incident was caught on the security camera located in the top left-hand corner of the front bar,” said the former barmaid.
“Way after closing time an old boy in a flat cap was seen roaming around but he actually put his face right up to the lens of the camera…which had to be about seven and a half feet from the floor…!”
The Ferry Boat Inn fell into disrepair and was boarded-up after it closed in 2006 and pub group Greene King, which owned it, considered developing the site into a pub restaurant but it wasn't a viable investment.
In December 2006 the pub hit the headlines after it was revealed Suffolk serial killer Steve Wright was once landlord. Wright is now serving a life sentence in prison for killing five women in Ipswich.
The King Street site is currently being developed for housing.
· Do you have any ghostly stories about The Ferry Boat Inn or other Norfolk pubs?