Until the Willington Bridge was built in 1839, there was no dry crossing over the river between Burton-upon-Trent, c8 miles upstream of Twyford, and Swarkestone, c4 miles down. The relatively shallow water at Twyford made it one of few places where it was possible to cross in reasonable safety and the Trent is known to have been forded here since Roman times.
The name Twyford actually means two fords as there are two possible crossings at this point. Nevertheless, standing here looking across the river, I can guarantee that I would not have wanted to try either!
At some point, the ford was superseded by the ferry.
The boat used was a chain ferry, hand-winched across the river along the course of a chain fixed between two posts. The original posts are still in place on either bank. One can be seen just behind the plough, now being used as a lifebelt stand.
Records do not show the exact date from which a ferry was installed, but it was used in 1790 by John Byng, fifth Viscount Torrington (1743-1813). Torrington was a famous diarist and refers to the ferry in his travel journals, 'The Torrington Diaries' (published post-humously in 1934). There is also an even earlier reference to the existence of a ferry, made by William Woolley in his historical writings of 1712.
As well as travellers, the ferry was used by locals who grazed their cattle in pastures across the river and, slightly more unusually, as a hearse after the self-hanging of a stranger in the village. The body was ferried across the river to be buried because a suicide could not be laid to rest in the consecrated ground of the church graveyard.
The photograph below, shows the ferry in action in 1899.
Then, in 1962 -3 came the coldest winter for 200 years. It brought blizzards, snow drifts, blocks of ice, and temperatures lower than -20 °C, beating the Great Freeze of '47 and becoming the coldest on record since 1740. The months of snow and relentless cold finally ended in March of 1963, beginning with a south westerly breeze which rapidly took temperatures up to 17 degrees celcius. The resulting thaw brought widespread flooding which, amongst many other more significant consequences, washed away the Twyford ferry.
Having been made somewhat redundant by the building of the bridge at Willington (2 miles upstream) and due to the fact that it was not suitable for cars, the ferry was never replaced.
Now the river is empty and quiet as it rolls by slowly, reflecting the autumn sunshine.