The Strange Case of the Blocked Ferry

The Magistrates sitting at Rollesby on 5th October 1937 heard an unusual case when Mr. Harry Hall of Martham was accused by the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners of unlawfully blocking the river Thurne at Martham by misuse of the pontoon ferry.

The Commissioners claimed that on 22nd August 1937 Mr. Hall was in breach of a byelaw when be pulled the ferry across the river and left it there for about half an hour causing a nuisance and obstruction.

The Court heard that there is a chained link ferry at the Staithe at Martham that allows access to users of land to the north of the River Thurne and when it is not in use it lies in a recess of the riverbank leaving the channel free for boats. When it is pulled across the river to enable traffic to cross from the south bank to the north it completely blocks the river.

The Commissioners said Mr. Hall is a cow keeper and during the afternoon of 22nd August he pulled the ferry across the river and left it in the closed position, blocking the channel,  whilst he fetched a herd of cattle. During this time a motor boat was obstructed by the closed ferry.

Mr. Hall gave evidence saying it was only closed for 15 to 20 minutes and had not been guilty of any breach of the bye-law because the nature of the construction of the ferry made it impossible for him, without taking an assistant or boat with him, to remove the ferry from the channel once he had disembarked on the north bank as it could only be opened or closed from the south side. It was necessary for his work to collect the cattle and drive them over the ferry and had taken no more time than was absolutely necessary and reasonable in getting them across the ferry.

The Magistrates found that Mr. Hall’s claims were right, and he was not in breach of the byelaw insofar as he had taken no longer than was reasonable to get and drive the cows across the ferry, and they dismissed the claim.

Mr. Hall appeared to be successfully cleared but that did not satisfy the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners who appealed saying the Magistrates decision had been erroneous on a point of law. The appeal was heard in the High Court of Justice at King’s Lynn. The Justices rejected the appeal saying the very fact that the ferry was there showed that the river must be obstructed  by its use. Therefore, the question was whether the obstruction by Mr. Hall was unreasonable. The Justices said it was not and Mr. Hall was not guilty.

A copy of the decision of the High Court  of Justice as reported in the Journal on 14th May 1938 is shown on the right.