RESTORATION work on a ferry that acted as a vital link across the Severn Estuary for more than 30 years from the 1930s has begun.

The Severn Princess is one of three ferries which carried people across the estuary from 1931 until the Severn Bridge was opened in 1966.

And the boat could become a major feature on the Welsh Coastal Path and form a permanent reminder of Chepstow’s history once it has been restored.

The ferry and its sister vessels the Severn King and the Severn Queen transported vehicles between Beachley and Aust.

The coordinator of the Severn Princess Restoration Group Tim Ryan said: “The historic importance of the ferry service should not be underestimated. In the last year of operation around half a million vehicles used the ferries.

“It’s important the Severn Princess is restored and preserved as a permanent relic of that period in the history of the region, and as a tribute to Chepstow as both a crossing point between Wales and England and as an industrial base.”

Before the ferry service started, people would have to drive 60 miles to Gloucester to make their way around the estuary, which could be very slow. The first motorway did not open until 1958.

The first stage of the restoration has been carried out by bridging and steel manufacturer Mabey Bridge. The firm is donating expertise, materials and staff to assess the boat’s condition and carry out vital repairs and replacement of the metal.

The chief executive of Mabey Bridge, Chris Droogan, said: “Our company’s industrial heritage is rich and we have the skills and capability to support projects that preserve industrial history. It will take a significant amount of effort, management and investment to fully restore the ferry to good condition, but we will support the Severn Princess Restoration Group where we can.”

The boat is leased below the Chepstow Railway Bridge on the town’s riverbank.

Chepstow mayor Councillor Ned Heywood, who is one of the group’s three trustees, said: “It’s been a long and difficult process to get this far and at times it has looked as if she might disappear altogether.

It is very important to Chepstow that we preserve this last relic of what was a significant service. Once this first stage of the restoration is complete, there will plenty of opportunities for local people to get involved in the programme.”

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