AHEAD of the 65th anniversary of the launch of the last surviving Severn ferry, volunteers have been praised for restoring an important part of Chepstow’s heritage. 

The Severn Princess Preservation Trust was visited by local MP David Davies on Friday (26 April) as preparations gear up to celebrate two milestones this year. 

Prior to the Severn Bridge’s construction, the Princess and her counterparts – the Severn King and Queen – used to carry vehicles and passengers across the River Severn between Aust and Beachley.

Revolutionary in her design, the Severn Princess sported a large turntable to rotate cars and transported famous faces including Bob Dylan, The Beatles and royalty. 

23 May marks the 65th anniversary of the iconic vessel’s 1959 launch in Hull before joining the fleet of Seven ferries for a seven-year tenure until the bridge opened on 8 September 1966. 

The Severn Queen was immediately cut up for scrap and the Severn King followed the same fate in 1970. 

Sold to a company in Ireland, the Severn Princess was found wrecked and abandoned on the western Irish coast of Connemara in 1999. 

It means 2024 also marks the 25th anniversary of a rescue mission by enthusiastic volunteers to bring the Princess back to Chepstow just days before scheduled demolition. 

An extensive project has been underway ever since to restore the Severn Princess – which now rests on the bank of the River Wye under Brunel’s tubular railway bridge – to her former glory. 

She has already been elevated to the UK National Historic Ships Register as a valuable piece of Severn Estuary maritime history, joining other vessels of national importance including SS Great Britain and Cutty Sark on the prestigious list. 

Monmouth MP Mr Davies said: “The Severn Princess has a fascinating tale to tell and I am incredibly grateful to Tim Ryan and Dr Sue Kingdom, trustees of the Severn Princess Preservation Trust, for sharing her story with me. 

“While sailing across the estuary may have been a short journey, it was not without its hazards. The Severn has the second-highest tidal range in the world, so the ferries would have to travel in an arc and punch against the powerful rip tides. 

“The Seven Princess took 19 cars at a time and they were packed on so closely that you couldn’t open the doors or get out. 

“When all three ferries stopped operating the day the Severn Bridge opened, it was thought the Severn Princess had been consigned to the scrap heap when she was sold to Ireland. 

“By amazing coincidence, a friend of Tim’s came across the Princess 33 years later rotting away. Arrangements were immediately made to tow her back to Wales after they filled the damaged keel with concrete and were able to re-float the vessel. 

“Tim remembers they were escorted out of Ireland by a pod of 40 dolphins before a force 9 storm almost sank the Princess but by sheer luck, they managed to limp home.” 

Volunteers from the Severn Princess Preservation Trust say their beloved vessel has the potential to become a “star tourist attraction” for Chepstow, with several exciting plans lined up for her. 

Mr Davies added: “It was a pleasure to meet stalwart volunteers John Kent and Hugh Cousins, who have played a vital role in the preservation of the Severn Princess, and it seems somewhat appropriate that she now sits under another famous feat of engineering – the Brunel railway bridge. 

“The history of travel in this area goes back at least to Roman times. The story of the ferries is an essential part of that history and one I hope many more people discover.”