“Water is calming…”

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On 4th July 2003, Gail Hebert wrote for the Richmond & Twickenham Times:

“STAN and Jenny Rust have conducted a 16 year love affair with Hammerton’s Ferry. They remember all the key dates, such as arriving at the towpath outside Marble Hill in May 22nd, 1987, or buying a new craft on St George’s Day six years ago and so on.

“I love the Thames. The Thames is me,’’ declares Stan. ‘‘I was born and brought up at Strand on the Green in Chiswick and I’ve always wanted to work on the river. I’m fascinated by it.” The appearance of the 57-year-old trained engineer is just as you imagine – fit and burnished, with bright eyes crinkling as he smiles. Just now the complexion is disappearing under stubble, an annual defence grown against the summer sun, and his head is protected by a baseball cap – worn the correct way round. On his right arm is a copper bracelet, to relieve the old effects of ‘outboard’ elbow – ‘‘and it works’’…

Unsurprisingly, the Rusts’ tenure is only the third since Walter Hammerton handed over to young Sandy Scott in 1947.

‘‘I can’t think of anything to beat it – except perhaps Judith Chalmers’ job,” said Stan.

Nearly a hundred years ago, Walter Hammerton charged an old penny to cross the river. Today’s cost is 60p for adults, half for children, bikes 50p or 30p and first dog free.

It takes 2½ minutes to cross, roughly. As we talked, Francis, who has been assisting for the last year or so, approached the mooring with his cargo of two men, including a ‘commuter’ from Grey Court School with his bike. Francis put about and tried again. ‘‘It’s the tide,’’ called Stan. ‘‘Sometimes you just have to go round, come at it and slam on the brakes.’’ As Stan points out, ‘‘everything depends on the weather’’, nothing else affects the running of the ferry, except the annual draw off which exposes the river bed, repairs and holidays – and he’s in two minds about holidays.

Up to 12 passengers can board the aluminium hulled 21ft x 9ft 6ins craft Peace of Mind. It was designed to hold the trappings of modern life, pushchairs, prams, bikes. One couple even sailed home with a double sofa which they hauled down from St Margarets.

The ferry operates all year round, daily between February and the end of October and weekends in winter. At peak times it is back and forth every ten minutes, stopping at 6pm weekdays; 6.30pm at weekends, though some folk think they can cross until midnight. ‘‘I do wait for a few minutes either side, but some people can take the proverbial if you let them.’’ Jenny keeps the accounts and in summer operates a supplementary business, 12 row boats for hire and three canoes. ‘‘You don’t get a minute to breathe sometimes,’’ she says. ‘‘It all depends on the weather,’’ they chorus.

Countless umbrellas and sunglasses have been left on board. Once a kitten on a lead turned up and once… they found a body, which could be unnerving if you live on site as the Rusts do. The couple wake to the lapping of water outside their barge which is equipped with every comfort, they say, ‘‘including central heating and of course, lovely vistas’’.

There is constant movement outside as owners of up to 56 private boats on the moorings stock up for the weekend: a bag of sails here, a box of beer there. Two small boys ask to use the Rusts’ toilet and one prospective boat buyer is left on shore as his wife and family go for a spin. On the Surrey bank, a boy races a pleasure cruiser on his bike. Everyone waves to Hammerton’s Ferry.

In Stan’s opinion, the water is the cleanest it’s ever been. He says the muddy colour is just foliage. Has he ever sunk? ‘‘I’ve wanted to,’’ he responds with a twinkle. ‘‘It’s something different’’.

‘‘Water is calming,’’ he observed. ‘‘There is no animosity. Even the young lads are quite nice. Once you get to water, you relax, you become gentle.’’ Is there nothing to disturb this riparian idyll? The towpath and park surrounds are pretty isolated after dark and the property is equipped with security lights.

Stan admits to ‘‘some trouble’’. He claims that police cars don’t patrol so frequently since barriers were put up to prevent all day commuter parking along Marble Hill Gardens.

But, characteristically, he is quick to accentuate the positive: ‘‘There are a lot more nice people than nasty.” In 16 years the only aspect of the business left unchanged is the Rusts’ home. Their hire business has grown from one vessel, while rising costs coupled with wear and tear has hastened the move from wood to ‘‘indestructible’’ materials such as fibre glass.

The number of canoes on the river has increased while house prices testify to the affluence of the area. ‘‘But you will never have the Penton Hook mentality here [an upriver, upmarket marina],’’ Jenny stated firmly. ‘‘People here buy boats to use, not for sitting around with a gin and tonic.’’ When they do take a break, the pair go Latin and ballroom dancing at Beryl Lywood’s sessions in Whitton. Jenny is also a familiar face up at St Matthias’ Church, Richmond Hill, where she has ‘‘sewn more cushions than you can think of’’.

The couple are universally popular, with landlubbers and river people alike. They are out whenever possible, alone or with friends on their own small cabin cruiser, Rusteze, which will be central to their future because now it’s time for a change. Stan and Jenny are in the throes of selling up.

‘‘I never thought about it until someone made me an offer nearly two years ago, which I turned down,” reflects Stan. ‘‘Otherwise, I would have just drifted on until I hit 60.’’ Naturally, they will be surrounded by water at their new home in Doddington, Cambridgeshire. ‘‘I don’t think that I’ve ever regretted buying the ferry’’, he said. ‘‘Every day is different. I never get up in the morning and think, oh no, not another day, ’’ ‘‘We are mudlarks’’, Jenny added brightly, ‘‘someone who mucks about on the river. It’s brilliant’’!”

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