Pull's Ferry is one of Norwich's best known and attractive landmarks, but what do we know about the man who gave it his name, John Pull?
The first definite record that we have mentioning John Pull is found among the Norwich Cathedral records. A Chapter book records that John Pull was appointed ferryman, on 27th September 1796, a position vacated by the death of Morgan Curtis; he was also assigned the house, known as the Ferryhouse.
We know that John Pull continued in this post until his death, in 1841, because a similar entry in a later Chapter book records the appointment of James Lovelock, on 10th December 1841, to the position of ferryman, a position vacated by the death of John Pull.
The Ferryhouse was a public house for some time before John Pull lived there, as the following quote about alehouses in the precinct shows:
'By the mid-eighteenth century.....unlicensed alehouses had been suppressed and the five remaining inns (the Ferry House, the Gate House, the Black Jack, the Three Cranes and the Garden House or Golden Horse Shoes) were respectable enough to be used by the chapter and polite society.' We know that John continued to run it as a pub, as there are a number of surviving alehouse licences that were issued to him. It is thought that he was the last person to do so.
John Pull married Ann Haywood in the church of St John Timberhill, on the 16th November 1797; both John and Ann could write, and signed the register. Their son, John, was baptised at St John Timberhill, on the 10th June 1798.
Most people who lived in the Cathedral precincts are recorded in the registers of St Mary in the Marsh. In fact, the church of St Mary in the Marsh was pulled down, in the late 16th centuary, and after that, the parishioners used St Luke's Chapel, in the Cathedral, but the registers continued in the name of St Mary in the Marsh. However, some people were allowed to have their baptisms and burials recorded in the Cathedral Sacrist's registers and it seems that the ferrymen were among them. The burial of Morgan Curtis is recorded in January 1796 and then on 19th January 1800, the burial of Ann Pull, aged 31, is noted.
John was married again, on the 7th January 1802, at St Michael at Plea, to Ann Steers. Their first child, Frederick William, was baptised in June 1802 and buried a week later, in St Mary in the Marsh. The Cathedral registers show that, between 1803 and 1815, they had children Mary, William Frederick, Sophia, Louisa and William Henry. They also show that John's eldest son, John, died when he was 8 and William Henry died as an infant.
Ann Pull was buried in 1832, aged 52, and John himself, on 6th December 1841, aged 73. John's death certificate shows that he died, on the 27th November, of 'debility'.
For a time, there was a sign at Pull's Ferry, which read:
"Historical Fact No. 795
On Tuesday 16th July 1795, directly in front of you, first ferryman George Sandling was training John Pull so that a second ferry crossing could be opened. Training was going well until Pull lost his footing, tripped and fell into the river, Sandling jumped in to save him. Remembering he could not swim, he panicked. Pull shouted at Sandling to stand up, given that the water was so shallow. Sandling did not hear he soon tired and drowned.
An inquest was held. Pull was asked why he had not made more of an effort to save Sandling. Pull replied "I felt unable to move given the shock of the incident and the coldness of the water." The inquest found that Sandling had indeed drowned and gave a verdict of accidental death.
On Wednesday 15th July 1796, John Pull married Widow Sandling.
The Second Ferry crossing never opened."
This is strange, as there seems to be no truth behind any part of this tale. The 16th July 1795 was a Thursday, not a Tuesday. The first known ferryman was a Thomas Holmes or Howes. There was a ferryman named Sandling, but he was John, not George, and he ran the ferry between 1582 and 1597, a good two hundred years before John Pull did. We know from the Cathedral records that Morgan Curtis was running the ferry in July 1795 and that he did so, until his death, in January 1796.
Morgan was only 36 when he died, so inquests and local newspapers have been searched, but there is no mention of him. John Pull was mentioned a number of times, in the inquest papers. In 1804, an inquest was held 'at the house of John Pull, the Ferryhouse, a public inn' into the suicide of Mary Dunnell, who stabbed herself in the throat, in her home.
In 1806, an inquest was held at the Gatehouse public house and John Pull was on the jury, being one of the twelve 'good and lawful men'. This looked into the death of Joseph Wiggett, who had hung himself. John Pull's signature appears on the document and is clearly identifiable as the same signature in the two marriage registers. In 1812, another inquest was held at the house of John Pull and, again, John served on the jury. The inquest looked into the death of John Read, who had suffered a fit and died on the road to the Ferryhouse.
In 1825, another inquest was held at the Ferryhouse and this time John Pull gave evidence to the jury. He said that he heard the voice of John Langly (whom he recognised as a frequent ferry user) calling for his boat, John went outside and found Langly face down, groaning and bleeding from the mouth. John ran to Langly's house, but when he returned, five minutes later, Wilson was dead. The verdict was 'visitation of God'.
Later that year, John again served on the jury of an inquest held at the Golden Horse Shoes Inn. This inquest looked into the death of James Hales, who had fallen down and died in his own parlour. Finally, in 1828, an inquest into the death of seven year old Henry Hardy was held at the house of John Pull. Henry had been playing by the river, alone, and was found drowned. John Pull's boat was used to recover the body, but by a waterman named Phillip Wickman.
So the inquest papers show that John Pull was never involved in any drowning and, in fact, was thought to be a man of good enough character to serve on the inquest juries, on three occasions.
Lastly, we consider the assertion that Pull married Widow Sandling, on Wednesday 15th July 1796. This day was, in fact, a Friday and John was not appointed ferryman for two months, after this date. We know John married Ann Heywood, in 1797, and he was described as a bachelor. Ann died in 1800 and he married Ann Steers, in 1802. Ann died in 1837 and John in 1841. There is no evidence that he ever married anyone named Sandling.
None of the documents, mentioning John, tell us where he was born. There were a number of Pull families, in Norfolk, at the time, particularly in the Cromer to North Walsham area. We know that he was recorded as being 73, at the time of his death, which gives him a birth year of 1768. However, we must bear in mind that people were often surprisingly vague about their age, in those days.
All the surviving registers for Norwich parishes have been searched circa 1768, but no baptism has been found for him, in the city. No will has ever been found either, which might have mentioned other family members.
Curiously, at John's second marriage, he was recorded as a yeoman 'of Weston'. We know this is the right man because the signature matches his other known signatures. Also the Cathedral registers record the children's parents as 'John Pull and his wife Ann (late Steers)'. The baptisms registers of Weston Longville and of the Suffolk parishes of Weston by Beccles, Coney Weston and Market Weston have all been searched, but there is no mention of any Pulls.
Both John's marriages were by licence, rather than banns. As the groom often appeared with a relative, these documents have been inspected. The licence for his first marriage shows that William Gordon Edwards, a tailor (who was witness at both John's marriages) was bondsman and John Lubbock was witness. John Pull was described as a yeoman, of the precincts of the Cathedral.
The second licence records John as a yeoman of Weston. His bondsman was Richard Hedgman Jr, of the precinct and his witness was Charles Kitson. The line which records that John had resided in Weston for the previous four weeks has been scored through. So this tells us that John did have a link to Weston, but he was not living there. As we have found no evidence of a familial link to Weston, we can only presume that he held some land there, at that time.
Some researchers have claimed that John was the son of John and Tamasin Pull, born in Sheringham, on 7th February 1768 and baptised there, on 26th March 1768. This seems to rely solely on the fact that this date fits with John having been 73, in 1841.
Eventually, an administration bond was found which seemed to offer a clue. The bond concerned the administration of the estate of Sarah Russell, widow of Thurgaton, who had died intestate. Administration was granted to Sarah Lubbock, wife of James Lubbock, daughter of the deceased, on 10th September 1803. Thomas Cook, of Oulton, gentleman, and John Pull, of the city of Norwich, innkeeper, signed surety of £400.
The signature matches those from the marriage registers and inquest papers. £400 was a considerable amount of money, so John must have had complete faith that Sarah would carry out her responsibilities, which suggests he knew her well. We also saw the name Lubbock on John's first marriage licence, although that was a John, not a James.
Further investigation revealed that James Lubbock and Sarah Russell married in Thurgarton, in 1797. The Thurgarton registers record the following baptisms:
Sarah, daughter of Robert and Sarah Russell, baptised 28th July 1771
John, son of Edmund and Anne Pull, baptised 12th December 1773
John, son of John and Rebecca Lubbock, baptised 7th Janaury 1781
It therefore seems very likely that John Pull was the son of Edmund and Anne Pull, and that he was born in Thurgarton, circa 1773.