Blanche Oliver operated the Mersey Ferry from 1567, with her business partner Cecily Gregory. Both women were widows, and inherited their share of the ferry business from their husbands.
Blanche’s story is recorded in the Liverpool Town Books exactly 451 years ago today! On 12 December 1567 she is recorded as being responsible for "maynteynyng ordryng and using … the sayd ferie". She did so with surety from two men George Ashton and John Wynstanley.
This wasn’t the first time the Olivers had appeared in the Town Books. The matter of upkeep and repair of the ferry was discussed in 1565 and 1566. Also, in 1564, Blanche’s husband Rauff (Ralph) had been brought to the Portmoot court for "kepyng Joan Bancherd, being an unchase woman".
At the time when Blanche was running it, the Mersey Ferry would have linked small settlements on either side of the river – Liverpool itself then only having a population of around 1,000 people. The ferry was established in the mid 12th century by the monks of Birkenhead Priory. They were given a royal licence to run the ferry by Edward II. By the 16th century the ferry was property of the Crown, and under the control of the Town Corporation who let it out to ferry operators to ‘serve all people as a ferie boote of this towne’.
Blanche is one of the historical Liverpool women featured in our timeline in the History Detectives gallery at the Museum of Liverpool.