The passage across the Tamar has always been important. Ever since the Conquest, the Saltash passage had been held by the de Valletort family who lived in Trematon Castle. Some say that Roger de Valletort was not in his right mind when he sold both the Castle and the passage rights to the Earl of Cornwall in 1270 for £300. The de Valletort family tried to get both back from the Crown without success.
The Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock was made Duke of Cornwall by his father Edward III in 1337 when he was seven. The story goes that on the eve of a battle, Edward was staying Trematon Castle. He needed to get across the Tamar to his waiting troops. Two Saltash women rowed him across to the Devon side but refused any reward. In gratitude, he granted the passage to the inhabitants of Saltash.
However, another story goes that after the battle of Poitiers in 1356, Edward granted the Saltash ferry rights to William Lenche who had fought beside him in the battle, for life.
It is interesting that in the first story the rowers were women. Women have always rowed on the Tamar, working and playing. One of the most famous was Ann Glanville. Saltash was a busy place when she was born in 1796. It had its own Member of Parliament and was the headquarters of the watermen and waterwomen who worked up and down the Tamar plying their trade, carrying goods as well as people, back and for.
Ann, a tall woman of over 6ft, had a great sense of humour and loved to tell stories. She married a young waterman and helped him in his work. They had fourteen children together. When her husband fell ill, she decided to take over the business herself. She worked from early to late on the water. It was said she was so strong that she managed to bring one cargo of seventy or eighty bags of corn from Sutton Pool to Butt Head's Mill two miles above Saltash on her own, which was a feat few men could do.
People enjoyed regattas, the competition of rowing against other teams. Ann was the stroke oar in the Saltash women's boat. They were famous for their costume- short white frilled night dresses and frilled caps as well as for the fact they won nearly all their races. They rowed in a four oared gig and were classed as professional. The Saltash women, led by Ann, competed across Britain going to Manchester, Hull, Newcastle and Fleetwood regattas among others. Ann always said even Queen Victoria was pleased with her. The Saltash men supported them and cheered them on, Ann's team having beaten several amateur men's teams.
On one memorable occasion Ann's team were entered into the regatta at Le Havre, in France. They arrived to a civic welcome. They had challenged the men to a race. Over 20,000 people turned up to watch the Saltash women in their white costume. Some say that the French professional rowers refused to race against women because of chivalry and that it was a scratch team of men who lined up against Ann and her women. Others say that the men were seasoned rowers. The spectators cheered as Ann called to her women "Bend your backs to it, maidens!" as they pulled hard and smoothly through the water. The Saltash women soon pulled ahead of the men and won by more than a hundred yards. Ann and her women returned home triumphant.
In later life she loved telling her stories and even enjoyed cracking a joke or two with the Duke of Edinburgh when he visited the new Eddystone lighthouse. One of her sons served with Admiral Lord Beresford who sent a boat to fetch Ann from Saltash to dine with him and the duke.
She died in 1880 aged 84 and someone said of her, "She was honest to a farthing, clean as a smelt and as kind hearted as a queen." A true Saltash heroine.
retold by Liz Berg