By the 1790s the site of the present Renfrew-Yoker Ferry (now pedestrian only) was established with ferry houses on both sides of the river. The house on the south side is now the Ferry Inn. Nearby, the engines from the paddle tug, Clyde, which worked the river from 1861 to 1912, are installed. By the 1830s this was a very busy spot indeed with the ferry operating round the clock. There was also a continuous towpath from here right up to the Broomielaw to help draw vessels upstream as there was little wind on this stretch of the river. In addition to all the people crossing – shipyard workers, children going to and from school, church goers – there were steamers plying up and downstream, pausing to take on and discharge passengers, livestock and goods.
Because of the trade it brought, the ‘right of ferry’ was a cherished privilege, held by Renfrew since medieval times. It may date from when the town became a Royal Burgh in 1396. It was certainly included among the privileges reconfirmed by James VI’s Charter in 1614.
The site of the present Ferry was established in 1790 after a deal with the landowner who wanted to divert traffic away from the old ferry site which was too close for comfort to his newly built mansion. He sweetened the deal by paying for new quays, the new Ferry House and its stabling, and a road to the new ferry. There was a new ferry boat too. The Parish Minister described its qualities in enthusiastic terms, as ‘a most complete Ferry Boat, built by subscription especially for carriages; in which by means of a rope, fixed upon each side of the river and running upon four rollers, two at each end of the boat; one placed in the horizontal direction, and the other perpendicular, any carriage with a pair of horses, can be easily boated, and carried over by one man in five minutes.’
By 1835 technology and the growth in traffic resulted in a larger and more advanced ferry ‘open at both ends and moved along a chain by a hand windlass.’
In 1865 the first steam powered ferry, using a steam driven cog to pull the ferry across the river by engaging the chain which otherwise lay on the bed of the river, secured to either bank. Notwithstanding very occasional sinkings and collisions on the busy river, the four successive steam ferries, each larger than the last, were the most reliable way of crossing the river and coped with a vast traffic. On Sunday 8 March 1936 when the new Queen Mary was docked at Clydebank a census recorded that 21,386 passengers, 946 motor cars, 141 motor cycles, 819 pedal cycles and 67 vans had crossed.
The closure of the shipyards and then the opening of the Erskine Bridge caused a huge drop in demand for the ferry and soon made the vehicle ferries uneconomic. Since 1984 there has a been a pedestrian only ferry service.