John Pull of Pull’s Ferry – saint or sinner?

Pull’s Ferry must surely be one of Norwich’s best-loved landmarks, but what of the man who gave his name to this beautiful building, John Pull? Dean and Chapter records show that John was appointed ferryman in 1796, a position vacated by the death of Morgan Curtis. He was assigned the house known as the Ferryhouse, which was also an inn (yes, another of Norwich’s Lost Pubs!).


John married Ann Heywood, in the church of St John Timberhill, in 1797 and their son John was baptised there, a year later. In January 1800, Ann died and was buried at the Cathedral. Two years later, John married Ann Steers, in the church of St Michael at Plea. Between 1802 and 1815, the couple had six children. Sadly, two of their sons and his eldest son, John, died during childhood. The burials of Ann and then John are recorded in the Cathedral burial registers in 1832 and 1841, where John’s age was given as 73 years. James Lovelock was appointed as the new ferryman, in December 1841.


However, there are two questions surrounding the life of John Pull. Where was he was born and why was there a plaque at Pull’s Ferry, for a short time, stating that Pull stood by while his predecessor, George Sandling, drowned in the river and exactly a year later married Sandling’s widow?

Documents at Norfolk Record Office

Pull is a Norfolk surname, but various Pull researchers have been unable to conclusively link John to any known branch of the family. The answer eventually came from a probate record. John gave surety of £400 for Sarah Lubbock when she was granted administration of the estate of her deceased mother, Sarah Russell of Thurgarton. Searches of the Thurgarton parish registers found the baptisms of Sarah Russell, daughter of Robert and Sarah, in 1771, and John Pull, son of Edmund and Ann Pull, in 1773. Sarah Russell Jr. married James Lubbock in 1797. The registers show that the Pull, Russell and Lubbock children all grew up together.

Signature Comparison

The signature of John Pull on the administration bond matched exactly with those at his marriages and the final link was that a John Lubbock, witnessed the marriage licence bond of John Pull and Ann Heywood. It is true that John’s baptism is a few years later than his age at burial suggested, but it should be remembered that people, in those days, were often unsure of their exact age and information about age recorded in burial registers was only as sound as the knowledge of the person supplying it.

Blue Plaque

So what of the story recounted on the plaque? There was a ferryman named Sandling, but he was John, not George, and he ran the ferry in the mid-1600s. We know that John’s predecessor was named Morgan Curtis and that he died in 1796, but there are no inquest papers for Curtis, which suggests his death was not suspicious or accidental. John was recorded as a bachelor at his first marriage and both of his wives were spinsters, so he did not marry anyone’s widow. In fact, the Dean and Chapter inquest papers show that John Pull served on the jury of inquests, no less that three times between 1806 and 1825, being one of the chosen twelve ‘good and lawful men’ and his yearly alehouse licences declared him to be ‘a person of good fame, sober life and conversation’.

The Verdict

There is no evidence that John Pull was anything other than a thoroughly decent man, who maintained a long friendships with his childhood friends, despite living nearly 20 miles away from them in adulthood. Descendants of the Thurgarton Pulls can now proudly claim him as their own.

John Pull of Pull’s Ferry – saint or sinner?