Before the 1750s there was no bridge crossing the River Ribble below Walton Bridge. Instead travellers crossed by fords or by a ferry connecting Penwortham and Preston. The ferry was the only way across when the river was high. There is a case to be made that this was the major crossing of the Ribble in medieval times up until the construction of a bridge at Walton at the beginning of the 14th century (see Domesday Preston). The first mention of a ferry at Penwortham comes in 1338 when a free ferry was already operating. It was still ferrying foot passengers early last century. 
Richard Kuerden in his description of 17th-century Preston positions the ferry a quarter of a mile east from the bottom of Fishergate where there was ‘the key or wharf over against the boat house, where diverse boats are ready, as occasion may require, for horse and foot to waft them over to the other side.’  When Lawrence Rawstorne recorded a visit there on 21 November 1683 in his diary it was also serving as a hostelry and its landlord was Edward Hollinhurst. Hewitson, in his note on the entry, remarks that ‘Edward Hollinhurst was or had been a farmer of the Preston Corporation Ribble fishery’. He supplies no reference. 
Gary Cunliffe sent me a photograph of Edward Hollinhurst’s gravestone in St Mary’s churchyard, Penwortham. It reads, ‘Here lieth the body of Edward Hollinhurst of Boat House who died the tenth and was buried the twelfth day of April 1686.’
It would seem that the boat house was rebuilt a few years later, in 1696 according to a date stone on its front recorded by Hewitson in his History of Preston in 1883, when it was still standing. Until 1826 it had served as an inn, known as the Ferry Boat Inn.  In his notes to Lawrence Rawstorne’s diary entry, Hewitson says that after it ceased to be an inn it was known as ‘the Old Boat House’. He adds that it was demolished in 1907. 
 Alan Crosby, Penwortham in the Past (Preston: Carnegie, 1988), 45–47.
 R. Kuerden, A Brief Description of the Burrough and Town of Preston, and Its Government: Originally Composed Between the Years 1682 and 1686 … (Wilcockson, 1818), 12, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=KCAwAAAAYAAJ.
 Anthony Hewitson, ‘The Rawstorne Diary: Extracts with Notes’, The Preston Guardian, 16 January 1909, 9.
 Anthony Hewitson, History of Preston, reprint of 1883 edition (Wakefield: S. R. Publishers, 1969), 247.
 Hewitson, ‘The Rawstorne Diary: Extracts with Notes’, 9.