Constructed by the renowned engineer Thomas Telford in 1809, the nineteen acres of Folkestone Harbour were, by the time the railway arrived, both neglected and badly silted.

The land on the south side was a shingle spit, a narrow pebble beach formed by the eastward march of material washed along the south coast of England by the prevailing south-westerly winds. In heavy weather the harbour entrance could easily be choked after which men would be sent to shovel away the stones by horse-drawn carts. The Pent stream also emptied out into the harbour and caused great problems with its continuous load of silt helping to infill the basin. Tidal movements did allow a certain degree of scour but the South Eastern railway’s arrival and the harbour’s purchase for £18,000 certainly proved to be its life-saver.

It was all very well owning its own port but the South Eastern Railway found that it was not legally possible to operate their own steamers. The original vessels therefore were sub-chartered from the New Commercial Steam Packet Company on 1 August 1843, shortly after noon and after a special banquet given by the railway directors and the corporation of Folkestone, crowds gathered on the South Pier to witness the arrival of the 190 ton steamer City of Boulogne. The Sir William Wallace then departed with 75 passengers while later that same day, the third vessel Emerald arrived with a further 142.

Chartering proved unsatisfactory and so the railway’s directors formed the South Eastern and Continental Steam Packet Company and ordered eight new vessels – four from the Thames and four from Birkenhead – to operate their Folkestone – Boulogne route and also from Dover to Ostend and Boulogne. This state of affairs existed until 1853 when the railway company received parliamentary sanction to operate its own steamers.

“The Times” in June 1847 noted that with the opening of the Boulogne and Amiens Railway to Abbeville, it was now possible to reach Paris from London in 14 hours, the Folkestone – Boulogne crossing taking 1 hour 45 minutes.

The above was taken from the site of the Folkestone Harbour Company, and it barely scratches the surface of the harbour's history, so to read more, go to Folkestone Harbour Company


Folkestone harbour used to be a very busy place, and was the source of income for many Folkestonians.  Not just the fishing, but also the ferry service to and from the Continent, bringing passengers, goods and the Royal mail.

The collier boats would also bring coal from the North, and you used to be able to see them all moored in a row right in front of the old Pavilion Hotel.

Passengers could step off the ferry, and get right onto a train which would take them to London.  You can see the rail line in both of these photos.  However, in the photo on the right, the line is completely closed, and the tracks are in the process of being lifted.  Most of the buildings have now been demolished with the exception of the Harbour Master's house with the Café alongside, and what is left of the Customs House,which was damaged during the war.  You will see a photo of the doorway, which remains, below.  Part of the station is being retained, but it will never be used for passengers again.

You  can just make out the Pilot's Tower on the right of the 2014 photo.  Shortly after this was taken, it was demolished too.
The next four photos  were taken by Ernest F. Newble, father of Alan Newble.  Ernest was a life long friend of the railways and took many photographs of trains in and  around Folkestone.  You can find more of his photos here:
http://www.newble.co.uk/rpics/dadspics.html
Another of Ernest's, showing the boat train at around the same place in 1929.
This one was entitled 'Old Folkestone', which is what I have seen referring to the cluster of buildings grouped around the harbour.  So I guess Folkestone started here, and moved out
According to Alan Taylor, this picture is of the official opening of the pier promenade which took place in 1904, that is the reason for the bunting and marquee which is covering the lighthouse on the end of the pier.

This actual card was posted in 1910, so I guess they were still proud of it 5 years later!
This is how the harbour looked in 1922, before the Sunny Sands were developed.  As you can see, it wasn't a very agreeable place to swim on this side of the East Head.  For that, bathers would go either to the West Beach near the Victoria Pier, or the Warren.
I don't know the year this was taken, but would guess it to be around 1912  It shows both a steam ship and a lovely sailing ship.
Another picture of the lighthouse still there today.  I am not sure if this was before or after it was painted white.

See the fellow there with the age old past time of fishing off the pier?
This harbour view was also taken in 1905
If you think the lighthouse on the left looks pretty pathetic, take a look at the one they had in 1912!

It was located on the end of the South Quay at the entrance to the outer harbour (not the pier) it was demolished in 1941 to build a gun emplacement.
The branch line to the harbour was built in 1844 and used to take coal from the colliers up to the coking ovens by the Junction Station.  The first swing bridge, which swung to allow the ships in and out of the inner harbour, was built of timber in 1847 it opened the harbour for passenger traffic which started in 1849.  The harbour station was completed in 1850.  A new wooden swing bridge was built in 1893.  This bridge was replaced by the present steel swing bridge installed in 1930.  Today, the bridge does not swing.
Now does this sound like something I would have known?  No, Alan Taylor told me!
Bottom left shows the swing bridge.
A view of the harbour from a different angle.  This time the Pavilion Hotel is on the left, you can just make out the clock tower which was part of it.
This is how the harbour looked in 1908, with the London & Paris Hotel down there on the left, and the Pavilion Hotel on the right. 
Right in the centre you can see the boat train chugging away.  If I am not mistaken, you can just make out one of the collier ships moored just behind the Pavilion.
You probably saw a similar one to this picture on the ferry page.
The modern photo of the harbour and East Cliff was taken by Stan Cascino of Folkestone.  (You can find Stan's website on my links page).

Not many boats these days are there?  If he had taken the photo in the other direction, the ferries would have been conspicuous by their absence too!

Just look at those beautiful white cliffs of Dover!  Actually, right there are the white cliffs of The Warren, but they didn't write a song about those!
The year was 1903, and that the railway company's repair jetty was in place.  I wonder what that ship in the foreground was used for?  It doesn't look the type to cross the channel, maybe it just went around the coast.
People on the pier watching the boats come and go.  I wonder what those tall posts were with the circles on top?  Anybody know?
This picture dates from around 1906
On a bit more to 1965, yes, this end of the harbour is definitely becoming more for the pleasure boaters
In contrast, here is a modern one sent to me by Chris Keller.  You can see the Burstin in the background.  Thanks Chris!
Another one showing the swing bridge and the collier boats lined up.  Just look at the height of those things!  You can see why a swing bridge was very necessary can't you?

The clock tower with the weather vane on top was attached to the Pavilion Hotel.
This picture shows how they would take the goods on and off the ferries.  They had the help of a few cranes for the job, that would swing around and load them on or off the goods trains.
This looks very black & white, but it still dates from 1906, where you can see two of the smaller steam boats anchored alongside the railway company's jetty.
This 1920 view of the harbour was taken from St. Peter's Church up on the Durlocks.

You can see that the tide is almost out.  Can I show my ignorance and ask what keeps a large boat like the one in the foreground from tipping over when the tide goes out?  Is it purely the ropes which tie it to the dock?
I have this one enlarged on the wall of my office.  We have a good view of the London & Paris Hotel, as well as the side of the Royal Pavilion
I don't know the date of this, but am curious to know what that row of white hut things are that you see lower centre.  Anybody have a clue?
This dates from 1911. As you can see, the public were allowed to stroll along the pier to watch the comings and goings of the ferries.  By all accounts, when the harbour is finished, you will once again be allowed to stroll along the pier, but you won't see any ferries I am afraid.
Here we have two modern photographs sent to me by Colin Ballard.  You can see a couple of men in the process of launching their pleasure craft
The water looks almost clean enough to swim in doesn't it?  Don't be fooled!  Actually it is a lot cleaner than it used to be, mainly because the fishing fleet is so small now, but I remember playing on what we always called the 'Little Sands' when I was a child, and the stuff that would wash up onto the beach was disgusting, including foaming scum, oil, fish guts and goodness knows what else.
Thanks Colin, they are beautiful photos!
My wish has been granted, here is one of those boats in full sail.  However, it looks kind of strange doesn't it?  As if that sail doesn't belong to anything in the photograph.
The inner harbour again, showing the swing bridge in 1913.
Oh isn't this a lovely photograph?  This couple had probably just left the Royal Pavilion Hotel and were heading where?  Out for dinner somewhere?  Doesn't the lady look lovely, and both gentlemen look very smart don't they?  Even the little girl looking into the harbour looks well dressed.
This picture was in the Illustrated London News in 1859, and was entitled New Custom House and Railway Station, Folkestone, so they obviously didn't hang about, and got it all built that same year..  Right in front of the Custom House is a nice Paddle Steamer.

As you can see, this was called The New Harbour Pier.  But as it was posted in 1906, it was only new then!
Fashion time again! These people are strolling (and sitting) on the Promenade Railway pier.
Bringing things up into the 60's, these people are walking along The Stade away from the East Cliff Sands.  As you can see, the tide was completely out then too.

I hate to admit it, but I remember those fashions.  That woman with the dog probably has layers and layers of net petticoats underneath her dress that are scratching her stockings to shreds! (And I mean stockings, not pantyhose!)
Back to 1905 showing how rough the sea can get at times.  I wonder if those people above were getting splashed?
They described this as the Old Harbour then - and that was in 1919 - so I guess that makes it absolutely ancient now!
Interesting to note the large advertisement up on the cliff for Worthington Ales!
Can you see the St. Andrews Nursing Home up on the Durlocks too?
Irene Saunders came to my rescue once again by telling me that the 'white hut things were in fact the dormer  bedroom windows in the roof of what used to be the Jubilee public house.

Thanks Irene!
Dave Tooley sent me this photo, along with many others that he took a little earlier than my trip.  Both he and his father were born and raised in Folkestone, but I believe they are both now living in Portsmouth.

Anyway, this is what he said about this one:

"My Father saw this photo the other day, and couldn't believe it.
By all accounts, HE built this shed in 1944 from old floorboards windows and doors he'd scrounged from bombed out buildings.
He couldn't believe it was still there since he'd never had permission to erect it, but he needed somewhere to keep his fishing tackle and nets for the boat he had moored by the harbour wall so he just did it anyway.  He was 16 then".
If you look at Dave's photos, you will see a house at the bottom of the first page.  This is where both he and his father grew up - and would you believe, living right next door to that house today is my sister - you can see a bit of her house in the photo!  What a small world this is!
This interesting photo was sent to me by Peter Armand of Reading.  He said it was found in his son's house when he moved in, and has 'Folkestone Pier' written on the back.  I wondered if it was the building of the Victoria Pier, and sent it to Alan Taylor for his opinion, and here is what he said:
The photograph is of the staging which was erected to build the harbour pier, travelling cranes then ran along the stages on railway lines to lower the diving bells and concrete blocks into position. It dates between 1897 - 1900. I have fifty photographs of the pier being built which are copies from an album of originals owned by Captain Bullard whom I worked with on the ferries. His father was premier master when the harbour was being built & he inherited. I expect the photographs were taken by the contractors Messrs. William Rigby & Co. and presented to the  South Eastern & Chatham Railway on completion.
I was wrong again, Alan said it was exactly the type to cross the channel, and would take cargo to and from Boulogne.
I have heard from a few people about this.  They were railway signals.
Here we have a double header on the swing bridge.
A nice tranquil photo of fishermen bringing home their catch past the old lighthouse.  The boat is 31 FE for those interested.
As you can see, at that point, Folkestone had two lighthouses.
Folkestone Harbour in the 1930's
Even in 1932, they were still calling this area Folkestone's Old Town judging by the size of the jib (right word?), I would say that was a pretty large ship that everyone was looking at wouldn't you?
This is how it all looked in 1910
The inner harbour again dating this time from 1911.  The Shangri La towers over everything else doesn't it?  Still there, and now a block of flats.  In the distance, you can see the viaduct.
A closeup view of The Stade in 1906  All those houses are now gone I believe.  It looks as if they had stalls set up along there in those days too.  I wonder if they sold whelks and jellied eels like they do today?
Now, perhaps you would like to join me on a little trip I took around the harbour area in May, 2006
the swing bridge
I took this photo around 2011, it shows the Coastguard ship Anglian Monarch, not a ferry, but at least it is being used for something!

That is amazing Dave, thank you so much for sharing it with us. 

If you would like to see more of Dave's photos of Folkestone now, check out his website at:
I had this story in mind when I made my jaunt down to the harbour, and the next two photos are especially for Dave's Dad!
It was padlocked up tight, so I couldn't see what it was being used for then, but I have since heard from a lady who runs the kiosk alongside, and she told me they keep their supplies in there.
If you have your own memories of Folkestone, be sure to share them with us by jotting them down in the book below.
This page updated May 21, 2015
A busy day at the harbour, one ferry heading out, another loading, yet another passing down the English Channel, and a smaller steamer docked inside the inner harbour.  The only people not busy are the two sitting on the lower right of the picture.  Are they sitting outside a pub I wonder?
"The Harbour" Written & sung by Stuart Pendrill
     Added to this page with permission
copyright and intellectual property of Stuart Pendrill
This picture is of two cargo ships moored on the South quay in the outer harbour.

It is a tinted photo, and I think the tinter got a little heavy handed with the yellow, don't you?

You can just make out the lighthouse in the distance that is no longer there.
This is the same lighthouse that is there to this day.  Built in 1903, not very tall, and quite insignificant, but it is a lot more noticeable now the buildings are mostly gone from the harbour.  More buildings are planned for 2015, so we shall see how well it stands out after that.  It has recently had a makeover, so it is definitely here to stay.

Look at the lady on the right in her long layered dress and pretty hat.  Any time I have been out on the pier, the wind has nearly blown me over, but she doesn't seem to be suffering from that at all does she?

This 1905 card was entitled 'Harbour Pier with new extension, which I was a little confused about.  But as usual, Alan Taylor came to my rescue.  Here is what he said about it:

"The harbour pier as we know it today was built between 1897 & 1905.  This building work was known as the 'Pier Extension'.  The packet boats originally moored up at the south quay in the outer harbour, but due to the fact that the harbour was tidal they couldn't have a set timetable.  So in 1860 a wooden structure called the low water landing or sometimes promenade pier was built out to sea in a south, easterly direction to the knuckle in the present pier.  The pier extension was built out from the low water landing with concrete blocks made on site and faced with granite.  When the extension was completed the block wall was extended back inland behind the wooden low water landing thus completing the pier as we know it today."
What was the boat being towed behind for?  Maybe it was in case someone fell overboard, they certainly couldn't have used it as a lifeboat if the first one sank, it wasn't big enough for that many people!
Alan Taylor answered this question:

"The boat being towed behind was used to ferry passengers on to the pleasure craft when they were operating from the beach. I expect they had loaded these passengers on at the beach but as the tide is now in they are unloading in the harbour. The vessel is either the 'Girtie' or the 'Masie' they were the two sailing pleasure boats that operated from Folkestone"
Here is a nice picture of the inner harbour, with the Pavilion Hotel in the background.  You can see a launching slope on the right, but you would need the tide to be in a bit more than this to be able to do it!
An old picture of the harbour, with the Pavilion Hotel behind.  No longer there - now we have the  Burstin.  Some say that is an improvement, but I am not one of them!
But to be fair, I have heard from several people who have stayed there, and say it is a lovely hotel, and I am sure it is.  However, my taste in buildings leans towards the older ones with more character, and after staying there in 2014, I prefer them a little cleaner too!
It does have one thing in common with the Royal Pavilion though, it has one of the best views in Folkestone!
A birds eye view of  the harbour, (where someone has become handy with a paint brush!), we see a couple of fishing boats heading back home, and a cross channel ferry berthed in the background.

You can also see the other docking pier that used to be in the outer harbour.  It seems to me that the smaller paddle steamers would berth there.  It's not there now.
Alan adds to this:  "This jetty is the railway company's repair jetty, out of view are the marine workshops which closed in 1922 and moved to Dover.
I guess this picture answers my question about which colour the lighthouse was first.  Because this is entitled Folkestone Lighthouse, New Pier, and the lighthouse looks white.  It was postally used in 1905.
A large sailing ship (collier boat?) moored in the inner harbour opposite the Royal Pavilion Hotel.

The area is also busy with people.  See the horse and carriage outside the London & Paris Hotel?
Here we have the entrance to the harbour on a day I would certainly not have enjoyed being in that boat!

Remember the hymn that included the line "Oh hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea"?  It sprang to mind when I looked at this picture.
Circa 1920
2014
The above photo shows the new swing bridge beside the old
The first train going over the new swing bridge in 1930
This is an R1 loco which had just crossed over the swing bridge in 1932
Here is the development of the harbour in the planning stage, January 14, 1859.  This is when it really got going, with the railway running down into it, and a spanking new Custom House and all the other buildings necessary for a busy port  Thanks to Jan Pedersen for this!
As you saw in the photo at the top right of the page, almost all of those buildings have now been demolished, but they decided to keep what is left of the Custom House above, I am not sure what, if anything, it will be used for.
A closeup of the gargoyle over the door.  King Neptune maybe?  Both of these photos kindly supplied by Facebook page Legends of Folkestone
Another of the retained buildings, I took this picture of the Harbour Master House in 2014, then watched fascinated as that fellow backed that piece of equipment out without touching the railings on either side!
This was the way the Cabin Cafe looked in 2014, but shortly afterwards Folkestone had a visit from Prince Harry to unveil the new WW1 Memorial Arch on the Leas, and he then took part in a ceremony at the harbour, so prior to his visit, it was spruced up and renamed the Station Cafe.
This was the Mole Cafe run by sisters Margaret Ann and Florence Augusta Jeffery, who were both awarded the Order of the British Empire, the Queen Elisabeth Medal (Belgium) and the Medal of Gratitude (France) for offering free tea, cakes and buns to soldiers, sailors and members of the Red Cross as they left for the front during WW1.  The location of this cafe can be seen on this map, which I found on the Step Short website  On the table in the left photograph can be seen a book.  This was one of eight that contain the signatures of thousands of the men and women who passed through there.   They contain record of people  like King George V to the humblest private soldier, and usually included the date of visit, rank, name and corps or unit.  Last I heard, someone was working on getting all this information digitised and it would eventually be made available to the public, an invaluable resource for those researching their family tree.  I have also heard they are planning to restore the Mole Cafe, but I don't know at this point whether it will be just as a museum piece, or as a working cafe.  The photo of the Mole Cafe was sent to me by Brian McBride.


At long last, after years of neglect, where the harbour was allowed to descend into rust and ruin, work has finally started.  2014 saw a lot of demolition, and as you can see, most of the buildings on the left have now gone.  I am not going to attempt to keep up with the changes, so will add pictures and give you information whenever I work on the page, which unfortunately is not as often as I would like.  This is what is planned as far as I know.  How much of it will come to fruition is anybody's guess, but any improvement is better than it has been for the last ten years or so.  Here is what they are calling 'The Master Plan'.
This photo, taken by Lee Pogson in February 2007 shows how sorely it needed some TLC
A paddlesteamer arriving from Boulogne, with people waiting beside the older lighthouse.
1911
1911
This is a beautiful view of the harbour and East Cliff sent to me by Rex Simmons.  I don't have a date, but would guess early 60's.
Also sent by Rex, this one is a little trickier to date.  The Rotunda is there, but the swimming pool and boating pools are gone, and is that a Seacat moored in the outer harbour?  Maybe early 90's?
Now here is a contrast to the above photos.  The S.E. Railway Company's new boat 'Albert Victor' is steaming into Folkestone Harbour in July 1880, and is surrounded by fishing boats - plenty of catch in those days!
In contrast, this is what you were able to see at the harbour in 2014.  It was a lookout made of bamboo which straddled the railway line leading into the defunct harbour station.  They told us it was art.  It has now been dismantled.
This is a great shot, taken by Ian Lacey  It shows part of the Lower Leas Coastal Park, the sad site where the Rotunda once stood, and what used to be the Marine Gardens Pavilion, and last I heard was the Onyx Club.  As you can see, behind that was being used as a lorry park.  Still visible is the Pilot's Tower, which has now been demolished, pics of that to come.
This photo is from a pretty old book of Folkestone scenes.  It looks as if some kind of sail or screen is being erected on the end of the East Head.  Behind that, you can see a ship berthed at the Railway Company's repair jetty, and you can see why they referred to the area in the background as Folkestone Old Town, just look at the amount of houses - a town indeed!
Lots of people watching the activity going on in the harbour that day.  But there was lots to see with two ferries unloading and a fellow in a row boat doing something with the sailing boat.  Most of the buildings you see here have now been demolished as of 2014 with the exception of the Harbour Master House, and the cafe to the right of it.  Plus part of the station canopy has been retained, along with what remains of the Customs House as mentioned at the top of the page.
Thank you to Chris Long for this colourful 70's photo of the harbour.  Top left of the picture you can see the Burstin Hotel is under construction, and Rocksalt has not yet been built.
In the background you can see the first stage of the replacement of the Royal Pavilion Hotel.  The seaward end was demolished, and what was then called the Motel Burstin was built onto the Pavilion, giving a rather odd shaped edifice.
I think the fishing boat in this one is 20 FE, but wouldn't swear to it.  Entitled 'Harbour by Moonlight', this card is what they called a 'Hold to Light', and you did exactly that, to give the impression that all the lights were on in the houses, and the moonlight was even shining through a little hole in the rigging.
Dated 1907, this one gives us a good look at some of the Collier boats, which brought in the coal.
This card was posted two years earlier, in 1905, and was sent as a Christmas card.  Back then, it was rare to have a white Christmas, so it makes sense to have a card with no snow, robins or holly on it.
This photograph shows the state of neglect the harbour station was allowed to sink to before any work was done.  Actually, it was worse than this, as I will show you a little later.
Back to the East Head, and it looks as if that fisherman in 1906 left it a little late to return home, as the tide looks to be almost out, and he must surely be touching bottom.
What was that I was saying about it being rare to get snow at Christmas?  Well, I don't know if this was Christmas, but they certainly had snow in 1913.  Despite the snow though, you can see the Sunny Sands hadn't yet been cleared of rocks, and no prom.  The area back then was obviously a working ferry and fishing harbour, and tourists were directed elsewhere.
This card looks fairly modern.  I would guess the yachts are there for a race, as they all have their names similarly located on side banners.
Don't have a date for this one, but it shows a couple of ferries, one of which is on its way to Boulogne.
I took this one in July 2014 from the 13th floor of the Hotel Burstin on a bit of a foggy day.  As you can see, the tide is completely out, and you will notice that Folkestone has more pleasure craft in the harbour than fishing boats these days.  Bottom left, straddling the railway line, you can also see the - ahem - artwork, but I couldn't go inside it as it was barricaded off.
Left this one large so you can get a feel of what it was like to board a ferry at Folkestone harbour in - what would you say?  The thirties?
Lots more on