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Folkestone Harbour Station under threat of demolition


Charles Fair
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Hello All,

Some of you may know that Folkestone Harbour and waterfront are due to be redeveloped over the next few years. There is a super Masterplan for redevelopment of the area that has been devised by Norman Foster. In general I support this wholeheartedly as it will put Folkestone back on the map and bring a huge amount of much needed investment into the town. In general it seems to be an extremely well thought out plan.

The harbour and the masterplan are described here at: Masterplan

There is one little 'BUT'. It appears that the masterplan has no place for the harbour station. If the Masterplan goes ahead as per current plans, it appears that the station will be demolished. .... So what?

I believe that the harbour station has immense Great War significance. (It is only a short distance away from Folkestone's Road of Remembrance - the hill down which so many men marched on their way to the harbour.) Thousands of men would have left from here to board a ship to Boulogne. Thousands more wounded men would have been loaded onto hospital trains from here. The rail tracks actually go all the way to the end of the harbour wall, and up to three ships could have been berthed alongside.

What I am trying to find is doumentary evidence on the role of the harbour station in the Great War. I am about to hit the local archives, but if anyone can point me towards any written accounts or photos I would be most grateful.

Better still, I would like to go one further and provide some kind of case for saving some or all of the structure, and to ensure that the Masterplan could incorporate that which is worth saving.

Photos to come in subsequent posts.

Charles

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Photo 1: Aerial photo from Google Earth. The station is by the gentle S curve slightly below and to the left of the centre of the photo.

Photo 2: The station today. As you can see it is not in a very good state of repair. It is only used twice a week by the Orient Express.

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Photo 3: another one of the platforms. Lovely platform canopy needs renovation. However, nasty 60s fibreglass/plastic bridge going over the top does deserve to go.

Photo 4: the signal box with harbour master's house behind.

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Photo 5: Taken from halfway along the harbour wall, looking back towards the station which is in the distance. You can see the tracks and one platform extending towards the camera.

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Photo 6: taken from the end of the platform at the station looking along the harbour wall. You can see that the platform actually extends far past the station.

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Photo 7: Similar to the previous shot, but from a slightly different position. The back wall of the structure is in fact the granite harbour wall. This canopy extends most of the way along the harbour wall. Fine 19th Century ironwork columns. (I dont know what plans there are, if any, for these structures in the Masterplan. It is possible that the Masterplan has not yet got to this level of architectural detail.)

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My local craft market (Merton Abbey Mills, the former silk printing works of Liberty & Co in South Wimbledon) has a handsome bandstand built on four identical iron columns that were salvaged from an earlier re-development of part of the harbour installations at Folkestone. Whilst this gives me hope that elements of the structure of the Harbour Station could be preserved elsewhere, it would be far better if they could be preserved in situ.

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Charles, it's not much but there are a couple of pics here of troops maching down the Leas with their kitbags. Folkestone certainly does appear in many diaries, I'll surf through what I've got and let you know.

It would be pleasing to know that regeneration of this kind could incorporate existing structures. I suppose it may be a case of highlighting the issue of what Folkestones roll was during the Great War and the memories of the thousands of British and Colonial toops that passed through the harbour. How much public input is going into the project?

cheers, Jon

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Charles,

All I can offer in documentary evidence is a Postcard of the Leas sent by an Uncle to his Family in "Eccosse" saying he had arrived safely and was catching the evening boat back to France(1916). :D

I have not been in Folkestone for 20 years but would agree that even then the sea front was run-down and needed redevelopment.I,personally, would start by "bursting" that Hotel monstrosity. :lol:

The town remembers it's contribution to the War effort,as you say, by the Hill of Remembrance.

I think,though,that deep thought must be given as to whether the Station should be saved.It was only last week that we were seeing views of the great storm 20 years ago including the beached Folkestone to Boulogne Ferry(Hengist/Horsa?).The Cross-Channel sea trade has moved to Dover.What's the point of retaining a Harbour Station when there are no boats to catch?

I suppose a conference centre or something similar is a possibilty but there is already one on the Leas.

I'm all for the Station being retained as long as a new use can be found for it but I would hate to see it turned over to Amusement Arcades,or even worse,a Theme Pub .

George

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Jon, Mick & George, thank you for your contributions. Thanks also to Dragon for her contribution offline.

I suppose it may be a case of highlighting the issue of what Folkestones roll was during the Great War and the memories of the thousands of British and Colonial toops that passed through the harbour. How much public input is going into the project?

I agree - local knowledge is often pretty thin among local residents. The Road of Remembrance is now rather unkempt, but originally after 1918 it used to be flanked by rosemary bushes. It would be nice to have that restored. Similarly some kind of memorial plaque/information panels/museum in part of the station structure would be a logical extension of the concept embodied in the Road of Remembrance.

Local support for the masterplan is very high - it is good news for the town - but as far as I can tell the public hasn't had a huge amount of input other than some consultation. Many of the finer details are still to be worked out, and it is likely to be up to 10 years before the regeneration is complete.

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I have not been in Folkestone for 20 years but would agree that even then the sea front was run-down and needed redevelopment. I,personally, would start by "bursting" that Hotel monstrosity.
Yes, the Burstin is not most residents' favourite building, but it is unfortunately not in the zone being redeveloped. It does, however, bring a huge number of coach parties into town which is good for the local economy.

I think,though,that deep thought must be given as to whether the Station should be saved.... The Cross-Channel sea trade has moved to Dover.What's the point of retaining a Harbour Station when there are no boats to catch?

The Masterplan does in fact propose the restablishment of a high speed catamaran (cars only) crossing to Boulogne. I have a feeling that Speedferries have expressed an interest in this.

The rail spur which connects with the main Folkestone-Dover line will however be decommissioned under the Masterplan. This spur was only used twice a week by the Orient Express (and I think even this may have stopped). It apparently costs a fortune to maintain: before every train, seven men have to walk the track from the junction with the main railway, all the way down to the harbour. I don't think there can be any economic sense in keeping the railway going. Once the railway is decommissioned the viaduct which cuts the harbour in two will be dismantled. That will really open up the harbour, and allow the marina to be developed. In my view this is a sensible development.

I'm all for the Station being retained as long as a new use can be found for it but I would hate to see it turned over to Amusement Arcades,or even worse,a Theme Pub.

Agree with you there. However, I would just hate to see the whole site bulldozed without any further thought about the history. At the moment, one can imagine 3 ships tied up along the harbour with troops embarking and disembarking, and loading onto the two or three trains that could have fitted onto the station and the pier. It is atmospheric, and the S shaped curve of the platform merges rather wonderfully into the harbour wall. For many men this was their last/first view of Blighty. I feel that this would be lost if it were bulldozed and replaced with a structure of glass, concrete and steel.

Are there parts of the structure that are worth saving? I'm not an engineer or an architect so cannot say what is feasible. However, I think for example that it might be worth saving one platform and the canopy, with the signal box beside it, as well as the harbour master's house.

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Of course Folkestone was the nearest port to the main Canadian base at Shorncliffe. The War Diaries of the various Canadian units frequently mention embarking at Folkestone. In particular, the 2nd and most of the 3rd Canadian Divisions departed from there. In addition, most Canadian reinforcements went through Folkestone.

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Of course Folkestone was the nearest port to the main Canadian base at Shornecliff. The War Diaries od the various Canadian units frequently mention embarking at Folkestone. In particular, the 2nd and most of the 3rd Canadian Divisions departed from there. In addition, most Canadian reinforcements went through Folkestone.

jhill - thats a really good point, thank you. There were also a number of convalescent homes for wounded Canadians such as at Beachborough Park.

As far as I know there is no memorial to the Canadians in this area (unless it is quite well hidden). The harbour station would be a superb site for such a memorial. It might not even be necessary to build a memorial - simply carving an inscription into the granite wall of the harbour by those cast iron columns might work well.

Do you think we could get some publicity in Canada?

I think I need to have a chat to some local architects. We need to put in some thought as to how the Materplan could perhaps accomodate the structures - even if they need to be moved.

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Two things have puzzled me. Why was there so much traffic from Folkestone although Dover was the premier port of the region, and why the Road of Remembrance when there was a railway line directly to the harbour?

The answer to the first seems to be the great Warren landslip of 1915. The main railway line from London to Dover passed through Ashford and Folkestone but the link from Folkestone to Dover was swept away by the landslip that all but took a troop train with it. The line remained out of action for the duration. Dover could still be reached by rail from London but only by a slower indirect route through the Medway towns and Canterbury. So from the time of the landslip, troop movements from Folkestone were much greater than they would otherwise have been.

So why were the troops not entrained to the pierhead? I think there may be two answers. Getting there from London via Folkestone would have meant carrying on to Folkestone Junction, then reversing back to Folkestone Harbour station. Even at that time, there does not seem to have been a direct link from Folkestone Central to Folkestone Harbour. The second reason, and it is a guess, is that the harbour station would have been reserved for outgoing materiel and incoming wounded, leaving the able-bodied to march from Folkestone Central down to the harbour. The quickest route would take them down the steep hill known ever since as the Road of Remembrance.

The road seems atmospheric to this day. It is easy to imagine the men swinging down it, masking their misgivings with bravado and quips. It is a stiff climb on the way back but with what eagerness and gusto they would have tackled these first steps on their return to home soil. At the crest now stand an imposing war memorial and a cairn commemorating the road.

The card was posted in 1928. The modern backdrop, if I remember correctly, is a jumble of fast-food joints.

There is a little about the landslip here, and a good history of Folkestone Harbour station here.

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I have just done a quick search in the Times Digital Archive for August 1914 - Nov 1918.

There are over 6,000 references to Folkestone. Even allowing for red herrings such as 'Lord Folkestone' and 'Folkestone Races' there must be an awful lot about the BEF, leave trains, Belgian refugees etc.

Early on, for instance, there is a lively correspondence about the fact that the Harbour Station buffet was not open, citing a poor Tommy whose last cuppa was in Bethune the previous day. Happily an entry a couple of days later shows it reopened.

A good resource but a bit labour intensive to search.

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Have a look at this site www.bbhilda.topcities.com/Folkestone/FolkestoneThen_Now

John

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John - that is a great site, with many great photos, thank you. Your link didn't work for me, but here it is again: http://bbhilda.topcities.com/Folkestone/Fo...neThen_Now.html

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John,

Thanks for the link, especially interesting re Cheriton and Shorncliffe barracks. My father was stationed there during WW2 as an instructor. I am passing the link onto him.

Ian

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Clive, good questions and thank you for the two links. I have walked up on the Warren a few times, but wasn't previously aware that the landslip was in 1915 and kept the line to Dover out of action.

So why were the troops not entrained to the pierhead? I think there may be two answers. Getting there from London via Folkestone would have meant carrying on to Folkestone Junction, then reversing back to Folkestone Harbour station. Even at that time, there does not seem to have been a direct link from Folkestone Central to Folkestone Harbour. The second reason, and it is a guess, is that the harbour station would have been reserved for outgoing materiel and incoming wounded, leaving the able-bodied to march from Folkestone Central down to the harbour. The quickest route would take them down the steep hill known ever since as the Road of Remembrance.
I think you are exactly right with this. Folkestone actually had 5 stations in the early part of the 20th century:

* Folkestone Central

* Folkestone Junction - later renamed Folkestone East (now closed, but there have been some rumours that it could be reopened when we get the fast rail link)

* Shorncliffe Station - later renamed Folkestone West

* Folkestone Harbour

* there was also a halt at Cheriton

Also, slightly further out is Sandling Station.

My guess is that most of the troops would have detrained at Sandling, Cheriton or Shorncliffe as those stations would have been closest to the camps/barracks of Shorncliffe, St Martin's Plain and Dibgate.

The road seems atmospheric to this day. It is easy to imagine the men swinging down it, masking their misgivings with bravado and quips. It is a stiff climb on the way back but with what eagerness and gusto they would have tackled these first steps on their return to home soil.
Absolutely agree. Looking forward to the day when it is spruced up.

The card was posted in 1928. The modern backdrop, if I remember correctly, is a jumble of fast-food joints.
Correct, it is a bit run down and includes a MacDonalds, an Indian restaurant, one charity shop etc. etc. The buildings behind the memorial have all been replaced by horrible 60s/70s buildings. Not sure whether this is the effect of development by itself, or of building clearance courtesy of the Luftwaffe, cross channel shelling or V1s.
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Charles,

Re Station use.

I get the impression from the Post Card my Uncle sent home(it is of the Leas) that he had arrived on an overnight train from Scotland and was spending the day in the Town before catching the evening Leave Boat back to France.

Is it more likely that men returning from leave detrained at Central Station?

George

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George - I think that very likely. They would have been close to numerous guesthouses in the town and the rest camps on the Leas.

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hello pals. my granddad sailed from folkestone on the st cecelia to france with 6th dorsets part of the 17th div in 1915.if anyone has any photos of troops boarding or on troopships in folkestone i would be very interested . thanks tom. ps st cecelia was sunk by a mine in 1916 .

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Charles.......thank you for starting this topic. I started my working life with Orion Marine Insurance in Fenchurch Street. In 1968 I moved to Folkestone with them and for 3 months was in an Office on Wear Bay Crescent overlooking the Harbor. What a wonderful view!! One morning the German Airforce (from the Movie "Battle of Britain") made a cliff-top flypast. Me 109's and He 111's......incredible.

One day I took the train from Folkestone Central to the Harbor and the Ferry across to France. That was a beautiful Station. Seeing the curved platform again makes me feel sad that it may be gone.

Also, on that site that John mentioned there is a aerial photo with a plane with a yellow wing. I was told a story by a man who was working at Hawkinge Airfield during the Battle of Britain and that photo shows how close the Airfield was to the sea. He was building a wall when a Me 109 came in and strafed the field, turned around and made another pass and was gone. He said him and his mates jumped from one side of the wall to the other with machine gun and cannon shells whistling about their heads. I always wondered how they didn't hear it coming. Now I know!!

I've lived in the US for the past 32 years and this has really brought me home...in my mind anyway!!

Thank you

Paul

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In a letter to The Times (Thursday 1 April 1920, p 19 col D), The mayor of Folkestone RE Wood, representing the Folkestone war memorial committee, made the claim that “more than 11 million British soldiers passed through Folkestone on their way to and from the battlefields”. This is evidently soldier movements rather than individuals (it is double the number mobilised) but it is still an extraordinary statistic. In fact I don’t think I can believe it. It amounts to more than 7,000 per day, every day for the entire duration.

So far I have found disappointingly little about the role of the railway around Folkestone. I suppose this information would have been classified at the time. British Railway History: An Outline from the Accession of William IV to the Nationalization of Railways, 1877-1947 (Hamilton Ellis, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1959, page 229) does give the dates of the Warren landslip but not much else. It happened on 19 December 1915 and the line did not reopen until 11 August 1919.

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Interesting stuff...

I was wondering if I could somehow help by placing these excellent photos online http://www.kentfallen.com

I would be more than willing to allow you to use the site as a platform for your views.

I possess both volumes of E.A Pratt's British Railways during the Great War. Without doubt the best info available on the subject. I'm not at home until next week but I will have a look at the chapter on SE&CR.

I support what you are trying to do.

Neil

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