Illustration from Building News, 14th January 1859 showing New Customs House and wooden swivel bridge

Illustration from Building News, 14th January 1859 showing New Customs House and wooden swivel bridge

Shortly after the arrival of the railway in Folkestone, the Folkestone-Boulogne route opened to regular traffic on 1st August 1843.  Demand for the service led to improvements and the Harbour branch line was opened to passenger traffic in January 1849.  The steeply graded railway reached the harbour at right-angles but in order to allow trains a level stretch in which to stop, the Railway Pier was built dividing the existing harbour into two, thus creating the Inner and Outer Harbours.*

A wooden swivel bride was constructed to carry trains across the harbour, whilst allowing ships to enter at high tide, and the Harbour Station was opened during 1850.  Superior accommodation was provided at the Pavilion Hotel, also built by the South Eastern Railway Company.

Dickens visited Folkestone often between 1849 and 1865 during which time he worked as a novelist and editor of “Household Words”, a magazine which carried factual articles and a serialised story to boost circulation.  In this contribution, he describes the scene in Folkestone Harbour:

And finally, the great events of the day – the departure and arrival of the tidal boats.  When the tide was out, the harbour was a heap of mud and the stranded fishing boats looked like dead marine monsters, the colliers stuck disconsolately in the mud and the steamers looked as if their white chimneys would never smoke again.  But the moment the tide begins to make, the Pavilionstone harbour begins to revive and the little shallow waves creep in.  The fishing boats get into good spirits and dance, the flagstaff hoists a bright red flag, cranes creak, horses and carriages dangle in the air, stray passengers and luggage begin to appear.  Now the carts that have come down for coals load away as hard as they can. 

Black and white photograph of the Pavilion Hotel.  Collection Alan F. Taylor

Black and white photograph of the Pavilion Hotel. Collection Alan F. Taylor

Now both the tide and the breeze have arisen and you are holding your hat on – if you want to see how the ladies hold their hats on, with a stay, passing over the brim and down the nose, come to Pavilionstone.  Now everything in the harbour splashes, dashes and bobs…Now the fishing boats that have been out, sail in at the highest stage of the tide.  Now the down tidal train is telegraphed, the bell goes, the locomotive shrieks and hisses and two hundred and eighty seven people come shuffling out.  Now, there is not only a tide of water but a tide of people and a tide of luggage, all tumbling and flowing and bouncing about, together.**

Gabriel Lester has constructed his bamboo pavilion on the site of a former wooden tower, which can be seen in the photograph, where the bustle described by Dickens can be contemplated.

*www.folkestoneharbour.com/pages/history
**Dickens In Folkestone, Ann Nevill, The Folkestone and District Local History Society, 2002

Post a comment

* = required







Be the first to hear about Triennial artists, events and exclusive news

Join our mailing list

Don't show this again