Archaeological evidence suggests that the Folkestone area has been inhabited since the Stone Age (about 6000 to 4000 years ago). Two factors allowing for settlement were the availability of water from the Pent Stream and the proximity of the sea.
“A Town Unearthed” project has shown that Folkestone was a significant entrepot or trading post during the Late Iron Age period (about 700BC to AD43). Goods were traded with the Continent through East Wear Bay and substantial finds of Iron Age coins indicate the wealth of the people who lived there in the late 1st century BC. Folkestone was a major site of contact with the Roman continent before the arrival of Julius Caesar and an important gateway for the exchange of material culture, people and ideas.*
During the Saxon period, inhabitants settled around the Pent Stream as it cut its way through the cliffs and into the sea. A natural landing place or Stade, was formed between East Cliff and West Cliff. This stretch of coastline has been eroded and the present Stade is much further inland than its precursor.
Fishing became one of Folkestone’s principal activities. In the 18th century Hastead noted that fishing had greatly increased: there were 8 to 10 lugger boats and cutters, for fishing herring and mackerel, and about 30 small boats for catching plaice, sole, whiting and skate, which employed between 200 – 300 hundred men and boys. The catch was sold in London. Hastead also identified the Folkestone fishermen’s local custom of the feast Rumbald Night, celebrated on Christmas Eve, when protection was asked of St Rumbald for the forthcoming fishing season.**
In 1825, a strangely prescient petition to Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports recorded a depression in the fishing industry: “The trade of fishing has been materially injured by the numerous depredations committed by the foreign boats upon the Folkestone fishermen, many of whom have been robbed of their nets or fish. The foreign boats are considerable larger and can carry more men than the Folkestone boats; if some check be not put upon them, the trade must be wholly relinquished, which will be attended with ruinous consequences to the town.” Later the development of the harbour brought new life with increased passenger and freight transport business and a new Fish Market was opened on 2nd August 1862. The fishing industry survived for another century and a half but by 2002 there were only ten boats operating out of Folkestone. Now many of the attendant trades are no more but there are thriving fishmongers, restaurants and stalls serving leisure and tourism.