History Of Folkestone, Kent
Archaeological finds from a 1st Century cemetery were discovered in 1948 at Cheriton, to the West of Folkestone, and in about 1920 a landslip on the East Cliff at Folkestone revealed the remains of a large Roman villa complete with bathrooms and hypocausts, a courtyard with a mosaic floor and a kitchen with two fireplaces. The excavations were undertaken by Mr. S. E. Winbolt. The site was eventually recorded and covered over in 1957. It is now being lost to the sea.
Nevertheless the name of the town of Folkestone in Kent has its origin in the late 7th Century as 'Folcanstan', in all probability referring to the 'stone of Folca', a common old English name. In about 630, King Eadbald of Kent built an abbey on the western cliff at Folkestone, for Eanswith, his daughter, and her nuns. This is believed to have been the first Christian community for women in England. Her name lends itself to the parish church of St Mary and St Eanswythe where her mortal remains are believed to be interred.
Viking raids were common to the area and left extensive damage to the settlements at Folkestone up until the 10th Century, and even after Edward the Confessor came to the throne in 1042, the village was again put to the torch by Earl Godwin of Wessex, after being exiled by the king.
By 1066, at the time of the next great invasion, Folkestone was a mere hamlet occupied by fishermen and farm workers who cultivated the arable lands that had been cleared in the heavily wooded countryside. At this time the manor of Folkestone was in the ownership of the church at Canterbury. After William became king he took the barony and made a gift of it to his half brother Bishop Odo. By 1086, the year of Doomsday the barony was held by William D'Arcy. It was given a value of £100 and consisted of approximately 6240 acres, 5 churches, approximately 600 people of whom 209 were villains and 83 bondsmen.
The French took the opportunity of attacking Folkestone in 1216 and also laid waste much of the settlement. The village even at this early period in its history was significant enough to have a Mayor and a Corporation, and in 1313 it received a charter as a Corporate Limb of the Cinque Ports. Folkestone was thus obliged as a "limb" of the Cinque Port of Dover, until in 1629 the local inhabitants obtained a licence to build a port.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I Folkestone contained about 120 houses.
Descriptions of the town in the 18th/early 19th centuries
Daniel Defoe in his ‘Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain’ (1724-27) wrote: "There were eight or ten luggers and cutters employed chiefly in the herring and mackerel fisheries, giving employment to between two and three hundred men and boys. The fish were still conveyed to the town by the 'smacks,' as the cutters are usually termed, or by an expeditious land carriage, and the lower part of the town was protected by two large jetties at its east and west ends, which served also to accumulate the beach on which the fishermen drew up their boats to repair and mend their nets and tackle. These jetties were supported by the voluntary contributions of the inhabitants and labours of the sailors".
Defoe also described another of the town‘s “industries“ - that of smuggling, which was carried out on the beach in broad daylight by the owners of the contraband:
"The supply of gold for the French troops during the Napoleonic war, was the most lucrative of the illicit trades, and many were the cargoes of guineas that were placed on board the fine galleys, in reality, though not professedly built for this purpose, and rowed across by a hardy daring crew in the darkness of night to Boulogne, Calais, and even Dunkirk. No wonder that, with men used to adventurous lives, the Folkestone seamen were esteemed among the best in the British navy, and that such numbers of excellent pilots and active sailors were supplied by this little town". (Daniel de Foe)
Edward Hasted (1732-1812) reported that Folkestone was in his day an opulent and well-peopled town, having in it four hundred and fifty houses, and about two thousand inhabitants - although the population (see below) was in fact higher.
Town development: 18th/19th Centuries
In 1794 the Army purchased over 229 acres (930,000 m²) of open land to the West of Folkestone on the heights overlooking Sandgate and in 1796 and 1806 Shorncliffe Garrison was further extended. Troops were stationed here before being sent off to the Peninsula Wars. During these later developments in 1804 the original wooden barracks were replaced with building of stone construction and were used to house cavalry and artillery brigades. The present Sir John Moore Barracks are the home of Gurkha Regiment in Britain.
Folkestone Harbour development
Until the 19th century Folkestone remained a small fishing community whose seafront was continually battered by storms and encroaching shingle, making the landing of boats difficult. In 1807 an Act of Parliament was passed to build a pier and harbour; and by 1820 a harbour area of 14 acres (57,000 m²) had been enclosed. At this time trade and consequently population of Folkestone grew slightly; although the development was still hampered, with sand and silt continuing to choke the harbour.
The Folkestone Harbour Company invested heavily in removing the silt but with little success. In 1842 the company went bankrupt and the Government put the harbour up for sale. It was bought by the South Eastern Railway Company (SER), which was then building the London to Dover railway line. Dredging the harbour, and the construction of a freight route down to it commenced almost immediately, and the town soon became the SER’s principal packet station for the Continental traffic to Boulogne.
The railway reached Folkestone on 28 June 1843, although the building of the Foord viaduct delayed further extension until the following year, when what was to become Folkestone Junction station was opened. Once the line was opened to Dover, and the town’s prosperity (which meant growth westwards), further stations were opened at Folkestone West in 1863, and Folkestone Central in 1884. Folkestone Harbour station was used to trans-ship whole trains; the line from the junction was very steep and needed much additional locomotive help. The entire line closed in 2002; Folkestone Junction station had closed 6 September 1965. The line has since reopened to "special" trains such as the British Pullman (VSOE) which is a regular visitor and other rail tours.
Folkestone as a holiday resort
Between 1848 and 1868, Folkestone grew apace. Much of such development was intimately linked to the Radnor family, which owned, and still owns, a significant amount of land in the town and its surroundings. Sea bathing had become popular, and numerous hotels, including "The Grand" and "The Metropole", sprang up at the time. The development of entertainment facilities, and the building of a pier (opened on 21 July 1888) and marine walks, including The Leas Cliff Hall, with its pavilion, took place.
A rare surviving example of a Victorian water-powered lift remains in operation at the Leas Cliff promenade and offers access from the Leas to the seafront and Coastal Park Amphitheatre, and the Rotunda Amusement Park (has now closed).
Folkestone and two world wars
During the First World War Folkestone was host to some 65,000 Belgian refugees and from 1915 was the main embarkation point for soldiers leaving to fight in the trenches of France and Belgium. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, including many Canadian troops, left from Folkestone, marching from the Town to the Harbour along the route now called the "Road of Remembrance".
Folkestone was seriously damaged during both World Wars, as its proximity to the Continent allowed shelling to take place which gave rise to the name of "Hellfire Corner." The town had suffered great damage and was to be changed forever. 123 people were killed, and 778 injured. 550 houses had been destroyed, 10,000 properties damaged, and 37,000 people had left the area.
On May 25, 1917 low cloud over London caused a 21 strong wave of Gotha bombers to abort a raid on London. The Luftwaffe aircraft turned for home and detached their bombs mainly in the Folkestone district, killing 95 people and injuring more. This daylight attack revealed the inadequacy of Britain's defensive capabilities and aroused deep feeling across the country.
Folkestone has suffered much deprivation since the end of the Second World War. The rise of foreign holiday destination, aided in no small way by the package holiday, damaged Folkestone tourism business, as with most British holiday resorts. Although the tourist industry was still maintained, the closure of the ferry services between here and Boulogne seemed to spell the town’s demise.
The opening of the Channel Tunnel hastened that closure. Recently (2004) talks have begun between the leaders of the two towns: Boulogne (Folkestone's Twin Town) also had similar problems. and rebuilding of the town's infrastructure has begun. There has been significant physical redevelopment of the local town centre in a bid to make it more acceptable to tourists, the local community and the UK's newspapers alike.
The likelihood that domestic services will be able to use the High Speed Rail Link, placing Folkestone less than one hour from London by High Speed Train is expected to contribute to a revival of Folkestone's fortunes.