The modern story of Folkestone Harbour goes back some 200 years, with its origins in the fishing industry. Much of its development took place in the 19th and 20th centuries to enable its use as a ferry port.
Before this, since at least Roman times, trading ships had been landing on the shore at East Wear Bay in Folkestone, and from about ad 1100 fishermen are known to have pulled up their boats close to the mouth of the Pent Stream, which still flows into what is now the inner harbour. However, the constant movement of the shingle beach by winds and tides made it a dangerous place to land, and boats were often damaged by storms.
In 1804 Lord Radnor petitioned Parliament for permission to build a stone harbour, and an Act of Parliament was granted in 1807, partly to provide potential anchorages for warships during the Napoleonic Wars.
Plans drawn up at this time were considered too expensive to implement in full, but civil engineer William Jessop and a team that included Thomas Telford designed and built a western pier that was completed in 1810, followed by another, running north-east at right angles, completed in 1820. Together these drystone walls, which can still be seen today, provided some shelter from the prevailing winds.
The original Folkestone Harbour Company had insufficient funds to deliver the full scheme and was declared bankrupt in 1842. The harbour was by then somewhat derelict, but the South Eastern Railway Company purchased it with the intention of developing Folkestone as a rival to Dover for steam packets to France. Their new railway line reached Folkestone in 1843 and the harbour branch line was constructed soon afterwards.
The arrival of the railway meant that over the next 50 years the new resort of Folkestone grew rapidly and by Edwardian times it had established itself as one of England’s most fashionable coastal towns.
Since 2014 Folkestone Harbour Arm has been re-imagined and repurposed as a place where people come to promenade, enjoying magnificent views, a wide choice of good food and drink, live music, arts events and other entertainment.
Prior to the closure of ferry services in 2000, the harbour, its buildings and structures had been poorly maintained, and much of the infrastructure had deteriorated to the point where it was unsafe. Similarly, the railway station and branch line fell into disuse and were officially closed by the Department for Transport in 2014.
Under new ownership, plans were considered to bring new purpose and vision for the harbour and seafront, which had been neglected for years and had become derelict. Following extensive public consultation and years of planning, permission was secured in early 2015 by Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company (FH&SDC) for mixed-use residential and commercial development.
Over a dozen small retail and food and drink outlets have been introduced as part of the imaginative renovation of the Harbour Arm, carried out under the stewardship of FHSDC. The objective has been to respect and reflect the port’s heritage by commissioning painstaking restoration of stone, iron and woodwork, much of it dating back over a century. The work has been carried out using an approach that puts right the damage caused by many decades of neglect and persistent battering from storms whilst using materials that respect and interpret the history of Folkestone Harbour.
Further new outlets are planned as the wider development of the seafront gets under way. Work began in early 2020 to construct the first new homes at the western end of the site, close to the Leas Coastal Park, and where more new public spaces are planned to adjoin the Boardwalk.