Monday, 17 September 2012

Things that I love about Folkestone: 2 - The Harbour Arm and abandoned Railway Station

Folkestone Harbour in 1912
Folkestone Harbour and the Harbour Arm has a long and very interesting history, which I will probably not be able to do justice in this blog, and is responsible for much of the former wealth of the town.

Until 1807 Folkestone was just a small fishing town, until an Act of Parliament was passed to build a pier and harbour, Work was completed in 1820, and comprised the 14 acre enclosure that can be seen today.

A sketch by John Constable of the Harbour in 1833.

Harbour fares in the late 19th century.

The rail branch to the harbour opened in 1849 and was used up until 2001 when the competition from the Channel Tunnel and the Sea Cat service (dubbed the 'sick cat' by my mother due to the bumpy ride) being moved to Ramsgate made the line redundant.

Now dilapidated and partially unused (like many parts of the town), I am going to focus on the more recent history of the area (by calling it dilapidated and unused I am by no means putting the town down - I love this area and enjoy watching the progress of the regeneration - but this does not mean that I cannot voice my own opinion).
The viaduct arches across the harbour as they are today. These hold the railway tracks and at the right of the picture is the swing bridge. I would love to see footage of this in action but unfortunately cannot find any.

'Folkestone, Kent, Boat Train' by Bertram Priestman, 1932.

Photograph of two Panniers hauling the carriages up the line. Date unknown.
Note that two locomotives are used for this task in the above two images. The steep incline of the line once beyond the harbour made this necessary and It was common practise to use two (and sometimes four) engines to haul/shunt the passenger and freight carriages up the line.
Looking up the viaduct towards Tram Road and the mainline. This is not the best picture in the world but shows the swing bridge (the area with the raised steel partitions) and the track beyond.
This silent British Pathe clip from 1930 shows the old wooden swing bridge being replaced by a steel one, all in 48 hours. It includes footage of steam trains crossing the bridge before and after the replacement.
The last time a train came down the track was 12th April 2008. The track has been unused since then but despite various suggestions for regenerating the area has remained untouched. Personally I'm all for turning the unused track into a New York/Paris style High Line/La Promenade Plante, merging into a boardwalk style area for chilling out with drinks, ice creams and deckchairs overlooking the harbour.

As you can see, the old British Rail station itself is in a state of severe dilapidation, a far cry from its heyday when it was the main entry point into the UK, and later the main route to Boulogne (Dover ferries concentrated on Calais).
The current state of the tracks.

The only occupants of the station are the cafe used by the fishermen and the truck drivers who use the parking area as a truck stop, and this 2011 Paloma Varga Weisz sculpture titled 'Rug People'.
Despite various plans, public consultations and promises for developments in this and the old Rotunda site, the progress seems to be bogged down in arguments between the Council, The Landowners, The Harbour Company and Network Rail (who still own the line) and the general dithering that goes on when you involve organisations of this size. See the Folkestone Seafront website for the 'latest' updates and the master plan, which basically involves lots of (presumably expensive) seafront houses and apartments with a sea sports centre.
I don't want to sound churlish, and any development is preferable to the tarmac wasteland currently in existence, but given the importance of Folkestone Harbour in 20th Century History, this seems to be missing a trick. Approximately 10 Million soldiers passed through Folkestone on their way to the trenches of World War One, and as only about 8 million returned, this was the last piece of 'home' many of these young men's feet ever touched.
American Troops leaving for the Continent, WW1.
HMTS Victoria leaves for Boulogne.
Guarding the Western side of the Harbour with 4 5.5 inch guns.

The above images show pages from the visitor books of the Harbour Canteen, opened at the start of the Great War. Over 42,000 of the soldiers who passed through the harbour signed the books between 1914-18. Signatures include some famous names from WW1 including King George V and the 'Father of the RAF' Major General Trenchard.
As this Combined Leave and Railway ticket shows, some of the lucky few got to have home leave during the war, although not for long as the dates show. I expect a great deal of this fortnight would have been taken up travelling (via Folkestone) from the front line to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and back. However, a week at home with Mum's cooking would have been an amazing treat for a war worn young man in 1917 (although the newspaper excerpt at the bottom of this link would suggest that the young man never got to use his ticket). 
The Step Short project specifically works to commemorate and remember Folkestone's War History. The project gets its name from the order given to the young soldiers walking down the Road of Remembrance (then called 'Slope Road') towards the harbour to "Step Short", ie take small steps, to prevent stumbling and falling down the steep incline. They do a fantastic job and I would recommend that you save the Step Short website to your favourites to keep up with news of their work and plans for the 2014 Centenary of WW1.
This blog entry by Barcode1966 makes a fantastic suggestion for the Harbour Arm and Railway Station. I would recommend that you read it and the May follow up entry, but in a nutshell it suggests a 'White Light Tower' similar to the one Yoko Ono's 'Peace Tower in Reykjavik, which would run on renewable energy and would shine up to the heavens every night as a remembrance to those that died. The remaining station buildings could be a museum to WW1 & WW2, which could be interactive and very emotive, just like the War Tunnels 10 miles down the road in Dover. Given the success of the Dover tourist attraction, the current (and it seems lasting) interest in genealogy, and the number of Brits, Americans & Canadians who go on 'War Tours' to trace the footsteps of their loved ones, this seems like a very viable suggestion, with a conservative estimate of half a million visitors per year. Just imagine what that could do for the local economy? The war tours stop at Dover, whilst Folkestone is virtually unknown as a departure point.

Barcode1966 suggest that other parts of the station buildings could be used for the local community, which I totally agree with, and with part of the harbour area being used for the benefit of the local community and economy I would have little objection to the proposed housing development on the Rotunda site. Providing, of course, that there was suitable infrastructure for such a development, and that locals weren't forced out by extortionate housing prices.

The only 'memorial' to the men who passed through here are 4 A4 laminated sheets of paper stuck haphazardly to a wooden fence, commemorating somebodies loved one.

Anyway, I digress, so I will continue with my photographic tour of the harbour arm.
Looking through the wire fencing. Totally Derelict.

A view along the harbour arm now and as it was then, with the  train and platform below. Surely we could use it as a 'promenade' again? The 'FOLKESTONE' sign is an artwork by Patrick Tuttofuoco from 2008.

Looking down on what is left of the track through the rust holes in the roof.
A smashed up boat left on the side of the dock. It looks like she is called the 'Leila Sonja' although I can find no record of her, and you can still see curtains, a high viz jacket and other things left inside the cabin.

 The dock is completely crumbling here.
The lighthouse at the end of the pier. Never occupied, it is only two storeys tall and according to a friend whose father worked at the harbour back in the day (and let her inside), the interior has nothing but an iron staircase.

The views back towards land are pretty unique from this point.

and I don't know many other places you can get great shots of seagulls in action. The young herring gulls were practising fishing and sea landings out here.
The gulls and the angling club are the only ones who use this fantastic space for anything these days.
For great shots of the Station in use have a look at this colour and black & white footage from the 1930's onwards:

Other links well worth looking at:
Warren Press - lots of historical pictures of the Harbour and the Rest of Folkestone with text.
The story of Frank - a WW1 soldier who passed through Folkestone.
This AMAZING Issuu E-Book of 'Folkestone During The War 1914-1919'. Check out the story on page 83 of the book where a lady in the West End repeatedly accuses her neighbours of being spies due to 'clicking noises' she assumes are wireless broadcasts and which turn out to be the cowl turning on the chimney pot! There are some fantastic photos including (237 of 346) a horse wearing a gas mask.
Bird Childs and Goldsmith - scroll down for interesting information about the Chinese Labour Corps in Folkestone.
This blog about American WW1 soldiers.

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