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Folkestone Harbour viewed from the Golf Course
Grid reference: TR218361
Location: 51°4’52"N, 1°9’58"E
Population: 53,411  (2001)
Post town: Folkestone
Postcode: CT18, CT19, CT20, CT50
Dialling code: 01303
Local Government
Council: Folkestone & Hythe
Folkestone and Hythe

Folkestone is a port town on the eastern coast of Kent. Its original site was in a valley in the sea cliffs and it developed through fishing and its closeness to Europe as a landing place and trading port. The coming of the railways, the building of a ferry port, and its growing importance as a seaside resort all contributed to its growth. Currently Folkestone has the only sandy beach and coastal park within an hour of north London.

Name of the town

Although Kent was the first part of the British mainland to be conquered and settled by the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes from the middle of the 5th century AD onwards, after the departure of the Romans, it was not until the late 7th century that the spelling Folcanstan appears. One suggestion is that this refers to Folca's stone;[1] another suggestion is that it came from an Old English personal name, with the addition of stone, possibly meaning, in this context, "meeting place". It was not until the mid 19th century that the spelling of "Folkestone" was fixed as such. The Earl of Radnor in particular requested that the town's name be standardised; this tendency towards standardisation in the 19th century is true of British place names generally.


Rotunda amusement park on beach

Folkestone is located where the southern edge of the North Downs, escarpment meets the sea. In contrast to the white cliffs at Dover further to the east, the cliffs at Folkestone are composed of Greensand and Gault Clay. A small stream, the Pent Stream, cuts through the cliffs at this point, and provided the original haven for fishermen and cross-channel boats. The cliffs are constantly under attack from the sea: the original headlands, which once protected the port, ceased to do so, and artificial protection, in the form of breakwaters and piers have been necessary since the 17th century.[2]

The town is now built on both sides of the original valley: the West Cliff and The Bayle to the West, and the East Cliff on the other side of the stream. The Pent Stream now runs through a culvert from the fire station, at the junction of Radnor Park Road, Park Farm and Pavilion Road, until it reaches the inner harbour. Remains of a quay, dating to the 17th century, were discovered under what is now a public car park, between the Old High Street and the railway viaduct, adjacent to the current harbour. Included in the town is Cheriton, where the Channel Tunnel northern exit is located; Newington; and Peene.


In the thirteenth century Folkestone became one of the Cinque Ports and with that the privilege of being a wealthy trading port. At the start of the Tudor period it had become a town in its own right. Wars with France meant that defences had to be built here and soon plans for a Folkestone Harbour began. Folkestone, like most settlements on the south coast, became involved in smuggling during the eighteenth century.

At the beginning of the 1800s a harbour was developed, but it was the coming of the railways in 1843 that would have the bigger impact. With it came the tourist trade, and the two industries contributed to its prosperity until changes in tourist opportunities in the mid twentieth century hollowed out its economy.

Folkestone Harbour

Until the 19th century Folkestone remained a small fishing community with a seafront that was continually battered by storms and encroaching shingle that made it hard to land boats. In 1807 an Act of Parliament was passed to build a pier and harbour which was built by Thomas Telford in 1809.[3] By 1820 a harbour area of 14 acres had been enclosed. Folkstone's trade and population grew slightly but development was still hampered by sand and silt from the Pent Stream. The Folkestone Harbour Company invested heavily in removing the silt but with little success. In 1842 the company became bankrupt and the Government put the derelict harbour up for sale. It was bought by the South Eastern Railway Company, which was then building the London to Dover railway line. George Turnbull was responsible in 1844 for building the Horn pier.[4][5] Dredging the harbour, and the construction of a rail route down to it, began almost immediately, and the town soon became the SER's principal packet station for the Continental traffic to Boulogne.

Folkestone Harbour Company commissioned Foster Associates to produce a masterplan for Folkestone which was published in April 2006. The plans describe the rebuilding of the harbour as a marina, a "Green Wave" along the sea front linking countryside west and east of the town, new housing, shops, a performance area and small university campus. The plans take in the land that was previously the Rotunda Amusement Park. Progress in developing the area has been inhibited by the recession and by new guidelines governing flood protection. A new approach to the seafront is being developed by Terry Farrell and Partners, and the former fairground site is being considered for temporary recreational use whilst planning takes place[6].

However, there is an alternative plan being developed by the Remembrance Line Association [7] which is based on retaining the harbour railway and its station as a major heritage/tourist operation and 'Leaving for War' museum. The harbour railway station, now unused, is gradually succumbing to nature.


Folkestone was at one stage a resort town with a developed shipping trade. With the decline of such industries others have filled the gap. The Dormobile works, car conversion manufacturers were based in the town. Church and Dwight, the American company famous for such brands as Arm & Hammer, has its British headquarters in the town. Silver Spring Mineral Water Company Limited, currently the largest independently-owned soft drinks manufacturer in Britain, is based in Park Farm.

During the 1980s and 1990s the construction of the Channel Tunnel provided employment for many, as well as bringing many to the area, and on completion the running of service still provides work for many.

Folkestone is also the home of several insurance firms, some of which used to be involved in the shipping trade but have since diversified into other fields. Saga has its headquarters in Folkestone.

Folkestone has suffered a decline in industry since the end of the Second World War. As with most British holiday resorts, the rise in popularity of holidays abroad damaged the local tourist industry. In 2004 talks began between the leaders of Folkestone and Boulogne, which was also facing similar economic problems.

Sights about the town

The major landmark in Folkestone, apart from the Harbour, is the Leas, the cliffs above the beach. A Martello Tower (No 3) stands on the cliff above Copt Point. Built in 1806 as a defence against Napoleon, it has also been a Coast Guard lookout, a family home, a golf clubhouse and a Second World War Naval mine control post. It now houses a visitor centre.[8] The Folkestone White Horse is carved on Cheriton Hill above the Channel Tunnel terminal.

The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty includes part of the town area. The nearby Brockhill Country Park, to the west, with footpaths around a lake and in a valley, links with the Royal Military Canal at Hythe.

Folkestone is near to two important Battle of Britain landmarks - the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne and the Kent Battle of Britain Museum - the oldest Battle of Britain Museum in Britain.


The town is situated at the foot of the North Downs, with views of the surrounding countryside and the coast of France, a mere 24 miles away. The area is a magnet for passing migrating birds and the Warren (woodlands adjoining Wear Bay) and the cliffs above are of particular interest during the spring and autumn periods.

The Folkestone Parks and Pleasure Grounds Charities are lands which were donated to the people of Folkestone for perpetual recreational use by the Earls of Radnor during the 19th century. The lands are administered by Shepway District Council, with the Cabinet members forming the Board of Trustees. Previously, the Charter Trustees were also Trustees of the Charities, but that arrangement lapsed upon the parishing of the Folkestone and Sandgate area. Negotiations are ongoing regarding the transfer of the lands to Folkestone Town Council and Sandgate Parish Council.[9][10]

Two major long distance footpaths pass through the town. The North Downs Way, starting its course in Surrey, reaches the coast at Folkestone and continues through Capel-le-Ferne, and to its end at Dover, some 8 miles away. The Saxon Shore Way starts at Gravesend and traces the Kent coast as it was in Roman times, by way of Folkestone, as far as Hastings in Sussex; 163 miles in total.

Nearby places of interest include the Kent Battle of Britain Museum and the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne

Culture and society

Folkestone has been home to many galleries over the years. The long-established Metropole Galleries, located in the one-time Metropole Hotel on the Leas, staged year round exhibitions until it closed in 2008. Its place has been largely taken by the Creative Foundation. The Foundation has opened a medium-scale theatre, conference and music venue in the heart of the Creative Quarter named Quarterhouse. It offers a year-round programme of live music, comedy, film, talks, theatre and children's entertainment. The Georges House Gallery holds frequent exhibitions by local artists. The Leas Cliff Hall is the biggest entertainment and function venue in Folkestone with a large choice of concerts, comedy and theatre.

The first Folkestone Triennial art event took place between June and September 2008 with artists such as Christian Boltanski and Tracey Emin making site specific work for a wide variety of locations around the town. Many of the commissioned works remain permanently in the town[11]. The 2011 Triennial 'A Million Miles From Home' was launched on 24 September 2010 and commissioned 19 international artists to develop new works for Folkestone's streets, squares, beaches and historic buildings to create a cutting-edge contemporary art exhibition in the public domain[12].

Folkestone has an annual Chamber Music Festival each May curated by the Sacconi Quartet. The Festival concerts take place in the town's St Mary and St Eanswythe's Parish Church, and comprise concerts of chamber and ensemble music with guest performers.

Bluesky Pie is a non for profit organization which promotes the young people of Kent through music and arts. They stage many music gigs and other evenings of mixed arts.

Folkestone together with Hythe, have an amateur theatre group: the Folkestone & Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society. They are a charitable organisation, producing and performing several different shows a year at their own venue, The Tower Theatre, located in Shorncliffe. The society also has a Youth section which produces 3 performances a year at The Tower Theatre; the Brigadier Thomas Memorial Competition, a summer show and a Christmas revue.

The literary journal The Frogmore Papers, published by The Frogmore Press, was founded by Andre Evans and Jeremy Page in Folkestone in 1983. The Folkestone Book Festival takes place every November.

The Folkestone Museum has been transformed into a local history centre: the Folkestone People's History Centre.[13]

Local media


Folkestone has two paid for newspapers, the Folkestone Herald and the Kentish Express (known as the Folkestone Express until 2008). There is also a monthly paid magazine "Folkestone, Hythe & Romney Life

Free newspapers for the town include the Folkestone and Hythe Extra, part of the KM Group; and yourshepway. Kent Regional News and Media previously published the Folkestone Adscene, but this was merged with the paid for Herald in 2008.


The town has a local radio station, KMFM Shepway and White Cliffs Country, broadcasting to Folkestone on 96.4FM. The station was founded in Dover as Neptune Radio in September 1997 but moved to Folkestone in 2003 after being rebranded following a takeover by the KM Group. The studios were moved again, to Ashford, in 2009.[14]

Folkestone is also served by the county-wide stations Heart, Gold and BBC Radio Kent.

A community radio station called Academy FM (Folkestone) is due to start broadcasting in March 2011 covering Folkestone and its immediate surroundings.


  1. Oxford Dictionary of Place Names: this does not explain who Folca was
  2. [Folkestone:The Story of a Town C.H. Bishop, 1973, Headley Brothers Ltd, London]
  3. White, (1961), p.55.
  4. Diaries of George Turnbull (Chief Engineer, East Indian Railway Company) held at the Centre of South Asian Studies at University of Cambridge
  5. Page 68 of George Turnbull, C.E. 437-page memoirs published privately 1893, scanned copy held in the British Library, London on compact disk since 2007
  6. Folkestone Seafront
  7. Remembrance Line Association
  9. "Folkestone Town Council minutes". 
  10. Shepway District Council Councillor details
  11. Folkestone Triennial 2008
  12. Folkestone Triennial
  13. Folkestone People's History Centre
  14. Room for another KMFM in Ashford


H.P. White, (1961) A regional history of the railways of Great Britain, II Southern England, London: Phoenix House.

Outside links

The Cinque Ports
Cinque Ports Antient Towns Limbs

Hastings  • New Romney  • Hythe  • Dover  • Sandwich

Rye  • Winchelsea

Lydd  • Folkestone  • Faversham  • Margate  • Deal  • Ramsgate  • Brightlingsea  • Tenterden