A Brief History of Folkestone
The story of Folkestone has seen it develop from being a small fishing town, considerably behind in its development when compared to other coastal towns in Kent and Sussex, into being a thriving and fashionable seaside resort, complete with a railway connection to London and a Cross-Channel port.
Excavations have shown that the region of Folkestone has been populated from prehistoric times and the existence of a villa on the East Cliff dating from the Roman period, which was discovered in 1924, shows us that Folkestone has been inhabited for over two millennia. The Saxons and the Jutes were also present in the area as burial grounds bear testimony and we know that in c.635 A.D. Eanswythe, daughter of Eadbald King of Kent, founded a religious house in the locale of the Bayle. And in accordance with the miracles attributed to her, Eanswythe was canonized. To this day the Parish Church is dedicated to Saints Mary and Eanswythe. The first church bearing her name was destroyed following cliff erosion; the second was destroyed c.867 by Viking raiders. Another church built by King Athelstan was presumed to have been destroyed in 1052 by Earl Godwin on the way to his showdown with King Edward the Confessor. In 1095 Nigel de Muneville succeeded as lord of the manor and to him is attributed the basis of the modern day Parish Church.
One important statistic can be gleaned from the Doomsday survey, which tells us that the Folkestone ‘Hundred’ was valued at £100, and we can estimate that at this time there was a population of about 800 people.
In 1313 Folkestone received a Charter from King Edward II, which entitled it to a Mayor, a Bailiff and twelve Jurats. By this time Folkestone had become a member of the confederation of Cinque Ports. But the small market town and port of Folkestone was not destined to grow significantly, Tudor Folkestone had a population of approximately 500 people.
Bearing this in mind it should be of little surprise that by 1831 the population of Folkestone had only grown to 3,638. This is an interesting fact for in the intervening period there had been a nationwide shift of the population out of rural England and into urban centres, brought about by factors such as the Industrial revolution. The statistics show that in approximately 300 years the population had only grown seven-fold. Compare this to later population statistics and we can see how small Folkestone’s growth and development was over this period of time.
However times and circumstances were to change. In 1843 the railway came from London and the viaduct crossing the Foord valley was built. This was followed by the purchase of the Harbour by the South Eastern railway that succeeded in transforming the ailing harbour into a successful cross-channel port. The significance of these events can be best registered when we note that by 1851 the population had nearly doubled from twenty years previous to 6,726 people. By 1881 this trend continued and the population soared to 18,986 people; within a period of 50 years the town’s population had grown by a staggering 522%. An enormous rate of growth when compared to the earlier statistics that cover hundreds of years.
The arrival of the Railway and the development of the Harbour instantly expanded the possibilities that Folkestone had to offer. Large and luxurious hotels were built along with many other amenities that were needed to cater for the holiday making public.
The First World War was to change the shape of Folkestone however, with large numbers of refugees arriving and the use of the Harbour as a prime military embarkation point, the town rapidly adjusted. In between the Wars Folkestone once again rejuvenated itself and became a resort that would appeal to middle-class families and not just the affluent.
Following World War Two and the damage caused by 77 air raids and six V1 attacks, Folkestone yet again had to rebuild and re-design itself in order to continue in its function as a resort for holidaymakers and day-trippers. Much has happened to the town in the period since 1945; extensive rebuilding programmes and the expansion of residential and light-industrial areas, the building of the M20 and the Channel Tunnel, has all meant that Folkestone has undergone several major changes. And now at the dawn of a new millennium, Folkestone is equipped with a High Speed Rail link to London promising travel times of less than an hour, and once more, with the philanthropic investment of Roger De Haan, it appears to be undergoing another change of guise, as the town seeks to reinvent itself as a hub for the arts and high culture.
© 2009 Alan Taylor