Poignant Folkestone Pier – Our heritage and our future?

Since we moved to Folkestone a decade ago the Folkestone pier has been somewhere that has fascinated us. A few days ago we went for a walk to the end of the pier and through the derelict Folkestone harbor station. The whole place is rotting in front of your eyes and decay hangs heavy in the air. From the train tracks grow prodigious weeds left unchecked except for a random statue plonked in the middle of the tracks called Rug People. The paint is peeling and half hearted graffiti decorates the walls. There are some cheap metal fencing tied together to stop you walking along the tracks to the end of the Pier because the floor has rotted away in sections, forcing you to walk up a piss stained stairwell to the top of the pier.

There is absolutely nothing here, though, that tells you that you are, in fact, stood on one of most poignant pieces of land in the UK.

This Station and Pier is the point where over 10 million soldiers were brought to and packed off in boats to go and fight in WWI and WWII. For the lucky ones it was also the first bit of UK soil they returned to if they survived. However, for millions of young men and women, it was the last piece of British soil they ever touched before being killed in action.

Can you just imagine the strength of emotions that must have been experienced on that thin piece of land? As a soldier you would get off the train and wait there for the ship to take you across the Channel. You would look over at France and see explosions and hear aircraft fighting overhead. You would notice the wounded slumped all around being transported to hospitals and you’re only thought would be ‘Will I survive this?’

Imagine also, how many times that slim piece of land would have been kissed by the lucky ones who made it back alive? They lived through true horror for years, saw things that we could never imagine and witnessed their friends killed all around them and finally they are back, safe, on British soil. Can you just imagine what emotions they felt as they took that first step back on British soil at Folkestone harbour?

The only memorial you will find here however for those brave souls are a couple of A4 pieces of paper, laminated and stapled to the wall. They tell the brief life story of a couple soldiers who passed through this station, placed by someone who wants to remember the life of a loved one, who never returned. There is a haunting poem by the war poet Wilfred Owen, himself a soldier who left Folkestone pier for the last time and never returned from France. There is nothing else.

It seems hugely remiss and slightly immoral that the importance of this strip of land is not marked, acknowledged and celebrated.

We (Bluesky Pie) did some fundraising for the fabulous Step Short Charity a couple of years ago and after researching the importance of the Pier we suggested that we should raise money and build something that lets the world know the poignancy of this piece of land. We wanted to install a light installation, a ‘white light tower’ powered by renewable energy, which shone up to the heavens every night as a remembrance to those that died. Unfortunately nothing came of this as the land is marked to be demolished and turned into a moneymaking project for some wealthy individuals to become wealthier.

Of course, if we could find a way to turn the Station and Pier into somewhere people could go to remember it’s importance. If the whole place was space we used to celebrate the past and a working space for the community to use. If we used some of the unique mementos we have from this time to attract visitors, Folkestone Pier would be a center of civic pride.

For example, in the station was a café that handed out free hot drinks and cakes to the troops which was run by many but notably the Jeffery sisters, who were both awarded the Order of the British Empire, the Queen Elisabeth Medal (Belgium)
and the Medal of Gratitude (France).

They had a book on display, which was signed by the soldiers waiting to go to France. Over 300,000 soldiers signed it including: King George V, Lord Derby, David Lloyd George, Wilfred Owen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and many more. Imagine if this were digitalized and displayed.

To use Folkestone Pier as a place of remembrance like the Dover Tunnels would make it a center of civic pride and it would create jobs for the area. There is, however, a much stronger reason for doing it. Thanks to the Internet and a surge in interest in genealogy, there are now around 500,000 people every year who go on war tours. Thousands of British, American and Canadians go on holidays to try to trace the footsteps of their relatives who died in the wars. All these tours start in Dover. No one bothers to come to Folkestone because no one knows the significance of the Pier.

If we made Folkestone Pier into an interactive museum, if we had an installation that shone at night and could be seen from France at night and by everyone using the ferries. Folkestone would be on the map. Imagine what half a million tourists would do to the economy of our town?

For me, allowing the Pier to fall into rack and ruin and then turned into a concrete monstrosity like every other homogenous seaside town must be a criminal waste of an asset, which could hugely boost the economy of our town.

On top of that it seems hugely disrespectful to all those millions of young people who lost their lives in the wars.


    1. Hi John, thanks for the reply. We were involved in fund raising for Step Short through our non for profit music venture http://www.blueskypie.co.uk although not too much came of it. We produced a 5 year fund raising plan using music to raise funds and awareness but we were not asked to take part. It seems like a no brainer to do this project but there seems to be powerful people with goals of their own involved…..

  1. Dear Sir/Madam
    Please visit Step Short.co.uk where you will find several projects which are almst at the planning stage.
    These include projects on The Leas, Road of Remembrance and Folkestone Harbour all dependent on funding bids that are already being sought.
    The station and track are the property of Rail Track and not Folkestone Harbour Company.
    The annual March to remember the millions who left Folkestone will again take place in August and the 43000 names in the eight visitor books have been transcibed at great cost by Step Short and are currently being checked.
    Sample pages are avaliable on our website and all 43000 will be uploaded in time for the centenary.

    Kind regards,

    Paul Emden
    Step Short Folkestone Ltd

    1. Hi Paul

      Thanks for the reply, I am aware of the excellent work Step Short do. I know Damian and Ann and we have done fund raising for them in the past. My point is we should get the whole town including the council behind a bid to get the old station etc made into an attraction to be used to celebrate our past here and attract much needed tourism. Anything we (www.blueskypie.co.uk) can do to help and aid this, we would gladly do. I am also aware of the complications around who owns what land etc. To me the important thing is for everyone to unite behind the project and do some thing wonderful for our town.


  2. Thanks for this fantastic blog I feel quite ashamed to say that I’ve never been to the pier even though I went to school in Folkestone and still class it as my home town. Your ideas for regeneration are fab..what are the ideas that these money makers have and what can we do to stop them?

  3. What an incredibly good idea. I’ve been to this place but never realised the significance. Is it worth talking to the air memorial people – I know some of them were interested in resurrecting the walk to the harbour. I don’t know Folkestone well enough to give you the details but if you contact me I can probably give you a couple of email addresses?

  4. Hi Louie,

    Totally agree with the sentiment of your blog and many of the suggestions contained in it. However, at the risk of appearing a pedant, aren’t we talking about the harbour wall beyond the railway station, and not the pier to the west under The Leas, which was destroyed in WW2?

    1. Hi Robert

      Thanks for the comment, it’s not pedantic at all. I assumed the harbour wall beyond the railway station is called the pier arm? I may be wrong though

    2. The pier, rather than the harbour, was burnt down one Saturday evening which I think was 1946. It was nothing to do with any enemy activity.

  5. Given the vast numbers who died, many of us have tales of family members who went to their death via the pier head, A haunting place but should it become a tourist attraction?

    1. That is a good point. For me though it is the importance of the place that needs to be preserved as both an opportunity for people to visit this very poignant piece of land. If we were able to have the names from the books digitalized even better. I really do believe it will go some way to restore civic pride in Folkestone too. Over 900 people read this blog with many saying they had no idea about the importance of the pier head. I would much rather see a permanent tribute to those who lost their lives than a concrete boat house with a starbucks there…..

    2. As a dark tourism enthusiast, I think this place could well be explored as a dark tourism spot. The whole idea of the war being present here, and if we can incorporate it with the art scene Folkestone could be well up I the regeneration process.
      What lacks is good management and networking between the council and other places, becaus still there’s empty shops and so on…. 🙂

  6. The lighthouse is now lit up at night. Is this anything to do with it? Having moved to Folkestone a few years ago I have always thought the town needed to do more to commemorate this hugely moving part of its history. What can you/we do to use social media to get the ball rolling to gather support?

  7. Just seen this blog and in me it simply stirs many feelings of despair at the pure apathy of the owners of this town to it’s past. There is no evidence of civic intervention to preserve anything from Folkestone’s past. There is just a truly unhealthy indifference to change and developments that scream surely of civic impropriety.

    I love this blog : it reminds us of a very poignant time in history. It tells much needed stories of the richness of Folkestone’s past. Selfish I know but just one of many tales which seem to fall into the category of happened but is no longer considered. Towns like Canterbury and Dover turn this knowledge into features which attract people and guarantee interest as well as income in for the town.

    Folkestone has history and it is long overdue being embraced!

      1. thanks for your excellent blog! It’s a great read and really deserves to be under the noses of local leaders for their consideration!

    1. I left Folkestone abouit 14 years ago. When I last walked on the pier it seemed even then to be rotting. The clue is definitely in the history, which does more than entail sending young men off to die and receiving the survivors. The south coast is dotted with carefully thought out military engineering. Tying these things together could bring a profitable historical slant to the area. Such an effort would require a knowledgeable individual, committed to researching the details and drawing them together. Military engineering goes all the way across to Dover on the one hand, and in a westerly direction of course. Some form of military historical trail, highlighting the Napoleonic wars, WWI and WWII might be a part of the renaissance of the area.

  8. I used to live in Folkestone, and made a point of visiting the pier. You are most correct about the parlous state of affairs there, and your remembrances about its role in the war are indeed very poignant and inarguable. In fact I’m considering a trip down there to photograph it before the wasters in the council let it go down the tubes.

    A friend who also once lived in Folkestone drew my attention to your site. Thus I conclude that you have said the right things to attract people constructing searches.

    Thank you for paying the matter such careful attention.

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