folkestone harbour Station – award-winning restoration

The renovation of Folkestone Harbour Station has been recognised with a National Railways Heritage Award in 2023.  The last trains ran through the station in 2009 and for years after it was left to ruin.  In 2015 the Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company started extensive renovations to restore the glory of the site for all to use.  From the steps up to the Viaduct and Swing Bridge to the Lighthouse at the end of the Harbour Arm, this 800m stretch of railway and station has been renovated to reflect the heritage and importance of this site to the Folkestone community.  Folkelife explores the details you should look for on your next visit.

the inner harbour

As you walk across the viaduct you can admire the walls surrounding the inner and outer harbour.  This area was designed and built by the famous civil engineer during the Industrial Revolution, William Jessop.  Thomas Telford is another famous name from that era and he oversaw the construction in the early 1800s, who had been an apprentice to Jessop earlier in his career.  The viaduct itself was built in the 1840s by William Cubitt for South Eastern Railway, and sadly the swing-bridge has not been operational since the 1970s.

The twin-track railway would bring passengers to Folkestone Harbour Station ready to transfer to the ferry taking them to France.  The Venice Simplon Orient Express served this station until 2009.  During the World Wars, service men and women left from Folkestone to serve on the continent, and many refugees arrived via this route escaping the atrocities of war.

what the judges said

At the plaque unveiling in June 2024, Andy Savage, Chairman of the National Rail Heritage Awards said: “Folkestone Harbour Station had been closed for a very long time now and it was in a terrible state; completely rundown and derelict.  It’s brilliant to see how it’s been restored, but it’s more than that.  The restoration recognises its railway heritage, and has given this space a new use.  The station is now part of the community and gives it a value.

“It’s no use restoring something and leaving it as it was. If it doesn’t have a use then it’s not going to work. This is a stunning example of giving a derelict railway facility a new use.”

The Harbour Station, Arm and Seafront has now become one of Kent’s most visited destinations with live music, community events and a great destination for food, drink and local artisan products.

Harbour Station
National Rail Heritage Award
Native Plants Common Mallow Station Platform
Harbour Arm Credit Matt Rowe
Harbour Station Plaque Credit Matt Rowe
Lighthouse Champagne Bar

success from decay and dereliction

Ben Boyce is the engineer and project manager for all the renovations at Folkestone Harbour. “My first memory of the station was that it was actually partly closed off to the public. So the public were allowed through platform two which is where our new plaque is.  You used to go up the edge of a of an old concrete overbridge, and it just smelt like a toilet.  It certainly wasn’t a leisure destination or a or a promenading kind of environment. There was broken glass everywhere, potholes, nothing nice about coming in terms of what we see now.”

“We have patch repaired everything around us.  There were fragments of glass that told us which company made the glass used in the station.  We have then used that same company where we can, and used traditional methods where we can.  It’s also important to make this durable under the conditions here, so we’ve modernised using different materials so that things will last longer.   For example, the train wagons that are on the Harbour Arm are plastic rather than wood.  You wouldn’t know it at first sight, but it’s very good fake wood.  That will require less maintenance and hopefully give those wagons a longer life.

Every summer, when the weather is on our side, we have a painting crew here almost constantly.  We try and do it as discretely as possible.  Anyone who visits regularly will not walk the Harbour without seeing someone with a paintbrush in hand!”

a collection of projects

The judges understood that the renovation of Folkestone Harbour hasn’t just been one little project, but a number of projects combined to create a space that people want to visit and live.

Folkestone Harbour and Seafront Development Company is lead by Sir Roger De Haan.  “What we recognised is that this is a really important part of our heritage.  Folkestone Station is one of our heritage assets and so we wanted to fix it, and to do it well. The renovation of the Harbour area has become a key influence in the architecture and design for the new Harbour which is coming in a few years’ time. I’m really pleased it’s become a place that local residents enjoy.  We’re also attracting lots of tourists which is only good for the town.”

Not only has the viaduct, station and signal box been renovated but Customs House, the platforms on the Harbour Arm and the walkways across the site.  Noted were the Charles Collinge Hinges from Lambeth Foundry and the Box Vans and Minx carriages that have also been restored.  The attention to detail on the signage – being Southern Railway Green and bilingual – was also recognised.  The placemaking that has happened over the past 8 years has been steeped in the site’s heritage and it has played an important part in its role now.

As you walk around the station you will find little touches that add to the feel of the place.  The granite walls along the top walkway have a line of cast iron threaded through to reference the working history of the site.  The Greenheart timber, once used as piles or sleepers, now are solid and durable seating installations – “much more than just benches!”

Read more from Ben Boyce, resident engineer, about the renovation of the Harbour area.

Discover more about folkestone below

Renovating Folkestone Harbour – A Labour of Love
The Place To Be – Folkestone Harbour
Beachside at The Harbour Arm
Harbourside At The Folkestone Harbour

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