BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Seaside stories: Folkestone
Folkestone harbour
Folkestone's inner harbour, looking out to its East Cliff
For generations, the British flocked to the seaside when the weather got hot. But now they are more likely to go to Magaluf than Minehead. So how are the great British resorts coping? In the first of a four-part series running this week, we look at one of the former glories of the south coast.

Folkestone, Kent

Grand Edwardian town through which, thanks to ferries and now the tunnel, millions can claim to have travelled en route to the continent.

Folkestone's grandeur is not so much faded as bricked up.

On its seafront, a crescent which would one day have been some of the most exclusive buildings in the town, just yards from the sea, and from which on a good day one could have seen Boulogne, today has windows made of breezeblock.

No Vacancies: Seafront crescent in redevelopment area
The years have not been kind to Folkestone. It has seen its tourist pound declining in value for the last 40 years. Its port, from which steamers started sailing to France in 1844, is now closed - a victim of the increased competition the Channel Tunnel brought.

True, the tunnel employs 1,300 people. But otherwise its benefits are limited. Tunnel passengers rarely get off the train to experience Folkestone's pleasures.

The town has a shopping centre as depressed as a wet Wednesday afternoon. A scheme to build a new "mall" which it was thought would bring in the Gaps and Nexts has fallen through. This has left the council with dozens of compulsorily purchased empty properties, and nothing to do with them.

Alternative plans are being devised, but meanwhile Folkestone folk are spending an estimated 250m each year in shops outside their own town.

And yet the town is in places undeniably beautiful, nestling between the hills and the sea. Hotels dating from Folkestone's heyday sit on the Leas, a wide hill-top promenade, yards from zig-zag paths leading down through undergrowth to the seafront.

One of the prettiest watering places on the south coast. The situation is delightful, the air is delicious, and the breezy hills and downs, carpeted with wild thyme and decorated with millions of wild flowers are, on the faith of a pedestrian, perfect.

Charles Dickens on Folkestone
The atmosphere of former glories clings to these imposing streets. Consider, for instance, this passage from a 1933 tourist guide: "Being one of the recognised haunts of fashion, the town is well supplied with shops. Its position as a kind of halfway house between London and Paris enables the millinery and other establishments to display the very latest 'creations'."

But a grand past - even one with fashionable hats - can only take a place so far. With few large employers, and limited entertainment options, there is little to keep its sons and daughters in the town. And in a vicious circle, that means there is not the large pool of skilled labour that prospective employers would want.

As an added complication, Folkestone and neighbouring Dover have increasingly seen the headlines about asylum seekers - and not for the first time. During WWI, up to 20,000 fleeing Belgians were housed in the Folkestone.
Leas Lift
The town's Victorian lift, run by water power

In the Thatcher years of North-South divide, resolutely Tory Folkestone seemed to be doing very comfortably. But by the 1990s, its problems had accelerated so quickly, it had been granted assisted-area status.

A survey in 1998 found Folkestone to be the least profitable place in the country for companies to do business. Andy Jarratt, head of economic development for Shepway Council, says one of the town's main problems is it has "lost confidence". Getting it back has not been easy.

The green shoots can be glimpsed in the work of 26-year-olds Sarah Fry and Justin Terry. Returning to their home town from university, they found that nothing had changed since their youth. The same people were drinking in the same old places. If you had wanted a latte, you would have to drive to Canterbury to get one.

Grand and grandeur: The Grand Hotel on the Leas
So two years ago they set up a cafe bar in Sandgate, Gate 28, next to the exquisitely modernist headquarters of Folkestone's biggest employer, Saga, the holidays for the over-50s company.

With 2,000 office workers on its doorstep, who had nowhere else to go to spend their lunchtimes ("except empty antiques shops", says Sarah Fry), Gate 28 has prospered.

Vic Reeves, an often-sighted local celebrity, is a frequent visitor. And now there are signs that the cafe could become the hub for an expansion in trendy restaurants and bars.

The problem we've got is a terrible lack of confidence in the place. We're strategically quite well placed but that advantage has never manifested itself.

Andy Jarratt, Shepway District Council
This is just one encouraging sign for Folkestone; another is the partnership between public and private sectors to improve the town.

Two regeneration schemes - one for the seafront/harbour area and one for the shopping centre - are the focus for much hope.

But Andy Jarratt says there is one thing which could be key for the town's future: a government decision in favour of a commuter line to run on the channel tunnel high-speed link to London. This would cut the travelling time from coast to capital nearly in half - to 55 minutes.

Business relocations, an influx of commuters pushing up property prices, an increase in rental values, and an injection of vitality could turn the town around, he says.

Folkestone's existence as a modern town can be traced to the opening of the railways in 1844. And while much has changed in the resort since, a century-and-a-half on the train may yet again be Folkestone's saviour.

Click to see more pictures of Folkestone

Your comments:

If you've got experiences of Folkestone, add them us ing the form below.

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail Address:



Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

I visited Folkestone last year and found it a town of contrasts. The main seafront area is in need of extensive regeneration, but opposite the bricked-up, faded hotels is what looks like a booming amusement park with one of Britain's oldest operating wooden roller coasters. Surely the council should be building on successes like this as the basis for regeneration.
Nicholas James, UK

The problem with Folkestone is the drain of talent away from the area, there is nothing to keep young people from moving away. Saga Holidays is the only large company and as such has a monopoly on any talent and sets the wage rates for the area. Skilled people not wanting to work for Saga are forced to look outside the area for employment.
Billy Hodges, UK

I have family in Folkestone and used to love going there. I travelled to Folkestone about 8 months ago and all I saw was bands of refugees roaming the streets.
B J Lord, England

I found Folkestone so depresing I had to move to Vancouver to get away.
John Smith, Canada

I holidayed in Folkestone during the '50s with my family. I was the eldest of 7, aged between 8 and 18 at that time. It was a long drive from London, but it was worth it. Folkestone was great for beaches, cliffs and it was a stepping stone for Canterbury and the Dymchurch Railway. The trick is to bring back a relaxed, no stress holiday. No machines, no arcades, no BIG SPENDING, just happiness and a time for parents to connect with their children.
Marion Carter, Portugal

The surf sucks in Folkestone, so I stay away.
Quinn Haber, California

Surely all is not lost for poor Folkestone. It's certainly been a victim of the tunnel v ferries war and is very different to the rather attractive seaside town I remember from the late '60s. All those huge roads snaking out behind it now and the town centre confused by a one-way system. The bones of the old town are still there for those who want to explore Folkestone. It must still be a good base to see East Kent. Dover, Deal and Walmer castles are within reach, Romney Marshes with its Martello Towers (and is the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway still running?). Canterbury and Sandwich are not far, both well worth a visit, and day trips to London and France are easy.

Yes, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway is definitely still running - see the link [under Internet links] for details. I too remember many happy years of visiting Folkestone for our family summer holidays as a child. Long before the M11, M2 and M25 were completed we travelled for hours to ge there, and enjoyed ourselves on the appropriately titles "Sunny Sands" beach. The beach and memories are still there, and I have often visited the town since. Still enjoy visiting, and fresh fish is still available.
Keith, UK

I lived in Folkestone for many years and still visit this quaint English seaside town regularly. I was one of the protesters who objected to the Channel Tunnel unfortunately to no avail. I think the Channel Tunnel has sucked the life out of Folkestone. It's now just a place the high speed trains past through on their way to London or Paris. However, it's still more interesting than Dover !
Cheri Chan, Hong Kong

The town has suffered for years through lack of investment and very poor council control. I was born in the town and it used to be a prosperous seaside venue but through mismanagement has deteriorated.
John Allan, UK

I visit my family in Sandgate near Folkestone on a regular basis. The area has a charm to it, especially when coming from London. There are lots of lovely places to visit in the area around Folkestone, and if it's sunny there are fab sandy beaches too
Sarah Foster, UK

1. The South

2. The North

3. The West

4. The East

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories