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The History of Kent

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Folkestone’s History

A few pre-Roman remains have been discovered: among them the remains of a Celtic house and some coins offshore. The nature of the cliffs here means that much archaeological evidence has been lost to the sea.

The Romans settled in Folkestone during the period 80-350 AD. Several villas have been revealed, including one discovered in 1924 when a landslip on the East Cliff revealed the remains of a large one, complete with bathrooms and hypocausts, a courtyard with a mosaic floor and a kitchen with two fireplaces. A 1st Century cemetery was also discovered in 1948 at Cheriton, with both British and Roman remains. The town is not mentioned in any documents of the period, probably asa there was no Roman road.

In 630AD, King Eadbald of Kent founded a Folkestone Priory on the West Cliff at Folkestone, for Eanswythe (who later was canonised as
St. Eanswythe), his daughter, and her nuns. This is believed to have been the first Christian community for women in England and is the first time that Folkestone is known by an historical record. Her name lends itself to the parish church of St Mary and St Eanswythe where her mortal remains are believed to be interred. At the same time, the King built a fort alongside. All evidence of both structures have since been destroyed by the sea.

As a result, fishermen and farmers began to settle in the valley, although it was still little more than a tiny hamlet on the banks of the river and on the seashore. The town seal shows the saint with two fishes to record this

By 1066, the manor of Folkestone was in the ownership of the church at Canterbury. In 1052 Earl Godwin of Wessex had attacked all the coastal towns, and the area was thought important enough for a Norman to own it. After William became king, he took the barony and made a gift of it to his half-brother Bishop Odo. By 1086, the year of
Doomsday Book the barony was held by William D'Arcy.

In 1095 the lord of the manor was Nigel de Muneville: he built a new church in the town to replace that which was destroyed by Earl Godwin and established Folkestone Priory for Benedictine Monks close to the nunnery site. In 1138 a new church and priory were again built, this time by William D'Averanches and dedicated to St. Mary and St. Eanswythe.

The French took an opportunity to attack Folkestone in 1216 and laid waste to much of the settlement which, although still a village in size, was significant enough to have a Mayor and a Corporation. In 1313, it received a charter as a Corporate Limb of the Cinque port of Dover, and was thus obliged to supply seven boats. Trade began through the port, especially of wool, but also of luxury goods such as wines and cloth.

The Tudor period again saw fears of French invasion, and coastal defences were strengthened. Gun sites were prepared on the Bayle headland. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I Folkestone contained about 120 houses. Folkestone Manor was one of the most prosperous in Kent. In 1545 the Town Council was again enlarged; and harbour plans, to replace the ancient Stade where boats had been landing, were drawn up in 1629, although they came to nothing.

At this time, too, the Free School, for poor boys, was established in 1684, by William Harvey's legacy; it was later to become Harvey Grammar School. A Guildhall was also built. By 1700, the town was expanding away from the beach area, up on to the hills on either side of the stream valley, although there were still pastures and orchards in the valley.

In 1794, the War Office purchased over 229 acres (930,000 m�) of open land at Shorncliffe, to the west of Folkestone. Here the Shorncliffe Redoubt was built; in 1796, the Garrison was further extended with the provision of barracks for housing troops, originally being sent off to the Peninsula Wars, were stationed there. In 1804, the original wooden barracks were replaced with buildings of stone construction and used to house cavalry and artillery brigades. Subsequent wars have seen many thousands of troops: the present Sir John Moore Barracks is the home of Gurkha Regiment in Britain.

The beginning of this period coincided with smuggling which was rife throughout the South Coast of England. Local people were generally favourably inclined towards them], and Folkestone dwellers were no exception. The main storage area for smuggled goods was The Warren, to the east of the town.

The 19th Century saw Folkestone Harbour become a reality; and the coming of the railways heralded the start of a new industry to the town: that of tourism, although this was to be relatively much later than its neighbours of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs. Most of the facilities expected of a seaside resort - a pleasure pier, a bathing establishment, theatres - only appeared after the 1880s.

Activity in Folkestone during the 20th century was to focus around the two world wars. In the First World War, the town became host to some 65,000 Belgian refugees fleeing the conflict. Shorncliffe Camp served as a training camp for thousands of recruits in training, and the port was the main embarkation point for soldiers leaving to fight in the trenches of France and Belgium. Whole blocks of houses, hotels and other buildings were commandeered for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, including many Canadian troops. They marched through the town to the harbour along the route now called the 'Road of Remembrance'.

In general, little serious damage was done to Folkestone during WWI, although on 25 May 1917 low cloud over London caused a 21 strong wave of Gotha bombers to abort a raid on the capital. The Luftstreitkrafte aircraft turned for home and detached their bombs mainly in the Folkestone district, killing 71 people and injuring 94 more.

After the war a good deal of refurbishment was required: requisitioned buildings had to be made ready for holidaymakers. New buildings to attract them were built: the Marina and new pleasure gardens were established, and the Marine Pavilion built. However, this was not to last long, for much worse befell the town in World War II.

At the very beginning of that war thousands of school children were evacuated to the town, but were soon sent elsewhere in 1940. Within a few weeks, Folkestone became a prohibited area and 35,000 residents left. Defences around the town were set: tank traps, barbed wire surrounded it, and gun batteries set upon the heights. In this war the town was under constant attack: bombs and shelling (from across the Channel) and later flying bombs caused immense damage, with Folkestone being changed forever. Casualities were high: 123 people were killed, and 778 injured. 550 houses were destroyed, and 14,441 properties damaged. It took almost twenty years before Folkestone was again to become a holiday resort.