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History of Folkestone

Folkestone comes from the Old English ‘stān’ meaning a ‘stone, rock’ combined with a personal name; therefore, ‘Folca’s stone’. The stone may have been the marker for the meeting place of the Folkestone Hundred. The Domesday Book records Folkestone as Fulchestan. 

The existence of Folkestone probably reflects its proximity to the Continent, when groups of Brythonic invaders occupied East Kent. The Romans followed, and after them the Saxons. A Norman knight held the Barony of Folkestone, which led to its entry as a part of the Cinque Ports in the thirteenth century; and with it came the privilege of being a prosperous trading port. At the start of the Tudor period, Folkestone became a town in its own right. Wars with France meant defences had to be built, and soon plans for a Folkestone Castle commenced, although never completed. In the 18th century, a Folkestone harbour became reality, although the coming of the railways, in the mid-century, proved to be the town’s future. With it came the tourist trade, and the two industries, port and seaside resort, which were the, creation of its prosperity.....more

Folkestone parish church is a Grade: II listed building, dedicated to Saint Mary and Saint Eanswythe. Nigell de Muneville – Lord of Folkestone - built the church in 1220. In 1707, there is a record of five bells, to which Richard Phelps added a sixth. Pack and Chapman recast the six bells into a new octave in 1778. In 1799, Edward Hasted described the Folkestone church as consisting of ‘three isles and three chancels, having a square tower, with a beacon turret in the middle of it, in which there is a clock, and a peal of eight bells, put up in it in 1779. This church is built of sand-stone; the high chancel, which has been lately ceiled, seems by far the most antient part of it’. Canon Woodward vicar from 1851 to 1898 raised money from donations to remodel the building in a continual restoration lasting into the 20th century. In 1885, Woodward discovered the bones of St Eanswythe in a lead casket, set into the sanctuary wall. In 1879, John Taylor recast all eight bells and hung them in a new frame…. more

The South Eastern Railway (SER) reached Folkestone on 28 June 1843. The final section, from Ashford, of their London to Dover mainline terminated at a temporary station until the completion of the Foord Viaduct on 18 December that year. They established a permanent station named ‘Folkstone’ (note the missing ‘e’). SER followed this with Folkestone West – opened as Shorncliff Camp – on 1 November 1863, with the harbour branch line coming into effect on 1 January 1849. They opened the final station – now known as Folkestone Central – on 1 September 1884.

In preparation against a French invasion early in the 19th Century, the army built a series of Towers, known as 'Martello Towers' around the Kent and Sussex coast. They positioned the first four in the
Folkestone area. Tower 1 stands 200 feet up on the cliffs above East Wear Bay, within sight of Towers 2 and 3. Tower 2 is about 50 feet lower than No.1, and sited on a small knoll slightly further inland, where Wear Bay Road now stands. Tower 3 stands on the cliffs above Copt Point and overlooks the harbour. Tower 4, built into deep dry moats and situated within the Shorncliffe Camp area, up on the heights overlooking the coastline.

In 1674, at the bequest of William Harvey, his nephew, Sir Eliab Harvey established a free school, in Folkestone. The school initially catered for 24 boys, teaching reading and writing in English and Latin. The school later became known as Harvey Grammar School and continues today.

A great landslide in 1784, normally considered a disaster, changed the face of Folkestone, and provided a dream road, to last over 200 years.


Prior to 1784, to reach Sandgate from Folkestone harbour meant climbing the steep hill out of Folkestone on the Canterbury Road, following the cliff top and down the sharp hill to Sandgate, a long and arduous journey.


In 1784, disaster struck, and the cliff face slipped. A flat stretch of land resulted running from Folkestone to Sandgate. Initially, cows grazed the new area. However, Lord Radnor, who owned the land, realised that the slip had provided the opportunity to build a road between the two towns.


He set about building a solid, well surfaced, flat connection for the use of which he charged a toll. He built a Toll House, initially in wood, then in 1847 Sidney Smirke, designer of the reading room at the British Museum, replaced it by one in brick.


As Folkestone developed into a coastal resort, the area around the road ceased to be used for farming, and turned into a leisure park, with paths creating new walks. By the early 1900’s revenue from the toll road, no longer covered the maintenance costs of the park, and in 1913 the local council, leased the area. The road continued to collect tolls until 1973, when the council bought it, and sold the Toll House as a private residence.