Folkestone is a port located on the English Channel, in Kent, in southeast England. For many years it had a cross-channel ferry travelling to Calais and Boulogne in France several times a day. Now it is the closest town to the entry to the Channel Tunnel which provides rail travel to Calais in less than an hour.
The town is 71.3 mi (114.7 km) from London and had a population of more than 45,000 in the census of 2001.
From 1835 until 1974 Folkestone was a municipal borough, and since 1974 it has been part of the Shepway non-metropolitan district. In 1934 its territory was enlarged by the abolition of Cheriton and Sandgate Urban Districts and by gaining parts of other parishes from Dover and Elham Rural Districts.
The area of Folkestone has been occupied since at least the Mesolithic era, and in 2010, worked flints were discovered below the remains of the Folkestone Roman Villa. The East Cliff area was excavated in 1924 and most recently from 2010 - 2011, and has produced artifacts from the Mesolithic period through to the Roman Era. On the East Cliff, an extensive Iron Age oppidum existed, which produced quern-stones on an almost industrial scale. These querns, or stones used for grinding cereals into flour, were traded for continental exports such as pottery and wine. A modest Roman style villa was constructed over the Iron Age settlement sometime during the first century AD, followed by a more luxurious one in about 200 AD. The villa was abandoned sometime during the third or fourth century for unknown reasons.
A Norman knight held a Barony of Folkestone, which led to its entry as a part of the Cinque Ports in the thirteenth century and with that the privilege of being a wealthy trading port. At the start of the Tudor period it had become a town in its own right. Wars with France meant that defences had to be built here and soon plans for a Folkestone Harbour began. At the beginning of the 1800s a harbour was developed, but it was the coming of the railways in 1843 that would have the bigger impact.
Until the 19th century Folkestone remained a small fishing community with a seafront that was continually battered by storms and encroaching shingle that made it hard to land boats. In 1807 an Act of Parliament was passed to build a pier and harbour which was built by Thomas Telford in 1809. By 1820 a harbour area of had been enclosed. Folkestone's trade and population grew slightly but development was still hampered by sand and silt from the Pent Stream. The Folkestone Harbour Company invested heavily in removing the silt but with little success. In 1842 the company became bankrupt and the Government put the derelict harbour up for sale. It was bought by the South Eastern Railway Company (SER), which was then building the London to Dover railway line. George Turnbull was responsible in 1844 for building the Horn pier. Dredging the harbour, and the construction of a rail route down to it, began almost immediately, and the town soon became the SER’s principal packet station for the Continental traffic to Boulogne.
Folkestone Harbour Company commissioned Foster Associates to produce a masterplan for Folkestone which was published in April 2006. The plans describe the rebuilding of the harbour as a marina, a "Green Wave" along the sea front linking countryside west and east of the town, new housing, shops, a performance area and small university campus. The plans take in the land that was previously the Rotunda Amusement Park. Progress in developing the area has been inhibited by the recession and by new guidelines governing flood protection. A new approach to the seafront is being developed by Terry Farrell and Partners, and the former fairground site is being considered for temporary recreational use whilst planning takes place.
However, there is an alternative plan being developed by the Remembrance Line Association which is based on retaining the harbour railway and its station as a major heritage/tourist operation and 'Leaving for War' museum given the significance of the Folkestone Harbour Branch in both World Wars which is important to the Allied and Commonwealth nations. The harbour railway station, now unused, is gradually succumbing to nature.
Although Kent was the first part of the British mainland to be conquered and settled by the invading Angles, Saxons and Jutes from the middle of the 5th century AD onwards, after the departure of the Romans, it was not until the late 7th century that the spelling Folcanstan appears. One suggestion is that this refers to Folca's stone; another suggestion is that it came from an Old English personal name, with the addition of stone, possibly meaning, in this context, "meeting place". It was not until the mid 19th century that the spelling of "Folkestone" was fixed as such, with the Earl of Radnor requesting that the town's name be standardised (although this tendency towards standardisation in the 19th century is true of English place names generally). Folkestone is often misspelt, variants including Folkston, Folkstone & Folkeston.