Saturday, April 12th 2014
There have been settlements in and around what is now Folkestone since ancient times. The Romans knew it, though the name they gave it is uncertain. Anglo-Saxons lived here and when the Normans occupied the land, it became a barony under William d’Arcy. By this time, it was a humble fishing village but in the 13th century it was designated one of the Cinque Ports and this prestige led to its development as a trading port. The arrival of the railway in the middle of the 19th century boosted Folkestone’s fortunes, turning it into an important port and a seaside resort. In the twentieth century it was the second Continental ferry port after Dover, a position enhanced by the coming of the cross-Channel hovercraft. The ferry trade collapsed with the opening of the Channel Tunnel at Dover and as a result, Folkestone has had to reinvent itself. That process is still continuing.
The name ‘Folkestone’ was settled only in the 19th century though variants of the word had been used since Anglo-Saxon days. If you thought that the name had something to do with a stone or rock, you were right. Though the derivation of the name is not entirely clear, early records give it as ‘Folcanstan’ whose meaning in Anglo-Saxon would be ‘Folca’s Stone’. Who Folca was is not known, nor is the reason why his name was attached to a rock, though this is thought to have marked a meeting place for the community when important matters were to be dealt with.
We hadn’t been to Folkestone for a while and so chose it as our destination today. The best way for us to go is to take the HS1 train for Dover which calls at Folkestone. ‘HS’ stands for ‘Highspeed’ and these trains live up to their name, cutting journey times to Kent by a worthwhile amount. Tickets are slightly more expensive than those on normal train services but, depending on your needs, the difference might be worth paying. We appreciate the saving in time as well as the exciting whoosh through the countryside!
We had visited Folkestone in June 2011 (see Multi-cultural and artistic Folkestone) when we had found much to interest us and we hoped to enjoy today’s trip as much. In that we were, unfortunately, disappointed. The town did not inspire us as much as on that previous trip and we returned home relatively early. Why was that? I don’t really know. I don’t blame the town which was recognizably the same as on our first trip. Perhaps we somehow failed to approach it in the right spirit. We did, as usual, take photographs and I present a few of mine for your perusal.
The wall painting, on its own piece of board and therefore presumably painted elsewhere, is on a wooden gate in Cheriton Road near the railway bridge.
For some reason, I am fascinated by houses with turrets. Perhaps this is a throwback to my childhood and stories of castles. This imposing house is dated 1891 and is today the offices of a recruitment agency. Was it once perhaps the family home of an affluent Victorian family? And who had the room at the top of the turret?
Another building with a corner turret, obviously commercial premises this time. I don’t know the history of this building or its date but it makes a pleasantly retro setting for a department store that itself has a retro feel to it.
The War Memorial, unveiled in 1922 in commemoration of those who died in the First World War, stands at the top of the Road of Remembrance. The bronze female figure on top is by Ferdinand Victor Blundstone (1882-1951). Female figures atop war memorials tend to be allegorical representations of either Peace or Victory. I couldn’t decide which this was supposed to be and English Heritage, in its listing text, seems as uncertain, describing it simply as “a bronze female figure; robed from the waist down, holding a cross in her left hand and a laurel wreath in her right”. A Wikipedia article on the sculptor, however, says that it is ‘Motherhood’, which, I suppose is possible.
On the railings all around the memorial are crochet-work poppies. The photo shows just one small section. I believe the campaign started in 2011 with the idea of creating 160 poppies but gathered momentum and took on an international dimension. Newspaper reports say that recently no fewer than 3,000 poppies were taken to be cleaned and then put back in place. This unusual tribute adds colour and beauty to the setting.
Walking down the Road of Remembrance, one has this slightly unusual view of the beach and sea. While Folkestone rightly remembers those citizens of the town itself who served in the Great War, it also remembers the thousands who passed through the town and its port on their way to war and the many who did not make the return journey. The sea prompts such thoughts and sighting the war memorial here is entirely appropriate.
The name Eanswythe may not be familiar outside Kent but it occurs in many place names within the county and especially Folkestone, not least as one of the patron saints of the parish church. Eanswythe (AD c614-40) was an Anglo-Saxon lady of royal blood who was secretly brought up as a Christian (her mother was Christan, her father a pagan) and decided to dedicate herself to the Christian God and serve as a nun. What better way to do this is there, if you are royal, than to found your own convent? Eanswythe’s father was finally persuaded to give the necessary funds and permission and the convent was completed in AD 630 (when Eanswythe would have been about 16). It is said to be the first monastery for women to be founded in England. Eanswythe resided here until her death in 640 at the tender age of 26 and was later canonized by the Catholic Church. She and her sainthood, along with the church, have been inherited by the Church of England. The church is largely the result of rebuilding in the 19th century though parts of it date back to the 13th century.
To the left of the picture you can see a monument with a pronounced lean to it. I was intrigued by the inscription that reads as follows:
TO THE MEMORY OF
OF CLIFTON PARK BIRKENHEAD.
WHO DIED AT PARIS JULY 12th 1854.
AGED 54 YEARS.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord
The reason for my being intrigued is that the monument records no connection between Henry and Folkestone. If he lived locally up to his fatal trip the France, you would expect this to be stated. If he was not local, then who funded the memorial and why?
In the churchyard stands a cross. It is not a monument to a dead person or an event but a reminder of the historical past. The three-tiered base on which the cross stands is Medieval and so would the cross have originally been. The present cross, however, is later, as partially explained by the inscription:
At this cross
in ages past according to an old Charter
of Edward III preserved among the
muniments of this town
the mayor was annually elected
on the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady
RESTORED SEPTEMBER 8th 1897
There still remains some uncertainty, however. The last line of the inscription is clearly different from the rest, being all in capitals and in a similar but not identical font. This, and its position, squeezed in at the bottom, must mean that it was added later. The rest is carved in a calligraphic font that is of fairly modern appearance. So when were these lines carved and to what extent was the cross “restored”? Some sources say that it is a Victorian cross, dating from 1897, but I don’t think that is correct. It looks older than that to me. I suspect that the “restoration” replaced an existing cross on the original Medieval foundation stones, though these have also been repositioned, but when that cross was made I do not know.
We went down as far as the harbour where I took the above photo and watched some gulls drinking and bathing in a little stream of freshwater that empties into it, then we turned to make our way uphill again.
Folkestone now boasts a Creative Quarter, which means that there is a lot of art about in the town. In the Tram Road car park is the above work, the Minotaur’s head. There was no plate identifying the artist but the consensus is that it is by local artist Sophie Dryver, perhaps better known for her sculptures of semi-humanoid hares. In Greek myth, the Minotaur was a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull who ate the flesh of the several humans regularly sacrificed to him. This one, though, seems relatively benign.
Making our way up Tontine Street, we came upon Beano’s, a vegetarian cafe bar. We were not yet ready for a full meal but felt a little peckish nonetheless. We enquired after their soup of the day (served with crusty bread) and found it excellent. One to revisit when we next come to Folkestone.
Just up the road is a neat little pub – or, rather, ex-pub – called the Brewery Tap. The pub opened no later than 1870 and was literally what the name suggests, the pub attached to a brewery. The Imperial Brewery was founded in about 1734 and a century or so later changed its name to the Atlas Brewery. Later, the current owners sold the brewery and the pub to Mackesons, who decorated the façade with their brand name. It ceased to be a pub around 2009 and is today part of UCA (University for the Creative Arts).
At the top of the hill are two notable buildings. The higher is called Grace Chapel, an impressive if somewhat severe-looking structure. I don’t know much about it other than what the foundation stone records, that is, that the stone was laid by the Mayor of Folkestone on October 23rd 1895. As well as a chapel there is a school. I rather like the stylish wooden doors reached through a short porch. There are two figures in silhouette above the doors, one male, one female. Are they Adam and Eve? Their nakedness suggests that they might be. The male appears to be reading and the female writing, so perhaps they are indicative of education.
Next to the chapel, slightly lower down the hill, is the Library and Museum. The date over the door is 1887, though the library was possibly founded on another site previously. This is certainly the case for the museum which started in 1868 and moved here later. We went in and although the interior has been remodelled, would have like to take photographs. As usual, we politely asked permission to do so. The library assistant did not know whether this was allowed or not and phoned the person in charge. This lady came to speak to us but said she did not know whether it was allowed either. She would have to ask the Press Office but the Press office is, of course, closed on Saturdays. So, no photos. We have met this situation before though it is, happily, relatively rare. The person in charge is usually sensible enough to allow photos on the understanding that we photograph the building and avoid photographing people.
By now we felt we had seen enough of Folkestone and made for the station once more. Reaching St Pancras, we saw what we had not noticed when we started out in the morning.
It is a new work of art in the St Pancras Station exhibition space called Terrace Wires. The name is reasonable enough since the location is the St Pancras Station terrace and the works are hung from wires! The work currently on view is called Chromolocomotion and is by David Batchelor. Below it on the right you can also spot part of Paul Day’s famous sculpture The Meeting Place. We wondered whether Chromolocomotion had been inspired by the game Tetris :)
If our day out had been a little lacklustre it at least ended on colourful note!