Multi-cultural and artistic Folkestone

Today we are off into Kent again by the HS1. Grabbing tickets and a take-away breakfast, we boarded the fast train to Margate. We will not go to Margate, however, but will change trains at Ashford International for our final destination.

Ashford International
Ashford International
”International” because the Eurostar stops here

It is a day of cloud and sun so far, with pale blue sky between tumbled heaps of white in which it is tempting to see mountains and mythical castles. A day, in short, to go lightly clad but with a spare jumper in your bag.

Sparrow Sparrow
We met these appealing little fellows on Ashford station

At Ashford, we transfer to the Ramsgate train. This train splits in two parts that continue on to different destinations so you need to be in the correct section. In our case, that is the front part, consisting of four carriages, that will take us to Folkestone, our destination for today.

Walking to town
Walking to town
Sunshine but a threatening sky

It’s a bit of a walk from Folkestone station to the town centre but we undertook it in good heart. You can see from the above photo, though, that in spite of the sunshine, the sky had taken on a more threatening expression.

Sandgate Road
Sandgate Road
One of Folkestone’s wider streets

Folkestone has some wide streets, like Sandgate Road, pictured above, and…

Church Street
Church Street
With the quaintly named Rendezvous Street on the left

…it has a lot of narrower ones, such as Church Street, which is shown above where the picturesquely named Rendezvous Street meets it.

Old Town Hall
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall, now a retail outlet, dates from 1860

Folkestone has its share of older, nobler buildings, such as the 1860s Old Town Hall, but most of these look as if they have seen better days. (Come to that, many of the modern buildings look as if they have seen better days…) This was previous a Waterstone’s bookshop and the current tenants seem to be on the point of leaving.

Market day
Market day
Saturday is market day in Folkestone

On Saturday the market is held in Folkestone and this creates a lively and colourful scene, especially when the sun shines (which it did, intermittently).

Multi-cultural event Multi-cultural event
Gurkha food stall
Multi-Cultural Festival
Folkestone’s Multi-Cultural Festival, June 11th-12th

Folkestone was enjoying a Multi-Cultural Festival over the weekend and there were street stalls where all kinds of goods were on sale and various activities of a more or less cultural nature were taking place, all very animated and colourful.

Cruising gull
Cruising gull
The gulls were of course cruising about keeping an eye on things
(especially eatable things!)

Folkestone is a seaside town and on a clear day you can see France on the other side of the Channel. Gulls are plentiful in the town, entertaining or annoying, depending on your outlook and mood.

Lenberg College
Lenberg College
Was it Lenberg or have letters been lost from the name?

I was intrigued by the name “LENBERG COLLEGE .” with its emphatic full stop. I don’t know whether that was really its name or whether some of the letters have been lost as a result of the building having been damaged and partly rebuilt. The building is Victorian and the inscription looks original so may well date from then.

Two pigs One pig
Blue-eyed pigs
Was this once a butcher’s shop?

We walked along Bayle Street, where we saw these colourful blue-eyed pigs looking down at passers-by and I wondered whether this house was once a pork butcher’s shop. I hope not. I hope it was simply decorated by someone who liked pigs.

Mence Smith
Mence Smith
Once a retailer of art materials, today an art gallery

Next to the pigs’ house stands this old art shop with intriguing representations flat fish and a sword fish (round the corner) attached to the sides. The shop is on the corner with what is sometimes called “High Street” and sometimes “The Old High Street”. This is one of the streets belonging to what has been designated the “Creative Quarter”.

(Old) High Street - looking down
The (Old) High Street – looking down
The street slopes quite steeply down towards the harbour

The big arched sign “Creative Quarter” stands at the beginning of the sloping (Old) High Street, which curves becomingly as it descends. This was once a main shopping road but seems to have got left behind by passing time.

(Old) High Street - looking up
(Old) High Street – looking up
Many premises are boarded up but are being refurbished and readied for use

Folkestone used to have a cross-Channel ferry port. Even though it always played second fiddle to Dover, many of us remember travelling to France from here. The ferry port closed in 2000 and when we visited Folkestone a few years ago, it looked like a town on its uppers, with many shops and businesses premises boarded up. There was an air of desolation to the place.

A coffee house
A coffee house
Somewhere to dodge the rain

At first sight, the High Street, despite its “creative” new image, seemed to fit into that pattern of decay. To add to the mournful feeling, it began to rain, so we quickly took shelter in a coffee bar. Whether it was “creative”, I cannot say, but it was handy.

The sun shines
The sun shines
Sunlight presented an altogether more optimistic outlook

When we emerged, the rain had gone and the sun was shining. Looking with more cheerful eyes, I could see that the shops were not merely boarded up but that they were workshops: work was going on refitting them and preparing them for new occupants. There was an air of optimism and productive bustle.

Silver tiger on a tee shirt
Silver tiger on a tee shirt
They must have known I was coming

This year, the town is celebrating the Folkestone Triennial 2011, with plans to create art works and put them… well, everywhere, really. Is that such a good idea?, you naturally ask. (Or you do, if you’re me.) I suppose each of us must answer that according to our individual taste and preferences. Here are a couple of samples.

Hare and hound (Unknown artist) Horned head (Unknown artist)
Public art
These works are perhaps part of the Triennial project

These objects are perhaps part of the Triennial but there is no information to confirm or deny this, no artists’ names. The horned beast made me think of the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Folkestone Harbour
Folkestone Harbour
A sandy bed for the boats when the tide is out

At the bottom of the Old High Street, we crossed to the harbour and walked along the quay. The harbour itself was quiet because the tide was out, leaving it dry. We had lunch in a cafe called The Captain’s Table before continuing.

A sandy beach
A sandy beach
On the hill you can see a member of the chain of Martello Towers (painted white)

On the other side of the harbour is a broad sandy beach but it was virtually deserted. Beyond this, on the cliff top , you can see a white-painted Martello Tower. I think this one is available to rent as a holiday cottage.

Brewery Tap
Brewery Tap
A fine example of an Edwardian pub, now refurbished
for other uses

We turned back through the town, where we stopped to photograph this rather fine Edwardian pub now being diverted into other purposes) and take a look at the public library and museum.

Public Library
Public Library
Built in 1886, it also houses the museum

The library contained a rather pretty glass screen dividing a smaller study room from the main room. We also went upstairs to have a rummage around in the small museum.

The Leas Cliff Lift
The Leas Cliff Lift
This 19th century lift is of traditional design and is still functioning as intended

We went up to a road or promenade that runs along the cliff and is called The Leas. We here encountered the Leas Cliff Lift, which was just closing for the day. This originally opened for service in 1885 and is still going strong, carrying passengers up and down the cliff. It is of a traditional design, using water to weight the upper car for descent.

View from the Leas
View from the Leas
Looking east towards the harbour

It was becoming rather cold and I was feeling somewhat grumpy because of this. I would have been happy to go to the station but Tigger wanted to wait for an advertised fly-pass of the Red Arrows. As they were coming from a previous engagement they were late and my mood was not improved by the suspicion that they were not coming after all.

Local hero: William Harvey
Local hero: William Harvey
Discoverer of the circulation of the blood

While waiting, I photographed this pigeon besmirched statue labelled simply “Harvey”  (referring of course to William Harvey, local boy and discoverer of the circulation of the blood),…

Lion frieze Lion head
A frieze of lions
This decorates the viewing platform where we waited for the Red Arrows

photographed some lions,…

Gull lit by evening sun Gull lit by evening sun Gull lit by evening sun
Lit by evening sunlight

and a gull faffing around in the evening sunlight. (I like gulls, as you have noticed.)

The Red Arrows turned up just as we decided to leave. I didn’t bother photographing them as all there was to see was a group of 8 planes which flew straight over and just farted some black smoke before disappearing beyond the horizon. I blinked and almost missed it.

Christ Church Tower
Christ Church Tower
All that remains of the church

We walked back across town now, heading for the station, but still ready to take in anything of interest. There was plenty of interest too. For one, here is the tower of Christ Church. It is all that is left of the church that, consecrated in 1850, was destroyed by enemy action in 1942. God must have looked the other way for a moment.

101 hands 1925 hand
101 hands
A century of hands and the hand of 1925

As you approach the station, you encounter another piece of public art and I have to say I rather like this one. It consists of 101 hand prints, one for each of the years from 1900 to 2000, each the hand of a person born in that year. This too is a project developed by the Folkestone Triennial. (See Update below.)

Tiled panel Detail
From the Prince Albert Hotel
An early Victorian pub now in a rather parlous condition. Strangely,
the face resembles someone I knew years ago.

Why go to Folkestone? Actually, Folkestone, as I hope you can see, is not devoid of interest. In fact, it contains more interesting things than you can conveniently see in one day, at least if you are serious in your interest-taking. And shall I tell you a secret? This is that our first Christmas together was spent in Folkestone, so it retains a certain appeal for us. I hope the old place gets on its feet again and we shall certainly come back from time to time to see how it’s getting on.

Update July 27th 2014

The hands were made as a project for the Millennium by Strange Cargo and not by the Triennial as stated in the original text. See the comment below.

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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10 Responses to Multi-cultural and artistic Folkestone

  1. WOL says:

    It’s certainly a colorful town — with so many buildings painted in bright colors. Strange to think of a town hall turned into a retail store. I like the wall of hands, though. Interesting idea — they must have started it some years ago, as I would imagine people born in 1900 must be pretty scarce. I’m thinking that when my parents came to visit when I was stationed in Berlin, and we went across to England to visit London, the channel ferry we took from France landed at Folkestone. (a very rough crossing!) It was in London that our ways parted. My parents flew home from London, and I crossed to Amsterdam, and trained back to Berlin.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Houses painted in bright colours are typical of English seaside towns and, indeed, other places as well. You usually find them in groups as though one household has had the idea and others have followed suit, each choosing a different colour.

      According to the strange cargo site, the “hands” project – called somewhat inaccurately “Like the Back of my Hand” – was conceived in the year 2000. The earliest participants must therefore have been over 100 years old by the time they contributed their hand prints.

      The English Channel, despite its narrowness, can be extremely rough. I too have experienced some very bouncy crossings on the car ferry and have on occasion been diverted to the ferry from the hovercraft when conditions were considered too choppy for the latter to venture out.

  2. mjdavi says:

    thanks for your article very interesting!

  3. Strange Cargo says:

    Hi, just to make a correction to the item about the hands at Folkestone Station. This artwork was made by Folkestone arts company Strange Cargo for the Millennium and is not one of the Folkestone Triennial artworks who run the gallery at the corner of the Old High Street.

  4. Ruby says:

    Thank you – this is a great page. Re Christ Church and your comment “God must have looked the other way for a moment.” I have to say nothing could be further from the truth – sadly two ladies died in the bombing. They had arrived early for church – had the bombing occurred half an hour later the church would have been full of worshippers.

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