Museum opening hours: Welcome to Folkestone Museum

The Town Hall, 1-2 Guildhall Street, Folkestone, CT20 1DY

01303 257946



As a natural bay, Folkestone has a long history of fishing and seafaring. A proper harbour was built here during the reign of Henry VIII, who visited the town in 1543, but constant storm damage and silting problems meant it was always in poor repair for the next 300 years.

Fishing was a major employer in the town for centuries, although sometimes smuggling paid higher wages and proved irresistible to Folkestone boatmen. While the town on the cliff became a fashionable resort, The Stade and harbour area remained a warren of fishermen’s hovels, fish markets, sail lofts, net drying sheds, ships chandlers and pubs.

Smuggling became big business in Folkestone – almost every fisherman was involved, as were most farm labourers who helped unload the goods. In 1746 a Royal Commission stated that 6 tons of tea and 1000 gallons of brandy were smuggled into Folkestone each week.

The English Channel has always been a very busy yet very dangerous sea. Storms, tides, rocks and sandbanks have led to many local shipwrecks. The Bienvenue, sailing from London to Australia, ran aground off Sandgate in November 1891. An attempt to reach The Bienvenue was made by the Sandgate lifeboat but the lifeboat overturned and one man was killed.

In 1809 work began on a true stone-built harbour and by 1820 a 14-acre enclosed harbour was complete. In 1842 the harbour was purchased by the South Eastern Railway who redeveloped and improved it to accommodate Paddle Steamer Packets Boats, providing a fast passenger service to Boulogne.

The ferry terminal closed in 2000 but the old harbour is still the home of the Folkestone fishing fleet, yachts and other pleasure craft.

‘Folkestone fishermen are generally good-natured improvident fellows, who live well while they have money, and starve when they haven’t, and have knowing, queer tales to tell you’
Handbook of Folkestone by S. J. Mackie 1859
‘The Folkestone herrings were once in great repute, and during the last months of the year, the town was in a state of slush and perfume, with the cartloads which were being washed and dried in the various “hangs”.’
Handbook of Folkestone by S. J. Mackie 1859
Dr. William Harvey (1578 – 1657)
The Harvey family were great local philanthropists, providing money and facilities for Folkestone fishermen, including a communal net tanning house. William Harvey famously discovered the circulation of blood in 1628.

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