FOLKESTONE'S FISHING INDUSTRY - PAST AND PRESENT

Folkestone was founded on its fishing industry, exemplified by the Town Emblem of three men on a fishing boat. The history of these enterprises extends back to pre-Roman times when shellfish were exported to Gaul (Northern France). It is a fundamental asset that has benefited the Town throughout the centuries as our natural heritage. Although both Town and Harbour developed in many different ways, fishing has always remained of significant importance, and in 1840's the railway made it a centre for fish. Centuries ago it was a very harsh, dangerous life. Before the harbour was built, storms could take away unprotected boats on the shore and even the homes of the fishermen. Fishing methods included Kiddle nets, staked out on the beach at low tide catching fish on an incoming tide; nets cast out, as in Biblical times, or dragged through the water shoulder deep. A wooden jetty was built, frequently destroyed by storms, and re-built, being replaced eventually by one of stone. It provided limited protection for the boats and homes and led eventually to the development of the harbour. In 1803, the original plan for a harbour from Copt Point cost 184,000 and a cheaper solution using Kentish Ragstone boulders placed diagonally at angles was used. The foundation stone was laid in 1808 and prefaced a period where prosperity for the harbour and also Folkestone flourished. Silt made entrance difficult, except for small fishing smacks and herring luggers, and a further wall was suggested in 1828. With arrival of the railway, a branch line down the incline to the harbour was planned in 1843. Thus fish at Folkestone could be sent by rail to London and beyond. Folkestone became the hub for fish brought into Dover, Rye and local area. When boats used sail propulsion, common methods of fishing involved long-lining and drift net fishing. Long line fishing needed more crew and bait, making it more costly, so it is not used today. Species of fish sought with drift nets such as sprats, herring and mackerel are not now common in local waters, so this method was also discontinued. Despite recent contraction of the industry due to economics, perverse and pernicious legislation, and frequent overfishing by boats of other nations, it still survives, but today supports only about twenty-two men operating nine boats. This is a far cry from being the Town's main industry, with about three hundred men operating up to sixty boats. Most fishermen then lived on the Stade, in East Street, Radnor Street, North Street or Dover Street, and many rarely went beyond the railway arches. Robert 'Jacko' Fagg saw Hawkinge for the first time in his life, only when taken for a country drive. Current fishing practise uses trawling, requiring more power than sails alone could provide, and monofilament nets, crab and lobster and whelk pots and scallop dredging. Fishing, as currently practised, offers possibilities of an exciting and interesting career for young people with maturity, determination, and enthusiasm for hard work in difficult conditions. There is absolutely no other job like it!

Frank Bond and John Gale

 

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