standard The Dover Train Ferry Dock

21/06/2013: Additional history (re maintenance) and pics added. Special thanks to “Marconista”


Between 1884 and 1914 several attempts were made to get a train ferry service between Britain and France. Among these was the rejected 1930 Channel Tunnel Project. As a result Sir Herbert Walker, General Manager of the Southern Railway, was authorised by his Directors to plan a cross-channel train ferry service.

Sir Herbert spent a good deal of time formulating his plans, and Dunkirk was chosen as the French terminal. In England the choice fell, after some deliberation, on Dover rather than Richborough, where constant dredging would have been necessary to keep the waterways navigable.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

In 1933 Southern Railway undertook to order three new ferryboats and to construct a ferry dock at Dover. It was agreed that a site, lying between the South Pier and the base of the Admiralty Pier, would be suitable. Tenders for the engineering works were invited in the summer and orders for the ferries were place in June with Messrs. Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd., Walker-on-Tyne.

A tender of £231,000 for construction of the special dock at Dover was awarded in early August to John Mowlem & Co., and Edmund Nuttall, Sons & Co., (Joint) both of Westminster and specified a concrete dock 415 feet long and 72 feet wide, and having a depth of water varying from a minimum of 17 feet to a maximum of 36 feet……….

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

…………. These dimensions would give a maximum 30 minutes delay for berthing. Gates of the “box” type permitted the entry of ships, and to assist berthing a 362-foot long pile and concrete jetty was built outside the dock. An electrically operated lifting bridge or 60 feet long link span long and wide enough to hold two lines of track was also to be built ……

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

…… Provision was made for locking the vessels to the bridge with a steel pin and for pumping water into the dock bringing the vessel up to a level where the train could be shipped.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection (all)

The pump house was to have three sets of vertical spindle centrifugal pumps of 230 hp, together able to move 720,000 gallons per hour.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

The permanent lock gates presented a problem, nothing like them having been attempted before. Divers laid more foundations, and the twin 30-ton lock gates built and installed in a pontoon. They were hinged at the bottom to fall to a horizontal when opened, to rest on the dock floor. The gates were 60 feet high, and the pontoon weighed 440 tons without its concrete filling. It was, however, successfully sunk, only one-tenth of an inch out of true.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Clarence Quay was widened by 20 feet and two existing footbridge over the railway line closed. A new overhead walkway for passengers was constructed from Marine Station to the dock.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Work began in 1933 with the building of a sheet metal cofferdam to be backed with an earth embankment, but during storms of the following winter, this was washed away. An alternative scheme was tried using 10-ton concrete blocks to form a permanent wall on foundations laid on the seabed.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection (all)

The summer of 1936 saw the work completed. Sill and dock gates for the entrance were completed locally on the quayside…….

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

……of the tidal harbour, the former ready and ‘launched’ on January 22nd, and the latter on June 18th and July 7th. At about the same time the machinery and pumping apparatus were completed and the link span bridge erected. On September 28th the HAMPTON FERRY was first of the trio to pass through into the new dock.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

The HAMPTON FERRY made the first sailing from the dock on October 3rd 1936. This was followed by TWICKENHAM FERRY on October 6th and later, on November 14th, by SHEPPERTON FERRY.

Together with sleeping car and goods wagons……..

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

……… each ferry had an upper garage deck which could accommodate 25cars, although cars could not be driven on or off the vessels until a concrete side ramp was finished in June 1937.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection (all)

“Consequent upon the occupation of the Channel ports by the enemy, the ferry service to the Continent was finally discontinued in May 1940 and was not resumed until the re-opening of the French ports, when the dock was again brought into use for the embarkation of rolling-stock to serve the Allies in the final operations in north-west Europe. The original ferry vessels were employed for this purpose but, in order for them to operate on the far shore without normal terminal facilities, they were fitted with overhanging stern gantries capable of uploading locomotives weighing up to 80 tons; these gantries were also used for putting into position a portable link span over which rolling-stock could be run ashore.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection

Nigel Thornton Collection (both)

As the overhang of the gantries fouled the link span structure at the Dover ferry dock to an extent which prevented the ferry vessels from taking up their normal position in the dock, it was necessary to construct a temporary extension to the link span, and during this time the vessels were being used in this way, it was only possible to raise the outer of the two gates when the sip was in dock. This, in turn, involved regular use of the outer strut gates every time it was necessary to maintain the level of the water in the dock above that of the tide.

After the end if hostilities, the restoration of the normal ferry service depended on the reconstruction of the Dunkirk terminal and the reconditioning of the ferry vessels, including the removal of the special gantries. Until this could be done, a reduced service, chiefly for military traffic, was maintained, and it was decided to take advantage of the fact that this was not run to time-table to achieve the maximum possible reconditioning of the dock, including the repainting of the gates, before a time-table service could be introduced.

For the careening of the gates the only suitable equipment conveniently available was the patent slipway, belong to the Dover Harbour Board and situated in the Wellington Dock…….In the event the inner gate was removed, repainted and returned between March and June 1946,and the outer gate between April and June 1947”

“Maintenance Operations 1946-47 on the Box Gates….” The Institute of Civil Engineers, Maritime and Waterways Engineering Division (Session 1948-49)

The Institute of Civil Engineers

The Institute of Civil Engineers

The Institute of Civil Engineers

The Institute of Civil Engineers

The Institute of Civil Engineers

© The Institute of Civil Engineers (all)

© Ken Larwood

© Ken Larwood

© Ken Larwood

© Ken Larwood

© Ken Larwood (all)

Although the “Night Ferry” service finally ended on 31st October 1980 the dock continued to be used until its closure on May 16th 1988. After a “hiccup” with the new Admiralty Pier, December 28th – 30th 1988, it was finally closed and the tracks were lifted, the overhead link from the Marine Station was dismantled and the link-span removed.

The site is now occupied by Brett Hall Aggregates who maintain a marine terminal where they process marine dredged aggregate.

How the area looks today……..

© Ray Goodfellow

The Western Docks today showing the Aggregate yard © Ray Goodfellow

© Ray Goodfellow

The entrance to the old train ferry dock © Ray Goodfellow

© Ray Goodfellow

© Ray Goodfellow

© Ray Goodfellow

© Ray Goodfellow

© Ray Goodfellow

South Pier Boarding Station (H M Customs) © Ray Goodfellow

Further Reading: Twickenham Ferry, Hampton Ferry, Shepperton Ferry, Vortigern, Cambridge FerryNord Pas de Calais Past and Present Files.

Special thanks to Ken Larwood and Mike Jackson for their assistance.


Article © Nigel Thornton (Dover Ferry Photos Group) all photographs featured are from the Roy Thornton Collection unless otherwise stated.

2 Comments

  1. I was sorry to see it go and i was part of the crew that demolished it. sorry i have no photo,s of it but it was an amazing feat of engineering. I also was part of the team that built the sand and gravel plant that still stands there today

    1. Hi Jim,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and for sharing your memory of the train ferry dock.

      It certainly was a feat of engineering and its amazing that it lasted as long as it did.

      Best Wishes

      Ray

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