The Night Ferry (Shipping Timeline).
April 24th 1924
Harwich – Zeebrugge train ferry inaugurated by Great Eastern Train Ferries.
Société Anonymé de Navigation Alsace-Lorraine – Angleterre (ALA) registered in Paris; renamed Angleterre-Lorraine-Alsace on February 23rd 1927. Owned by LMS Railway and Nord Railway associate SAGA.
May 12th 1927
Start of ALA/LMS steamer service Dunkerkerque-Tilbury using ex-LMS Irish Sea steamers LORRAIN (ex RATHMORE), FLAMAND (ex LONDONDERRY) and ALSACIEN (ex DUKE OF ARGYLL).
March 15th 1928
ALA buys DUKE OF CUMBERLAND (renamed PICARD), replacing LORRAIN.
British Parliament turns down Channel Tunnel proposal by 179 votes to 172 on a free vote. Sir Herbert Walker, General Manager of Southern Railway, starts negotiations for a Dover-Dunkerque train ferry in November.
February 29th 1932
Southern Railway buys out LMS shareholding in ALA steamship company.
May 1st 1932
ALA starts running Dunkerque-Folkestone instead of Dunkerque-Tilbury.
LNER buys up Great Eastern Train Ferries and starts a (tidal) Harwich-Calais freight train ferry, using Calais wartime linkspan.
Contract let to J. Mowlen for Dover train ferry dock. Southern Railway buys most of SAGA shares in ALA and gains control.
March 15th 1934
TWICKENHAM FERRY launched at Swan Hunter shipyard, Wallsend.
July 30th 1934
HAMPTON FERRY launched at Swan Hunter yard by Lady Abell, wife of SR’s consultant Sir Wescott Abell, Professor of Naval Architecture, Newcastle University.
October 23rd 1934
SHEPPERTON FERRY launched .
November 30th 1934
Conference of SR, Nord and CIWL decides to postpone start of service (planned for 10th August 1935) to October 1936 due to delay in completing Dover train ferry dock.
November 5th 1935
First of twelve Type F sleeping cars delivered to Wagons-Lits bt Ateliers de Construction du Nord de la France; cars stored at Aulnoye until needed.
September 22nd 1936
TWICKENHAM FERRY sold to ALA and re-registered at Dunkerque (instead of London), with French crew and flag, but name unchanged.
October 4th 1936
ALA Dunkerque-Folkestone service ends.
October 6th 1936
Freight service starts via Dover-Dunkerque train ferry. LNER gives up Harwich-Calais service.
October 10th – 12th 1936
Sleeping car trials.
October 13th – 14th 1936
Inaugural party travels from Paris to London in two trains of six sleeping cars.
October 14th – 15th 1936
First-ever through passenger train from Britain to mainland Europe for the general public. Also carries the London-Paris mail.
October 15th – 16th 1936
Service commences both ways, nightly except Christmas Day.
November 1st 1936
Non-supplement Pullman car added to SR trains to provide supper and breakfast for Night Ferry passengers.
ALA ships FLAMAND and ALSACIEN sold for scrap. PICARD sold to Greece.
August 31st 1937
33,000 sleeping car passengers carried since October 1936, plus 30,000 “seats” passengers.
October 26th 1937
CIWL orders six more Type F cars from its car-building subsidiary Compagnie Générale de Construction, St. Denis, Paris.
January 1st 1938
Nord Railway nationalised to become Nord Region of SNCF.
Six new Night Ferry sleeping cars delivered to CIWL., for completion in their own workshops.
September 3rd 1939
May 8th 1945
Night Ferry cannot restart because port of Dunkerque (except linkspan berth) wrecked and blocked, and because British Army require the train ferries for BAOR freight and mail via Dover-Calais )Nottingham-Herford military store train).
October 31st 1947
TWICKENHAM FERRY handed back to ALA, after all three train ferries have been converted to oil-burning at Glasgow.
December 14th 1947
Night Ferry starts from Paris; both ways from December 15th.
January 1st 1948
Southern Railway nationalised (but not Pullman Car Company). Pullman now staff BR restaurant car in Night Ferry. WL car Dunkerque-Paris and v.v. added early 1949.
Wagons-Lits orders seven new sleeping cars from Cie. Générale de Construction, St. Denis.
July 25th 1951
Seven new Wagons-Lits Type F sleeping cars enter service, total now 20. Normally six each way per night. BR press for a London-Brussels sleeper, without success.
Severe winter; Dunkerque harbour frozen, delaying Night Ferry.
February 20th 1959
Dover Marine closed until March 1st for layout alteration. Engine spurs removed.Platforms extended landwards to take longer trains, requiring construction of new section of footbridge to ferry berth.
January 1st 1962
Dover – London Night Ferry steam-hauled due to severe weather. Last-ever use of steam on the service in Britain.
July 26th 1963
Class 71 locomotive E5021 on up Night Ferry crashes into buffers at London Victoria.The only accident to the Night Ferry train in 44 years.
Class 71 type locomotive
August 21st 1963
TWICKENHAM FERRY entering Dunkerque harbour towed by tug ROBUSTE with tug BELIER attached to the stern; for some unknown reason the BELIER sank in less that a minute. Five drowned, four saved by ALA launch CANODALA.
February 6th 1964
Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport, gives go-ahead to Channel Tunnel.
October 2nd 1967
BR starts Harwich- Dunkerque freight train ferry with ESSEX FERRY and NORFOLK FERRY.
May 19th to June 13th 1968
French seaman’s strike. Night Ferry sleepers stranded in London for a week and then return empty to Paris and Brussels by special sailing Dover – Zeebrugge.
HAMPTON FERRY taken off Night Ferry service, continues as freight train ferry Dover – Dunkerque until autumn, then laid up at Holyhead for disposal.
Multi-purpose VORTIGERN enters Dover – Boulogne service as car ferry.
October 6th 1969
First sailing of VORTIGERN with Night Ferry sleeping cars.
November 24th 1969
ALA orders new ferry SAINT ELOI for delivery December 1971.
August 26th 1972
October 12th 1972
SAINT ELOI launched at Genoa by Madame Margot Noblemaire, wife of René Margot Noblemaire, President of ALA and Director of CIWL (Director-General,1933 – 1958).
Work recommences on Channel Tunnel at both ends.
February 24th 1974
New SNCF multi-purpose ship CHARTRES arrives at Dunkerque; takes first freight sailing Dunkerque – Dover on March 25th, then occasionally takes Night Ferry sailings with sleeping cars.
May 5th 1974
SNCF suspend service until May 18th to repair Dunkerque linkspan. Replacement sailings via Calais where passengers change to first class couchettes. Last sailing by TWICKENHAM FERRY on May 4th after 22,210 crossings.
January 20th 1975
British Government halts work on Channel Tunnel unilaterally. French obliged to stop too.
March 12th 1975
July 1st 1976
Dunkerque Ouest opens for freight train ferry traffic.
July 4th/5th 1976
Night Ferry transferred to Dunkerque Ouest.
February 21st 1979
SAINT GERMAIN collides in dense fog with Liberian bulk carrier ARTADI off Dunkerque.
March 4th 1980
Sir Peter Parker, BR Chairman, announces end of Night Ferry sleepers in an interview in Paris.
October 31st 1980
Last departure of Night Ferry from London, Paris and Brussels.
SNCF announce end of Dover – Dunkerque passenger sailings, thereafter rail freight only. Passengers to go via Newhaven – Dieppe.
All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions found. All items included in this article are subject to © copyright. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking: for their assistance in compiling this feature.
Article © Nigel Thornton and Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)
Night Ferry: George Behrend/Gary Buchanan
Ferry Boat de Nuit 1936-1980: Chris Elliott/Eric Duvoskeldt
The History of Dover Harbour: Alec Hasenson
Train Ferries of Western Europe: P Ransome-Wallis
Sealink News: Various
British Rail Archives: Various