Maritime FeaturesPast and PresentPort of Dover

Dover Eastern Docks – The Advent of Drive on Drive Off (1952-53)


It is probably hard to believe that it is now over sixty years since motorists were first able to drive their cars directly on and off the ships at the Port of Dover. We often take it for granted that we can drive into the port and drive directly on to our ship with the whole process taking a matter of minutes. Other than the train ferry direct loading (Upper car deck), ……………….

…………….people taking their cars across the Channel watched from the quayside as their cars were crane loaded as cargo into the ship’s hold as they boarded the ship on foot via the gangway. In 1953, Dover’s first two dedicated drive-on drive-off ferry berths were opened at the Eastern Docks. In the first year it was anticipated that the port would handle about 10,000 vehicles per year. In fact 100,000 vehicles were shipped, the RoRo revolution had well and truly started. To give you some idea of the scope of how much RoRo traffic has increased in the last sixty years, in 2017 the Port of Dover handled 2,180,611 tourist vehicles, 79,638 coaches and 2,601,162 freight vehicles, now imagine that being crane loaded!

Roy Thornton Collection

Construction Begins

The Dover Harbour Board began work on the new £700,000 Eastern Docks Terminal within the Camber in October 1951. The area chosen was on reclaimed land at the foot of the Eastern Arm and beneath the famous chalk cliffs.

The main features of the development were to be two loading berths, each 400 feet long; the twin portals suspending the loading bridges. The twin linkspans weighed in at 140 tons and rose and fell automatically with the tide giving a vertical travel of 34’ 9“. The landside of the development consisted of car transit parks and their approaches, customs hall and a reception building housing a restaurant and shop, the offices of the shipping companies and motoring organizations, a bank, rest rooms and so on.

Courtesy of Lisa Hudson

© Lambert Weston © Lambert Weston

© Lambert Weston


Courtesy of Lisa Hudson

© Lambert Weston  © Lambert Weston 

 © Lambert Weston 


Roy Thornton Collection

Construction Completed

Construction of Dover’s first two ferry berths was completed in the spring of 1953. On the 30th June 1953, the then Minister of Transport, the late Rt. Hon. Alan T. Lennox-Boyd, MP, performed the official opening ceremony. It was a momentous occasion which has been reflected in the growth of cross Channel traffic ever since. Not just in tourist car traffic but in all forms of vehicles. From motorcycles and coaches through to the present day large freight vehicles. After the new terminal was opened it was the Sealink steamer DINARD which inaugurated the new service from Dover “East” to Boulogne on July 3rd 1953.

© Lambert Weston  © Lambert Weston © Lambert Weston

© Lambert Weston

Roy Thornton Collection  Roy Thornton Collection    

Roy Thornton Collection  

Roy Thornton Collection  Roy Thornton Collection  


Roy Thornton Collection  Roy Thornton Collection Courtesy of Derrick Packman Roy Thornton Collection  Roy Thornton Collection

Roy Thornton Collection & 🆕 Courtesy of Derrick Packman

Eastern Docks circa 1950






Courtesy of Lisa Hudson (circa 1950)

Roy Thornton Collection

Eastern Docks circa 1960

During the summer season, the Car Ferry Terminal would handle up to seven arrivals and seven departures each day and in the first year of opening 100,000 vehicles used numbers 1 & 2 berths.



Roy Thornton Collection (all)

Courtesy of Colin Hartley  Courtesy of Colin Hartley

Courtesy of Colin Hartley

Eastern Docks circa 1970





circa 1970

The original Nos. 1 and 2 berth portals lasted until 1988 when they were demolished to make way for the Camber reclamation scheme. The Harbour Board crests were carefully removed and were preserved.


© Port of Dover (left) and © Mark Willis (Right)

All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions. All items included in this article are subject to © copyright. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking: The Port of Dover, Colin Hartley, Lisa Hudson, Matt Murtland, Derrick Packman and Mark Willis for their assistance in producing this feature.

Article © Nigel Thornton & Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)

One Comment

  1. Thank you I have just watched a program called Coast. Although they said about the channel convoys of WW2 they never mentioned the [ what I thought ] where sub pens in Dover Harbour. I was convinced I had seen them in the 1960s when I started to drive on the continent, but I must say in 1954/5 we went on a two week holiday with the school and our coach was crained onto the deck of the cross channel ferry
    IT ALSO COST MY DAD £11 FOR THE TWO WEEKS lets see you do that today

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