It all started with St Eanswythe, daughter of Eadbald King of Kent, founding a nunnery on the white cliffs headland in the second half of the 7th century. Folkstone was granted a Charter of Incorporation in 1313 although it was never one of the Cinque Ports of the south coast. This is a potted history and random tour of the town informed by the perambulation down from Folkestone West railway station to Rocksalt restaurant overlooking the harbour for lunch, taking in the air and the sights and the food and the wine. Pevsner Guide in hand. Salty samphire and seaweed butter to come.
The Parish Church is dedicated to two female saints: St Mary and St Eanswythe. This millennium old place of worship forms a focal point for the old town and adjoining artists’ quarter slipping down to the sea. The hidden relics of St Eanswythe were discovered in 1885 when masons were preparing the sanctuary wall for alabaster arcading. The Prayer for the Feast Day of the saintly princess is, “Almighty God, the source of all holiness and the author of all charity; grant that we may so follow the footsteps of blessed Eanswythe, our patron; that encouraged by her example and strengthened by her prayers we may ever show forth the same spirit of holiness and love, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rendezvous Street is a nod across the Channel although being Franglais doesn’t go the whole hog, not le cochon entier, like say Sans Souci Park in Belfast.
In Kent North East and East Pevsner Architecture Guide, 2013, John Newman uses the adjective “handsome” a lot to describe the stuccoed delights that grace this overwhelmingly Victorian resort, especially The Leas, and with good reason. Like most seaside resorts, it was the arrival of the railway heralded Folkestone’s expansion. South Eastern Railway’s main line from London to Dover, engineered by William Cubitt, reached the town in 1843. The following decade the Earl of Radnor developed his Folkestone Estate, employing architect Sidney Smirke.
Stucco gave way to greyish yellow brick. High on the hillside overlooking the decks of Hotel Grand Burstin is a force of late Victoriana, its architecture as commanding as its view. A metal sign on the garden gate states: “Dominating the view of The Bayle from the harbour is a large building known as Shangri La. It is at the southern end of a rather fine terrace replacing an earlier building on the site known as Bellevue House. The terrace was constructed in 1894 by Mr Hoad, a local builder of some renown, who died in 1901. It is believed by some that the building was a German Consulate used by spies during World War I to send signals to enemy ships. One of the reasons put forward to support this is a ‘German Eagle’ can be seen under the upper windows: it is in fact a griffin. The gables of the rest of the terrace are adorned with various sea monsters.” A central tower on the seaside elevation is glazed on all sides and capped with an ogee shaped copper roof. The street facing gable of Shangri La is painted white; its neighbour’s has been painted an alarming shade of blue that manages to clash with the sky whatever the weather.
Greyish yellow brick gave way to yellowy grey brick. Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s modernist intervention contrasts with its neoclassical neighbours in The Leas. The Welfare Insurance Building, completed in 1972, is now apartments. Its bow ended windowless tower is a soaring example of coastal brutalism while the attached tiers of cascading apartments resemble The Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury, London, designed by Patrick Hodgkinson a decade earlier.
Yellowy grey brick gave way to render. Messrs Burstin and Bacon have a lot to answer for in the eyes of some connoisseurs of style. Grand Hotel Burstin isn’t bursting with everyone’s taste. It replaced the 230 bedroom multi turreted Royal Pavilion Hotel with a whopping 500 bedroom 14 storey building designed to resemble a stranded ocean liner or at least one that has crashed onto dry land. The Folkestone Herald recorded on 19 January 1980, “John Gluntz, Deputy Controller of Shepway District Council`s Technical and Planning Services Department, said the Council has no details of Mr Burstin`s plans. ‘We`re glad to see the Royal Pavilion go down, but we would be interested to see his ideas for development.’” No doubt Mr Gluntz was interested to see Mr Bustin’s architect Mr Bacon’s ideas for development. The Grand Hotel Burstin is many things to many people but subtle to none. In place of “handsome” Pevsner calls it “crude and silly”.
Render gives way to glass. A curved transparent wall allows a full view of the harbour from the lunch table in Rocksalt restaurant.