Posts tagged: gare maritime

Boulogne & The Canterbury

Boulogne in in 1965 or 1966 with the St Patrick and Normannia at the Gare Maritime. Across the Liane on the Quai Gambetta is the General Steam Navigation Co.'s Queen of the Channel which operated excursion sailings from various Thames ports until 1966.

Boulogne in 1965 or 1966 with the St Patrick and Normannia at the Gare Maritime. Across the Liane on the Quai Gambetta is the General Steam Navigation Co.'s Queen of the Channel which operated excursion sailings from various Thames ports until 1966.


Visits to Boulogne-sur-Mer are always slightly haunting for me. This port town, which was massively damaged in the Second World War, rebuilt itself into the Channel port in the 1950s and much of the 1960s. For my family, it was almost always the continental port of arrival for motoring holidays – even back in the ’80s it was still a major port with two or three million passengers passing through each year. The years since then have been tough, and it is sometimes difficult to reconcile the busy, tourist and transport-oriented Boulogne of my childhood to the more sedate town of today. Boulogne lost out to Calais in the end for a variety of reasons but it was a protracted decline, culminating in December 1991 when Sealink Stena Line, ultimate successor to the railway operators who had placed such importance in sailings to Boulogne, closed their car ferry service from Folkestone.

Just over twelve months after Sealink’s exit, the final mainstream conventional ferry service, operated by P&O, closed. Various low-profile freight services continued to Folkestone for a few years, together with Hoverspeed’s SeaCat but both ceased not long after the turn of the century. For three long years the port was desolate until Speedferries, sometimes more of a PR machine than a ferry operator, arrived in May 2004. As with most of the more recent operators, they proved to be a short-lived affair and closed amidst unpaid port dues and an arrested Speed One in late 2008.

LD Lines are the latest operator to try their hand in Boulogne. Their Norman Arrow and Côte d’Albâtre have operated between them from Dover for much of 2009 but now it seems that the route’s real saviour will be the Norman Spirit (ex-Prins Filip/P&OSL Aquitaine). Operations will, however, be from the new hub port in the Darse Sarraz Bournet – which is nearer the hoverport at La Portel than the Gare Maritime in the heart of town. And so, any unanticipated future operation by Euroferries aside, use of the traditional arrival point for cross-channel passengers has come to an end. I’ll be looking at the history of Boulogne in more detail in the future, but here are a couple of images of the famous quayside from last month. The sad state of the linkspan at berth 15, built in 1965 to coincide with the introduction of the Dover, is of particular interest – this was for many years used by Sealink’s Hengist and Horsa and is the oldest remaining span at the port; the original 1952 linkspan around the corner at berth 13 was replaced by the present double deck structure in 1984 which, having been modified for fast craft use, was in operation right up to the transfer of LD Lines to the new port in September 2009.

Berth 15, October 2009.

Berth 15, October 2009.





Standing on the Quai Gambetta to take those images, with the post-war Gare Maritime in the background, one can turn 180 degrees to see further evidence of the post-war reconstruction. Firstly, still dominating the portscape are the ‘Quatre buildings du Quai Gambetta’, four twelve-storey tower blocks, icons of French modernism which were recently the subject of an interesting exhibition at the local School of Art. Along the quayside slightly is the 1950s Chamber of Commerce building, whose interest in this case lies inside where it houses a model of perhaps the most contemporarily famous ship ever to have served the port.

The Canterbury at Boulogne.

The Canterbury at Boulogne.

The Canterbury was completed by Denny of Dumbarton in 1929, being launched just before Christmas the previous year. She was built especially for use in connection with the all-first class Golden Arrow which operated from London Victoria to Paris Nord (via Dover-Calais) from May 1929 onwards. The Canterbury benefits from perhaps the finest biography of any cross-channel vessel, the mesmerising The Canterbury Remembered, a difficult to find limited edition of only 150 copies by Henry Maxwell. Certainly I find it hard to dispute Maxwell’s assertion that the Canterbury was “probably the best known, certainly the best loved cross-channel steamer there has ever been”. It is difficult to place this fame in a modern context when ferries only attain such prominence through infamy. Yet, used as she was by the ruling elite on one of most important transport connections with the Continent she, and the Golden Arrow, seeped into the public consciousness.

Modern historians, rightly, look for an empathetic angle to any historical situation – this first class deluxe service is all well and good but how did the “real people” live, what does this ship have to do with them? During World War 2 and in her later years, the Canterbury managed to bridge the class divide that she was born in many ways to represent. A notable war service saw the ship deliver troops to Calais and Boulogne not long before both ports fell, then being present at both Dunkirk and D Day. Post-war, replaced at last by the new Invicta (which had been due for delivery in 1940 but entered railway service in 1946) she was moved over to Folkestone and operated for most of the rest of her career to Boulogne where, latterly, her passenger complements were, “in the great majority either day excursionists or members of tourist parties organised by the big travel agents: Lunn, Workers Travel Association, Wayfarers and the like”.

As such, and together with the Isle of Thanet and the early car ferries, she helped re-popularise Boulogne both as a transit port and a destination. And it was the Canterbury which opened the new Gare Maritime which we today note the closure of: designed by the architects Georges Popesco and André Lacoste this was a modernist, almost utopian vision of the future with sweeping concrete ramps and a quite unique and complete integration of car ferry terminal with railway station. Delays in the completion of the car ramp saw the official opening delayed until 16 June 1952 with an arrival by the brand new Lord Warden but it was the Canterbury which made the maiden sailing, on 30 May.

The post-war Gare Maritime with, alongisde, the Canterbury and Lord Warden (bottom left, the latter at the original car ferry berth) and the Isle of Thanet (top).

The post-war Gare Maritime with, alongside, the Canterbury and Lord Warden (bottom left, the latter at the original car ferry berth) and the Isle of Thanet (top).


New & old at Boulogne - the Canterbury alongside one of the curving concrete roadways used by departing vehicles after they had disembarked from the new car ferry at berth 13. The Quatre Buildings du Quai Gambetta can be seen on the other side of the Liane.

New & old at Boulogne - the Canterbury alongside one of the curving concrete roadways used by departing vehicles after they had disembarked from the car ferry at berth 13. The Quatre Buildings du Quai Gambetta can be seen on the other side of the Liane.


The Canterbury arriving at Boulogne stern-first late in her career.  In the foreground is the post-war Casino, designed by Marcel Bonhomme and opened in 1960, which replaced the structure damaged by fire in 1937 and left in ruins after the war. This is now the location of Nausicaä, the French National Centre for the Sea, opened in 1991.

The Canterbury arriving at Boulogne stern-first late in her career. In the foreground is the post-war Casino, designed by Marcel Bonhomme and opened in 1960, which replaced the structure damaged by fire in 1937 and left in ruins after the war. This is now the location of Nausicaä, the French National Centre for the Sea, opened in 1991.

The model of the Canterbury which resides in the foyer of the Chamber of Commerce was presented to the French nearly 50 years ago, on 4 December 1959. It was the (BR) Southern Region’s own model and was given to Boulogne at the suggestion of M. Sarraz-Bournet “as a permanent reminder of the town’s historic links with England, and as a souvenir of the ship’s long association with the port”. To this day, however, it retains its little sign noting that “this model is on loan from the collection of the British Transport Commission” (BTC).

The BTC was abolished by the Transport Act of 1962.






Boulogne was the quintessential Cross-Channel port – unlike Calais, the ferry port was physically a part of the city itself, yet clearly with a view beyond its visible horizons. Boulogne was the first taste of France for hundreds of thousands of travellers over many decades and for many the experience of arrival by ship and onward connection by rail was gripping and memorable. In his book Gateway to the Continent E W P Veale remembers “the childhood thrill of a day trip from Folkestone to Boulogne in the Lord Warden [of 1896], the old town of Boulogne rising behind the quay and crowned by the Cathedral; in the foreground the unfamiliar French rolling stock, French locomotives with working parts freely exposed and stove-pipe funnels; carriages in the smart green livery of the “Nord”; and the brown match-board panelling of the Wagons-Restaurants and Wagons-Lits.”

Recent years have not been kind – the post-war Gare Maritime remains, but in a continually declining state. Until just a couple of years ago however it was possible to wander around the abandoned railway station with its ripped up railway lines and the adjacent quaysides. Today, chain link fencing prevents even that nostalgic pleasure. Despite its cultural and architectural significance, the only future seems likely to be demolition.

The Canterbury was towed away from Dover for scrapping in Belgium in July 1965. For now, the Gare Maritime which she opened still glowers across the Liane at the Chamber of Commerce building housing that perpetual reminder of both the ship and of the sea links between Boulogne and England.

The Canterbury alongside the post war Gare Maritime.

The Canterbury alongside the post war Gare Maritime.


The Gare Maritime in August 2008, with berth 15 to the left.

The Gare Maritime in August 2008, with berth 15 to the left.


“She is moving. She is moving ever so slightly forward and as she moves her bow swings round to port and she is headed up towards the jetties…. she becomes an anthology of images: she is a swan gliding upon a lake, a floating island upon some inland sea, a seagull with wings folded at rest upon still water, a ballerina bourree-ing her way before the footlights. Barely moving and yet already with all her lines, rakes and sheers melting and deliquescent.

And now she grows in size and majesty as she enters the channel between the jetty arms, seeming taller as funnel and masts converge into one ascendant perpendicular; moving with only a sluggish ripple curving from her bows, and with another lazily upheaving behind her stern: surprisingly and surpassingly beautiful.

And behind her, in the Inner Port, there is a sudden emptiness as her presence is withdrawn – that presence which all afternoon has drawn the eye and which has constituted, of itself, a kind of heart-beat in the port, a heart-beat now stilled.

And all along the seaward-reaching jetty fishermen with their rods and lines, and innumerable strollers promenading there, see her pass. And the sluggish tide beneath them, already low about the jetty piles, falls in her wake lower yet and is sucked backwards uncovering the dark barnacle-encrusted stone on which the piles are set.

And the water as it is swallowed backwards and then sluggishly regurgitated produces a sound as of a low, reluctant sigh: as if the tide were bidding the departing ship adieu.

And as she passes the jetty’s end and stands out into the roadstead the afternoon sunlight falls directly upon her retreating stern, illuminating it with golden fire so that the lettering across it seems all to be ablaze –
CANTERBURY
LONDON

Henry Maxwell, A Boulogne departure in ‘The Canterbury Remembered’

The Canterbury leaving Boulogne.

The Canterbury leaving Boulogne.

Things Seen – October 2009

The Gare Maritime at Calais which would be destroyed early in the Second World War. During the Siege of Calais (May 1940), the harbour area became a key defensive position for the embattled British forces and Brigadier Claude Nicholson established his headquarters in this building.

The Gare Maritime at Calais which would be destroyed early in the Second World War. During the Siege of Calais (May 1940), the harbour area became a key defensive position for the embattled British forces and Brigadier Claude Nicholson established his headquarters in this building.

  • It is nearly 15 years since the final train left Calais Gare Maritime. The adjacent quayside was once one of the most important in Europe – a late departure of the Golden Arrow from here might be reported in the London evening newspapers whilst, as railway author George Behrend noted, the railway station used to be “crammed with International Expresses to meet every packet” – nightly departures to Istanbul, Berlin, Rome, Trieste, San Remo, Monte Carlo, Nice and Bucharest; the ‘Train Bleu’, the ‘Rome Express’, part of the ‘Orient Express’ and, in earlier years the ‘Peninsular Express’ to India via Brindisi, or the ‘Bombay Express’ via Marseille. The restaurant at the station before the Second World War was known as one of Europe’s finest eateries, the perfect place to while away the time between arriving off the steamer from Dover and the departure of your Wagon-Lits.

    Ron Fisher has some splendid images of trains at the station, as well as at Boulogne, in the 1960s to the ’80s. Meanwhile Mike Irlam’s site has an almost Behrend-style narrative of a typical journey on the Golden Arrow in its heyday.
    Over on youtube, there is a superb two part-British Transport Films production celebrating the post war Golden Arrow:

    Part One
    Part Two

    Great times, and the sight today of the post-war Gare Maritime building still standing, but used as little more than a rest point with lavatories and vending machines for truckers and motorists waiting to board the modern cross-channel ferries is really quite heartbreaking, even for those of us for whom hours at the station represented SNCF strikes, delayed trains and missed connections.

  • Down the coast slightly, at Dieppe, the station closed in 1994 when Stena Sealink transferred ferry traffic to the new port on the other side of the harbour. Readers of Continental Modeller should look out for an upcoming piece by David Thomas regarding the railway station, whilst the websites of Roland Arzul and Paul Smith have plenty of information and images.
  • Dieppe's 1954-built Gare Maritime.

    Dieppe's 1954-built Gare Maritime.

  • The recent grounding of the Marko Polo brought to mind the not dissimilar case of the Swan Hunter-built Proleterka near Murter in 1969. The Proleterka was scrapped after this experience – let’s hope the story of the former Peter Wessel has a happier ending. The Simplon website has some images of the 1969 accident.
  • The British Pathé website is a real treasure trove with an archive covering the best part of a century. Included in the archive are a number of memorable shipping-related films including:

    “Something new in ferryboats”, with a “queer method of mounting the propellers” (the new Lymington, 1938) The pay off line of “so chalk another one up to Britain for one more development in transport” was more than dubious given the Voith Schneider technology being employed was most definitely German.

    The launch of the Koningin Wilhelmina (1960)

    Dover-Boulogne by car ferry (on the Maid of Kent, 1960)

    By Car to Boulogne (with the newly-converted Normannia, 1964)

    The launch of the Princesse Astrid (1968)

  • A couple of aged former British domestic ferries serving Italy have been scrapped in recent years, and Navi e Armatori has faithfully recorded their final moments.

    Firstly, the Heidi, formerly the Caledonia of Cal Mac and before that the first car ferry that Sten Allan Olsson ordered for Stena Line, the Stena Baltica. Operating for Traghetti Pozzuoli until 2004 she ultimately sank at her lay up berth in Naples. Pumped dry, she was towed to Aliaga in Turkey for breaking in 2006. Fakta om Fartyg has some images of her in her sunken state, whilst Navi e Armatori’s pictures were taken by Selim San at the beach in Turkey:

    Picture 1
    Picture 2

    The Carisbrooke Castle of 1959 was scrapped in 2007 having spent the last 33 years in a 48 year career in Italian coastal waters, latterly as the Giglio Espresso II running from La Maddalena to Palau on Sardinia. This image shows her on the beach in Aliaga, with fellow former British veteran the Neptunia (ex-Darnia) alongside.

  • The Canguro Cabo San Sebastian.

    The Canguro Cabo San Sebastian.

  • Another ship which has ended on the beach is the former Donatella D’Abundo, the first of the six-strong ‘Canguro’ class and originally built for Ybarra as the Canguro Cabo San Sebastian before later passing to Trasmed and then Medmar. An image of her can be seen here.

    I have often wondered about this series of ships, built at Union Navale de Levante in Valencia between 1972 and 1984, none of which seem to have had really successful post-Spanish careers. Of the sextuplets, two have now been scrapped, one is in Southeast Asia, and the other three in limbo. The one vessel actually believed to be in service is the Oriental Princess (ex-Canguro Cabo San Jorge and Ciudad de Palma) but she seems to be in rather poor condition in Vietnamese waters (pictures here and here). The Ciudad de Sevilla has reportedly sailed to Port Said under the name Sevilla whilst the Mary the Queen (ex-Ciudad de Valencia and the final of the series) had apparently been sold to Filipino interests to replace the former Steam Packet ship of the same name, but remains in Tarragona with the sale possibly having fallen through.

  • The Donatella D'Abundo at Naples in September 2004.

    The Donatella D'Abundo at Naples in September 2004.

  • Spanish car ferries of a slightly earlier generation were the four-strong ‘Albatros’ class, (including the Juan March and the Santa Cruz de Tenerife) as well as the slightly smaller Antonio Larazo and Vincente Puchol. Some interior images of these and other Trasmed. ships of the era can be found on buques.org
  • The Dana Corona (ex-Trekroner) at Malaga. Also alongside is Trasmed's Antonio Larazo or Vincente Puchol.

    The Dana Corona (ex-Trekroner) at Malaga. Also alongside is Trasmed's Antonio Larazo or Vincente Puchol.

  • None of the six beautiful DFDS car ferries delivered between 1964 and 1970 have survived, but the first and the last, (the England and the Trekroner) dodged the scrappers by sinking, the former actually being en-route for scrapping at the time. The Trekroner however was in service, sailing to Suez as the Al Qamar Al Saudi Al Misri in 1994 when she was overtaken by a boiler room explosion and subsequent fire. 21 people lost their lives. The wreck today has been found and documented by scuba divers.
  • Fancy water-skiing behind the Stena Saga? It is possible, it seems…
  • On youtube, there is a “tribute to the Agios Georgios” (ex-Hengist).
  • For a brief period in 1981/82, Thoresen’s Viking Victory (ex-Viking I) and her sister Viking III were laid up together in Gothenburg awaiting sale. Lennart Ramsvik captured them there, together with several other ferries of the period. This was a time when it was possible to see three Stena ships together in the company’s home port, none of which had been purpose built.
  • Delivered as the Stena Trailer, the ship which ended her days as the Lampung was better known in her early years as Sealink’s Dalriada on the Stranraer-Larne crossing. Her end came in 2006 when an engine room fire spread through the ship as shown in this unhappy footage.
  • Lastly, readers of the main website to which this blog is attached may have noticed that parts of it have “gone missing” in the last couple of days. There shouldn’t be too many pages affected and all will be resolved when I get chance to re-upload them to the main domain within a couple of weeks.

    All this however relates to the demise of Geocities, “the Facebook of yesterday“. Geocities gave free access to web publishing for millions in its time, and many of the websites so created were crude, forgettable and aesthetically criminal. But it was also a step on the ladder, and, despite everything, from the hours trying futilely to load the Page Builder software to the horrors of page after page being lost when that same program decided not to save properly, I’ll miss it.

  • WordPress Themes