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Dover: Lock and Key of the Kingdom

The Forde

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In 1928 Captain Townsend, formerly of the Honourable Artillery  Company, had started operating a car ferry service from the  Camber at the eastern end of the harbour. Initially with a small  collier the ‘Artificer’ and then, when the capacity of the small  vessel was exceeded , with another charter vessel the ‘Royal  Firth’. Due to the success of this venture, in May 1929, the  Southern Railway introduced a special service of fast cargo  boats for motor cars running from Dover to Calais and  Folkestone to Boulogne, at rates much lower than those  previously charged for carrying cars on the ordinary mail  steamers. In spite of this Townsend prospered and in 1930 the ‘Forde’  entered service. Reconstructed from a Royal Navy minesweeper  HMS ‘Ford’, she was fitted with a stern door which folded down  onto the quay. Captain Townsend had hoped to use this stern  door in conjunction with a concrete slope at each port which  would allow the cars to be driven straight onto the ship, as was  used by the car ferry between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. This arrangement may have worked in the calmer waters of the  Solent but it was not suitable for the unpredictable Channel.  What was required was adjustable bridges at both the French  and British ports, which were needed to compensate for the  great variations in the height of the tides . Unfortunately this  solution did not appear until after the Second World War. Even though the cars still had to be craned on, the ‘Forde’ was a great improvement on her two grimy predecessors. She could  carry 165 passengers and 26 cars and offered her passengers  two general saloons, a ladies’ saloon and three private state  rooms. The success of the ‘Forde’ was sufficient to rouse the  management of the Southern Railway to provide a brand new  ship of their own for car carrying services the ‘Autocarrier’. During the Second World War the ‘Forde’ served under the  Admiralty as a salvage vessel. Afterwards she was refitted at  Southampton and returned to Dover as a car ferry on 12 April  1947. She was withdrawn in October 1949, sold and finished her  days as a car ferry between Gibraltar and Algiers, finally being  withdrawn in 1954. 
A coach being loaded onto the 'Forde' during the 1930s. A car being loaded onto the 'Forde' during the 1930s.