Channel Packets

A postcard history of English Channel ferries since 1900.

Channel Packets Home


Updated: 01-10-2013

The nature of the ferry operating companies since the end of the nineteenth century reflects the changing nature of cross-channel travel. At first they were extensions of the railway company networks, bridging the gap between their lines and their continental counterparts. Each company had their own fleet of passenger vessels linking up with boat trains as well as a fleet of small cargo steamers for the carriage of freight and unaccompanied baggage. At this time it was impossible to imagine how a ferry port could exist without a rail connection.

As the railway companies were amalgamated and finally nationalised, so were their fleets. During the 1960's British Rail and their French counterparts, SNCF, held an almost total monopoly of the cross channel traffic.

With the democratisation of the motor car, traffic patterns (no pun intended!) began to change. People wanted to cross the channel with their cars. British Rail were slow to respond leaving the door open to private enterprise to introduce roll-on roll-off car ferries. As car numbers increased so boat trains and their loads of foot passengers decreased. The passenger steamer was quickly replaced by purpose built car ferries. Today, to this author's knowledge, no Channel port has a dedicated rail connection and it is impossible to imagine how a ferry port could exist without a vehicle link span.

The companies featured in this site include:
British Railways
L'Administration des chemins de fer de l'Etat
Great Western Railway
London Brighton & South Coast Railway
London Chatham & Dover Railway
London & South Western Railway
La Compagnie des chemins de fer du Nord
La Compagnie des chemins de fer de l'Ouest
Regie voor Maritiem Transport (RMT)
La Société Anonyme de Gérance de d'Armament (SAGA)
South Eastern & Chatham Railway
South Eastern Railway
La Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF)
Southern Railway