A historic link with France, the Newhaven-Dieppe line very nearly disappeared at the end of the 20th century. It wasn’t always like that. At the start of the last century, Newhaven-Dieppe was one of the most important maritime links with France. In 1903 alone more than 200,000 passengers were carried!
Newhaven-Dieppe is the oldest of the cross-channel routes. William the Conqueror is said to have set off from Dieppe on his second trip to England, conquered the year before in 1066.
At the start of the 19th century, boats from Dieppe anchored off Brighton, with passengers landed by small boats. A pier to make disembarkation easier didn’t appear until 1823, where the remains of the West Pier now stand.
In 1824 the General Steam Navigation Company linked England to Dieppe using paddle steamers with a length of 25 metres, (the beam of the Seven Sisters of today), taking nine hours twice a week.
It was a few more years before a sheltered harbour – Newhaven – came into use, rebuilt by the railway companies. Newhaven is the only low-water port between Dover and Portsmouth open to shipping at all times. Brighton was linked to London by railway in 1840 and Newhaven to London in 1847. Over on the other side Rouen was connected to Paris in 1843 and to Dieppe in 1848. These were the first two railways in France. The port is
now owned by Newhaven Port and Properties Ltd, of which the Conseil Départemental de la Seine Maritime is the major shareholder and is undergoing improvements. It has recently been chosen as the base for an enormous offshore windfarm to be installed off Brighton and Shoreham. At the start of the 20th century the route from London to Paris via Newhaven and Dieppe is advertised as the fastest, the cheapest and the most scenic. The Universal Exhibition of 1900 sees the line grow much faster than Dover-Calais. The coming into service of new faster, luxurious and comfortable ships such as the Arundel and the arrival of new technologies such as the screw propeller and steam turbines gain a greater reputation for the line, reducing the crossing time to three hours and sometimes less.
A planned train-ferry was approved by the two railway companies, but it never materialized. The only true train ferry was introduced from Southampton to Dieppe in 1918 as part of the British war effort.
The coming of car ferries in 1964 brought the line into the modern age allowing the carriage on a single ship of passengers, cars and goods vehicles. But there was a gradual falling off in the face of competition from the Dover straits and the Channel Tunnel. This video shows the first roll-on roll-off ferry in 1964 and this one shows the 1970’s with the first modern ferries, the Villandry and the Valençay.