For a story I'm writing, I'd like to know how long it would take to travel by ship from Calais to Dover in 1890's (as I read it was the easier way). Also, was it possible to take a boat from Calais directly to London?

  • 6
    Depends on the weather and the Captain's appetite for risk.
    – MCW
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 16:18
  • 1
    Also depends on the size of the boat. The longer the potentially faster.
    – BobT
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 16:44
  • 7
    I would guess that it probably didn't take all that much longer than it does on a ferry today. Given the railway link from Dover to London, it would be much quicker to cross the channel and take the train than it would to sail from Calais to London.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Jun 18, 2019 at 16:51
  • Do you mean "Calais to Dover was easier than Dover to Calais" or do you mean "Calais to Dover was easier than other routes like Boulogne to Folkestone"? I initially read it as the former, but this doesn't make sense. If you meant the latter, I would suggest "it was the easier route" would be less ambiguous. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 9:15
  • 1
    @MartinBonner The prevailing wind is from the west so, if either direction was easier, it would surely be Dover-Calais, on an average day. I think there are quite strong currents in the Channel but I also think they're tidal so, on average, they wouldn't favour either direction. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 11:35

1 Answer 1


Google Books has a copy of Bradshaw's Guide from 1887. To get to Paris, they recommended one of four options:

enter image description here

The numbers in the three rightmost columns are, respectively: approximate first-class fare (in pounds, shillings, and pence); approximate second-class fare; and time (in days and hours.) The absolute quickest door-to-door route was via Folkestone & Boulogne, but the sea crossing from Dover to Calais was cheaper. Here are the pertinent sections of the advertisements from the same edition of Bradshaw's Guide; note when reading these times that French standard time was 10 minutes ahead of English standard time in those days.

Via Calais & Dover:

Three crossings daily, operated by the South Eastern Railway. Note that they specifically advertise the "Shortest Sea Passage, 90 (?) minutes."

enter image description here

Via Folkestone & Boulogne:

One crossing daily. A bit quicker to get to Paris, but the crossing was a bit longer; it appears to have been approximately two hours.

enter image description here

Steamers from London:

The guide also contains a listing of steamers providing passenger service. From London itself (see p. 318–320 of the guide), most of the routes are relatively far afield. There does, however, appear to have been steamer service between Boulogne and London (p. 691):

enter image description here

The description on p. 318 of the guide says that this voyage takes "9 to 12 hours", so this was slower than taking the train to Dover or Folkestone. (But also much cheaper — only 11 shillings for first-class or 8 shillings for second.) There is also a mention of a steamer, the "Sir Robert Peel", sailing from Fenning's Wharf, London to Dunkirk "every few days"; the voyage's duration is not given.

  • Waow, thank you so much for your answer Michael Seifert, I wouldn't dream of a such complete answer ! It will help me very much and will allow me to use even more details, such as the fares. Thanks again and have a good day !
    – Emilie
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 11:07
  • Done ! I just discovered this website, and I think it will help me a great deal for my book !
    – Emilie
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 15:11
  • 1
    @costrom France and Britain both used GMT in the 1890s. (GMT was adopted as an international time standard in 1884.) France did not change to Central European Time until 1940. Of course there was no daylight saving time in the 1890s either.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 19:42
  • 1
    @costrom Note the South Eastern Railway timetable has footnotes for English and French times. Since it isn't dated, it may be before France converted from "local times" different in every city to GMT.
    – alephzero
    Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 19:52
  • 3
    @costrom: The top of the advertisement on page 683 of the guide notes that "Arrivals in Paris and Sailing from Boulogne and Calais are by French Time, ten minutes in advance of English Time." (The difference in solar time between Paris & London is 9.4 minutes.) If Wikipedia is to be believed, France standardized its time to Paris solar time in 1891; switched to GMT in 1911; and then switched to Central European Time during WWII. Commented Jun 19, 2019 at 20:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.