Wednesday, 13 May 2020

History of the Port of Felixstowe



Founded by Colonel George Tomline in 1875, the Port of Felixstowe began life as the Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company. The Port survived two World Wars and a number of changes of ownership, and in 1966 work began on the New South Quay. 

Opening on the 1st July 1967, and later renamed Landguard Container Terminal, it was the UK's first purpose-built container terminal.



This development helped establish Felixstowe as the UK's largest container port. 

Its first dedicated container terminal, originally known as the New South Quay, opened with just 500ft (152m) of quay and a single Paceco Vickers portainer crane.



The operation today bears no real resemblance to those early years. The scale and level of technical innovation have grown beyond recognition. But not everything has changed. 

In 1967 Felixstowe was developed because of its proximity to the main shipping lanes and the major ports of Northern Europe. That remains a key differentiator. But since then its position has been improved by the development of road and rail links.



Change has been a constant at Felixstowe over the last 50 years. The second phase of Landguard Terminal was completed in the 1970s, followed by Dooley, Walton and Trinity Terminal, the UK's first post-panamax facility, which was built in phases through the 1980s and 1990s, with the final phase completed in 2004.

Clemence Cheng, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Felixstowe and Managing Director of Hutchison Ports Europe, said: “The Port of Felixstowe has come a long way over the last 50 years. From a single-berth operation with one crane we now have nine berths providing over 3,000 metres of deep-water container quay serviced by 33 ship-to-shore gantry cranes.

“The operation today bears no real resemblance to those early years. The scale and level of technical innovation have grown beyond recognition. But not everything has changed. Felixstowe was chosen in 1967 because of its proximity to the main shipping lanes and the main ports of Northern Europe. That remains a key differentiator but the position today has been improved by the development of road and rail links that are second to none.”




Since then growth has continued. 

The most recent phase of development, Berths 8 & 9, was opened in 2011 and was extended in 2015. The creation of the newest terminal involved the reclamation of additional land from the River Orwell but also included the site of the New South Quay, bringing the story full-circle and ensuring that the largest container ships in the world are handled where the very first container ships visited 50 years ago. 

The 50th anniversary of that major event was celebrated throughout 2017.


Continual investment over the last 50 years has ensured that the Port of Felixstowe has maintained its position as the clear market leader. Today, the port handles the world's largest container ships and boasts nine berths providing over 3,000 metres of deep-water container quay serviced by 33 ship-to-shore gantry cranes.


Timeline of events at the Port of Felixstowe

1875 The Company was founded by Colonel George Tomline, a prominent local landowner. Business commenced under the name of ‘The Felixstowe Railway and Pier Company’. 

1877 The first F. R. & P. Co. passenger train ran from Westerfield to Felixstowe, but in 1879 this line was transferred to the Great Eastern Railway. 

1879 The company title was changed to the ‘Felixstowe Railway and Dock Company’, and powers were given to construct a dock, warehouses and rail sidings. Later in the same year, the company title was again changed, to the ‘Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company’, as it is today. 

1882 Work commenced on the Dock Basin. 

1886 The Dock was opened for trade, and the first commercial vessel entered on 7th April. 

1889 Colonel Tomline died. The Dock was left to Captain Ernest Pretyman. 

1904 A flour mill and grain storage silo were built on the north side of the Basin. 

1914-18 The port was requisitioned as a Royal Navy Destroyer and Mine-sweeper Base. 

1939-45 The port was requisitioned as a Royal Navy MTB and Air Sea Rescue Base. 

1951 The port was acquired by Mr. Gordon Parker, an agricultural merchant. New warehouses were erected for copra, wheat, maize and sugar. RN oil tanks were leased for the storage of linseed, ground-nut and palm oils. 

1953 The port suffered a severe set-back, when the disastrous East coast floods swept over the entire Dock area, causing extensive damage, and destroying the two wooden piers at the basin entrance. 

1959 Work commenced on the new East Quay. Bulk grain and liquid tanks were added. 

1961 Felixstowe Tank Developments Ltd. was formed. More tanks were added. 

1963 Two million cubic feet of warehousing were added. The Felixstowe Cold Store was opened. 

1964 The Oil Jetty was constructed, extending 1,100 feet into the waters of Harwich Harbour. 

1965 No.1 ro-ro berth was completed, and made available at all states of the tide. 

1966 Building work commenced on Landguard Container Terminal. 

1967-68 The first 500 feet of Landguard Container Terminal, together with one Paceco Vickers Portainer Crane, was completed and in use by 1st July. By March 1968, the remainder of the new container quay (a further 800 feet) had been completed, including one extra Paceco crane, and ro-ro berth (No.2 ro-ro). In addition, 13 acres of land had been reclaimed. 

1972 Work began on a further extension of Landguard Container Terminal. Work also commenced on the development of facilities in the north of the port. 

1973 The 700 feet extension of Landguard Container Terminal was completed, and another Paceco crane was added (now a total of three cranes in operation). During May, the Southern bypass was completed, diverting Dock traffic from the town of Felixstowe. During November, the Freightliner Terminal opened, and No.3 ro-ro Bridge on the Northern Development became operational. 

1974 The first passenger service, operated by Townsend Thoresen, commenced out of Felixstowe, with a twice-daily service to Zeebrugge. 

1975 No.4 ro-ro Bridge on the Northern Development was opened on 10th February. During April, the first Tor passenger service commenced to Gothenburg. 

1976 The company was taken over by European Ferries Limited. 

1978 A purpose-built passenger and freight terminal opened for Townsend Thoresen. 

1979 Work began on the expansion in the north of the port, which was to double the port’s container handling capacity to approximately 500,000 containers. 

1980 With 252,802 containers handled in 1980, Felixstowe became the largest container port in the United Kingdom. 

1981 In April, the two new terminals, Dooley and Walton, became operational, Walton Container Terminal being a separately operated company, a subsidiary of the Orient Overseas Container Line in the C.H. Tung Group. 

1982 Work commenced on a second Railfreight Terminal at the port to serve Dooley and Walton Terminals. 

1984 Felixstowe became the first seaport in the UK to introduce computerised Customs’ clearance. 

1985 During 1985, a new Private Bill began its progress through Parliament. This was completed in May 1988. It secured a further 220 acres on the northern bank of Harwich Harbour and the Orwell Estuary for future expansion requirements. Work commenced on Trinity Container Terminal (Phase I). 

1986 Phase I of the development became operational in January. This provided the port with 550 metres of quay, and 24 hectares of back-up storage space. A depth of water alongside of 13.4 metres also provided Felixstowe with the ability to handle the largest container vessels in the world. On 7th April, the port celebrated 100 years as a working port. 

1987 The port was acquired by the P&0 Group. Felixstowe became the first port in the UK to handle over one million TEUs in one year. 

1988 At the end of this year, construction work began on a £50 million project to double the size of Trinity Container Terminal. 

1990 Trinity Terminal Phase II opened. 

1991 In August, 75% of the port was acquired by the Hutchison Whampoa Group, Hong Kong. The separately- operated container-handling facility, Walton Container Terminal (owned by Orient Overseas Holdings Limited), amalgamated with Trinity Terminal (75% of Port of Felixstowe owned by Hutchison Whampoa Limited, 25% by Orient Overseas Holdings Limited). 

1993 Dredging work to deepen the main channel to a minimum depth of 12.5 metres started. A new warehouse for Forest Products was completed (94 Shed), giving the port just over one million square feet of warehousing. 

1994 Hutchison Whampoa purchased the remaining 25% of the port from OOHL, giving Hutchison 100% ownership of the Port. The port was given the goahead to undertake a new 630-metre expansion of Trinity Terminal (Trinity III). The A14 dual carriageway right from the port’s entrance, linking up with the M1/M6 junction, was completed and opened 1996 3rd April – Trinity III was officially opened by their Royal Highnesses, Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. The port handled its two millionth TEU for 1996 on 30th December. 

1997 In May, fire destroyed the original Dock Office, which dated back to 1888. In December, for the first time ever, the Port handled 200,000 containers on the Rail Terminal in one year. 

1998 Hutchison acquired Thamesport on the Isle of Grain, and Harwich International Port, formerly known as Parkeston Quay. The North Rail Terminal was extended by 56 metres and upgraded. The main navigational approach channel was dredged from -12.5m below Chart Datum to -14.5m. 

2002 Approval was given, following a Public Inquiry in May, for the Trinity III.2 extension. Plans of intent were announced for the reconfiguration of the southern part of the port. 

2006 In February approval was given, following a Public Inquiry in 2004, for the Felixstowe South Reconfiguration scheme. The scheme provides a quay length of 1350m, refurbishment and extension of the existing Landguard container park and a new north rail terminal. 

2008 Costain was appointed in May as the main contractor for the Felixstowe South project and, following a major demolition programme, the start of construction was marked with a ceremony held on 1st September. 

2011 The port celebrated the 125th anniversary of the first commercial vessel working at the port. September 28th saw the official opening of Berths 8&9, phase 1 of the new deep-water facility comprising 730m of quay with a depth alongside of -16m below chart datum and seven ship-to-shore cranes from ZPMC. HRH Princess Anne loaded the inaugural box on to the vessel MSC Esti. Upgrades to the Dockspur Roundabout and Copdock Interchanges were completed. 

2013 The opening of a further nine rail tracks was carried out in June by HRH the Duke of York doubling the port’s rail capacity. The new North Rail Terminal allows 30 x 60ft wagon sets to work on a single track. (The previous North Rail Terminal was renamed as the Central Rail Terminal). In October the port worked the world’s largest container ship, the Majestic Maersk, on her maiden voyage with a capacity of 18,000teu.

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