The Chamber of Commerce considered the project of Mr. Raffeneau de Lisle, Chief Engineer, presented by Mr. Nehou, an Engineer with the Department of Civil Engineering, regarding the work to be performed in the Port of Calais, to link the Canal Saint-Omer to the sea and establish a wet dock and a sluice gate in the harbour.
The project included the closure of the creek by a tidal lock located opposite the Citadel and a sluice opposite Fort Risban. The assembly thus formed a tidal basin and flushing lock, separated by a seawall. Inland navigation could communicate direct with the port through the Citadel lock and the piers were extended to the low-tide mark, which had receded 250 meters.
At that time, the port was simply formed by a shallow channel between two piers leading to a natural basin lying between Fort Risban and the seawall to the north, and the Courgain harbour and city walls to the south.
Work on the wet dock began in 1838, and the latter was opened to trade in December 1842. To mark the event, a commemorative medal was struck by the Ministry of Public Works.
The basin, constructed by virtue of the laws of 15 November 1834 and 19 July 1837, had a total surface area of two hectares. It was 255 meters long and 75 meters wide. Its docks were 550 meters long.
A simple lock 17 metres wide communicated with the outer dry harbour. The tidal lock was inaugurated on 25 December 1843, in the presence of the civil and military authorities. By the decree of 11 November 1844, the Town of Calais was authorised to call the lock “Raffeneau de Lisle”.
The north pier, which was built between 1837 and 1843, was especially designed for the timber trade, and the jetties were also extended.
To complete the overall structure, in 1839 the Chamber of Commerce began studies for the construction of a new lighthouse, on which work began in November 1845 in the fortifications. The lighthouse was lit on 15 October 1848.
Although a priority for the Chamber of Commerce, the port was still modest in size. The entrance was indicated to seafarers by a system of balloons and flags which were hoisted on a system consisting of a mast and a yard based in Fort Rouge, to the west of the jetties.
Ships entering the port of Calais could berth either at the tidal dock, or in the eastern part of the outer harbour, known as the Colonne Quay, or, finally, at the north dock; the south dock was reserved for cruise ships and the Paradise basin for fishermen.
As part of its concerns for port development, from 1856 to 1858 the Chamber of Commerce launched work to strengthen and lengthen the gridiron in order to berth large vessels.In 1852, the Chamber also built a shed on the tidal dock to serve as a pilot station. In 1860, it decided to create a station for Port officers and the harbourmaster. The Chamber paid for part of the construction, which was inaugurated on 6 July 1860.
In 1862, a study was launched for a project to create a wet dock in the east of the port. To expedite the work to extend the West wet dock approved in 1865, at its meeting on 29 February 1868, the Chamber took the decision to grant the State the sum of 1,650,000 francs, deemed necessary to carry out the project.
But, after damage was observed at the lock of the Basin and following a thorough review of the issue, the Chamber of Commerce gave up the first project and asked for the immediate construction of a new lock placed at the east end of the Liner quay.
During the Second Empire from 1852 to 1870, the Chamber managed several of the Port services, including the warehouse, the cranes, the ropes, the gridiron and dry docking. In 1869, the government asked for a report on “the state and needs of commerce and industry in the district”. The report highlighted the importance of the port of Calais. Cross-Channel traffic was already the main activity.
In 1862 the Calais Chamber of Commerce began to focus on the major works on port infrastructures, including the construction of a wet dock and a flushing lock west of Calais.
In 1874, the projects were submitted for a public inquiry, after successfully passing the first- and second-level deliberations, the Chamber obtained in principle the transformation of the old port and the decommissioning of the east seafront.
Finally, on 14 December 1875, on the proposal of the Minister of Public Works, a law listed all the work to be of public interest, consisting of :
- the creation of a retention basin,
- a new outer port to serve passenger liners,
- a large basin in the east communicating with the outer port through two locks,
- the displacement of Calais railway station which, from the Bassin du Petit Paradis, would be transferred between the two towns of Calais and Saint-Pierre,
- the development of the Calais Canal.
The work started when the old north, east and south seafronts were decommissioned and the construction of the new enclosure was ordered by the law of 21 April 1879.
This law authorised the enlargement of the quayage, the construction of a dry dock, and the replacement of a large inland water basin bypassing the channel sluiceway.
These improvements and others such as the enlargement of the Canal, the construction of new docks in the outer harbour, the doubling of the lock of the wet dock, the deepening of the flushing lock, were included in the Appendix Table to the Act of 28 July 1879.
The first stone for the wet dock was laid by Varoy, the Minister of Public Works, accompanied by the President of the Senate, Léon Say, who came on 19 July 1880 to visit the work on the port and the survey well for the underwater tunnel at Sangatte.
In that year, studies started on the organisation of the facilities for the quays of the new port. Finally, the Chamber of Commerce was granted the concession to the port on 22 September 1883. The facilities included :
- The shelters to be built on the quayage to protect goods,
- Hydraulic cranes,
- Hangars located on the south-west quays of the outer harbour,
- The facilities were supplemented by an extensive network of railway sidings.
The Chamber of Commerce asked for a study to be carried out of a project to build a lock dam in the outer harbour to the west of the tidal quay. The cofferdam separating the channel from the outer harbour was broken at the end of February 1889 and water for the first time entered the new basins on the night of 27 to 28 February 1889.
The new port was opened 5 June 1889 by Sadi Carnot, President of the Republic. A commemorative medal was struck for the occasion. To complement the promotion of the event, the Chamber published 1,500 copies of a special brochure on the “Port of Calais inaugurated by Mr. Carnot, President of the French Republic on 3 June 1889.
On 4 November 1889, it was decided to call it the new Carnot wet dock.
In memory of the eminent members of the Chamber who had worked on the new port, the name of Paul Devot was given to the southwest dock of the outer harbour, and the west docks of the Carnot Basin were renamed the Crespin and Fournier docks. The Chamber requested permission to give the same names to the hangars and suggested naming the swing bridges and locks of the new basin after Mr. Vétillard.
The new port of Calais initially benefitted from passenger traffic with England. Thanks to the various facilities, the port of Calais could berth increasingly large, fast and comfortable ships, capable of providing services at fixed times on the Dover Straits. Once inaugurated, the port of Calais still needed further development. The construction of the tidal dock only began in 1890. The new pier, in turn, was completed in 1896.
By the order of 26 January 1895, the Prefect of the Pas-de-Calais region requested a public inquiry on the proposed project to redevelop the western section of the port. The scheme included the following work :
- reconstruction of the lock for the wet dock,
- dredging of a channel in the dry harbour and the wet dock and underpinning work on the dry wall and jetties of the basin,
- replacement of the Baleine dry wall by a wooden boom and masonry pierhead,
- rehabilitation of the Citadel bridge,
- reconstruction of the long bridge to extend the existing lock with a wagon siding.
The Chamber of Commerce expressed reservations about the proposed project, in particular the length of the long bridge which it found to be too narrow. The report of the Committee also being negative, the scheme was sent back to the engineers for them to produce a new study.
On 7 April 1898, the Chamber won its case and authorised the construction in the port of a new lock 17m wide. The work was completed in 1906.
The law of 24 February 1906 declared the work from the second section of the project to be of public interest, involving the improvement of the western port, including:
- The removal of Fasquel quay and the flushing lock,
- The construction across the flushing lock of a large masonry seawall continuing on from the bridge of the lock dam connecting it to the avenue leading to the beach,
- The construction of breakwaters and piers at the site of the old sluice gate,
- Further improvements completed the work, including the reconstruction of the west pier, and improvement of the channel.