Calais is a town on the north-west coast of France, a major port and the closest town to England, to which it is linked by the Dover-Calais ferry service (the two towns are only 21 miles apart). Uncertain as to when exactly it was founded, Calais definitely existed in Roman times and was used to launch attacks on Britain. Between 1347 and 1558 it in fact belonged to Britain and became known as ‘the brightest jewel in the English crown’ as the port through which the important tin, lead, cloth and wool trades passed. Recaptured by the French in 1558, Calais has also served as an important military base as well as commercial port – on the front line in the Napoleonic Wars, World War I and World War II. During World War II much of the town was flattened by German bombing raids, but the historical Old Town has been rebuilt and some original buildings survive, including the Église Notre-Dame, Hôtel de Ville and old British defensive forts. Once a major centre of wool and cloth production, Calais still contains two large lace factories but its economy is mostly directed through the port: more than 10 million people pass through the town every year.
A ‘packet’ is a small boat used in the 18th and 19th centuries which was originally used for post but then later on also for freight and passenger transportation over short distances. The services ran fairly regularly: the forerunner of today’s passenger ferry services.