Who are John Shirley Ltd.?

John Shirley Ltd are an unusual international freight forwarder. Although we ship around the world our expertise is the Balkans, and Eastern Europe, in particular Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia. Slovenia and Slovakia and the Ukraine. One of our main advantages is that John can speak the languages and can therefore communicate directly to the drivers on the ground (who often do not know english).

We oversee the loading, transit, and discharge of dozens of trucks and containers a week all over Europe from our base at Dover Harbour Station.

ECO Approach

In addition to our gung-ho approach to shipping we try to reduce our ecological footprint as best we can. We have no company cars, we use bicycles in conjunction with the train, we recycle and we plant where possible around the yards. At the bottom of the page, there is a photograph at the Green Apple Awards in November 2012, where we were awarded a Bronze in the Transport category.

Where We Are Based

In April 2013 we bought the former Dover Harbour Station from P&O. It was built in 1861 and closed in 1927. It has been used as a bonded warehouse and possibly for the Kinder Transport prior to WWII. There is a cell with a steel door under the clocktower which is a mystery and we recently found a working sash window behind some panelling. In 2014 we demolished steel fabrications on the site of the customs baggage halls and partly rebuilt the arched walls. In 2015 we discovered a double chimney taking the smoke from the fireplaces in two adjacent rooms. By the end of that year, we had created two spaces named after famous engineers: The Gilbert Scott Suite and the John Grimshaw Rooms. In 2017 we tackled the St.Sava Room and the Booking Hall which are now known for live music with bands such as The Sugar Hill Gang and Bad Manners having played there. Currently, we are working on the Brunel Room where we have uncovered yet another fireplace.

Green Apple Awards at the House of Commons in November 2012. John Shirley received a bronze.

In the historical surroundings of the House of Commons, not far from the Great Hall where Nelson Mandela spoke, where Charles the 1st was put on trial and many years before that, William Wallace in 1302, the Green Organisation presented John Shirley with a Bronze Medallion for cutting carbon. The train company Arriva North West won the Gold and Logica the Silver. Appropriately in a corner of the room, temporarily out of action, were two company folding bicycles (of the reliable make Brompton) which had been combined with the High-Speed One train to travel from Dover to the capital. When presented with the award, Mr Shirley commented in response that “with this award customers can be sure that we do all we can to meet the exigencies of Corporate Social Governance.” To this day, (now 2019) John continues to cycle to work and use green recycling initiatives as part of his business model.

People we work with

Our Team

John Shirley - Managing Director

John Shirley founded the company in 1996 at the age of 34 after gaining experience working as a commodity trader in London.

The decision to specialise in Eastern Europe was inspired by his travels around the Balkan region and after achieving fluency studying Serbo-Croatian as an undergraduate at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies, UCL London.

After to-ing and fro-ing over a possible company name, his wife Emily suggested to him ‘John Shirley LTD’ as when you associate your name with something, you become personally invested in its professional outcome. The company has now existed for 22 years, having seen various staff coming and going and, at other times, having an added family dynamic (specifically John’s three adult children) to take over the reins of specific operational roles. John has overseen the company growing and adapting over its two decades of existence and has witnessed particular highlights such as during the Bosnian War period when the government used John Shirley LTD’s specialist services to assist in the humanitarian aid effort in that region.

To this day, the company is still involved in sending humanitarian aid but now not just to Bosnia, but all over Europe and occasionally even further afield to destinations such as Asia or Africa.

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Finbar Shirley - CEO

Finbar has 3 years of experience working in the freight industry, working closely with Margaret on the IT and operations. He speaks French and is also an intermediate Italian speaker with hopes to learn Mandarin.

Finbar was with the company before he went to university to study physics.

Finbar is an avid climber, rugby player and cyclist with a inborn love of transport in its various guises.

Timeline of Dover Harbour Railway Station


February 6, 1844

Dover’s first railway station was opened by the South Eastern Railway in the Pier district of the town.

February and March, 1845

William Clarke, the town Mayor held several public meetings about a railway line from London to Dover via Canterbury.


An act saw the formation of the East Kent Railway (EKR) which eventually connected Rochester to Canterbury.


Negotiations were held to join Canterbury and Dover via rail. The new line was almost complete by 1860, but South Eastern Railway did not connect the line with the North Kent line connecting Canterbury and Rochester.

July 22, 1861

The line from London to Dover officially opened. It was based from the station on Folkestone Road, then owned by SER.Ne gotiations saw the creation of a rival company, the London Chatham & Dover Railway (LC&DR). The Folkestone Road station would not be the last station on the line for long, as the planned final destination was Dover Harbour, which required the excavation of a nearly 700-yard tunnel south of Dover station and onto the new terminus on Elizabeth Street near Admiralty Pier.

November 1, 1861

A temporary station called Dover Harbour was opened by LC&DR. To avoid confusion SER renamed their terminus Dover Town. LC&DR maintained that their advantage would be the ease of getting passengers’ luggage onto the ferries from their Harbour station, implying that luggage has been lost at SER’s Town station.

August 30, 1864

LC&DR extended its line, with services running to Admiralty Pier where separate narrow platforms were provided beneath the promenade.

June 1881

A double-track spur, known as the Hawkesbury Street curve, was opened between the Town and Harbour stations, creating a triangular junction. This new line allowed through a joint line to Deal.

January 1, 1899

By the end of the nineteenth century, SER and LC&DR had been fighting over Dover for 40 years. Both providers were notorious for their poor service and were both on the edge of bankruptcy. The two companies combined and the South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) was formed. However, the companies remained legally separate, they split receipts 59 per cent to SER and 41 per cent to LC&DR.

July 1899

The station was officially renamed Dover Harbour.

January 1, 1902

The Prince of Wales Pier opened and the SE&CR agreed to obtain an Act to build a new line from Harbour station to the pier.

August 19, 1921

The Railways Act required all private railway companies to merge into four groups. One of these was the Southern Rail Company, which included SE&CR.

10 July, 1927

The station closed. At the time, it was agreed the building would be demolished.

June 1929

Partial demolition saw the removal of the train shed. Ferry captains put forth the case for keeping the clock tower as it provided a good leading line. Subsequently, the tower was reduced in size and a light was put on the top and it was decided for the adjacent building to be kept, remaining in the hands of Southern Railway Shipping department.

1939 – 1945

The building was used as a temporary morgue in the Second World War.

July 27, 1984

Sealink UK became the owner of the Harbour station, as part of the de-nationalisation of Britain’s railways.

April 22, 1994

Harbour Station achieved Grade II listed status by English Heritage.

August 2002

P&O bought Stena Line (previously Sealink UK) and gained full possession of the old station. It was used as a crew training centre.


P&O put the station on the market at £350,000.


Following negotiations lasting nearly two years, the building was taken over by John Shirley, head of a Snargate Street freight forwarding business.

March 2016

Darren Fuller of Manor Road, Dover sought planning approval to change the use of three rooms at The Old Harbour Station into a centre where people can be trained to become personal trainers.

August 2016

The centre section of the building is leased to Folkestone’s Stuart Cameron and planning permission to turn the centre section of the building into a music venue is sought from Dover District Council.

January 2017

Kent Live reveals that planning permission to change the centre section of the building into a music venue has been granted.

May 2017+

Bands such as Bad Manners, The Blockheads, Wheetus, Chris Slade Timeline are on stage at the Booking Hall. Indirectly we receive compliments from them on the quality of accommodation in the Green Room where they prepare for gigs and rest afterwards.
Work on the gym for FullerLifePT reveals a double chimney curving in the middle bringing smoke from one side of a wall and the opposite side of another. We pick this out with spotlights.

March 2017

Dover’s newest music venue, The Booking Hall, announced its first-ever gig. Modern metal band While She Sleeps are the first band to confirm they will play at the venue.

June 2018

The Music Venue Trust assists us in locating an insurance broker for a building in part of which there is live music.

August 2022

The North Yard is bought by people running a boatyard.

September 2023

The Customs Baggage Halls are bought by the same people.