Harbour.JPGOur company:

Maritime House - John Shirley Ltd's HQ

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, Czech, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia. Slovenia and Slovakia and the Ukraine. We speak the languages and have a firm grasp of what is happening there now and how to best get the goods collected or delivered, quickly and efficiently.

Employing major shipping lines and hauliers from throughout the Balkans, as an international freight forwarder, we are the key to the transportation of goods for commercial organisations and multi-national charitable bodies. We oversee the loading, transit, and discharge of over 10 trucks and containers a week all over Europe from our base at Dover Harbour Station in Dover. 

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. 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 during WWII as a morgue. There is cell with a steel door under the clocktower which is a mystery and we recently found a working sash window behind some paneling. 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. This year we are tackling the St.Sava Room and the Booking Hall. 

John Shirley - Managing Director

Having lived in Bosnia and Canada, subsequently a finished products commodity trader in a Yugoslav trading company in London (turnover £200m), John Shirley tumbled into international freight when the company in question turned out to be mainly Serb and was then closed under UN sanctions in 1992. Years later he helped the Sunday Times defend themselves against a libel action by the managing director. They had discovered evidence that pointed to him donating to the Tories and also to Arkan, the notorious warlord. 

John was offered work in Dover by a clearance agent whom he had used for imports. He quickly established, by talking to drivers from former Yugoslavia at customs in the port, that the majority were going out from the U.K. empty having made their deliveries, to re-load in Holland or Belgium. This could be from as far up as Glasgow. 

At this time in the early to mid-nineties the wars in Croatia and Bosnia were in full swing with the consequent need to feed, clothe and house refugees then, eventually, to re-build the infrastructure in the war torn areas. It was expensive for charities and NGOs to hire and insure trucks to get their aid there. Learning of the empty trucks from former Yugoslavia and the low cost involved they snapped at the chance to use them. Through this agency and subsequently through John Shirley Ltd, then based in Willesborough, aid went from Dublin, Glasgow, Turrif, Bristol, Wrexham, London, Rotterdam, Aarhus, Nuremberg, Rennes, Paris , Naples, Gibraltar, Istanbul, Ziar nad Hronom, Balassagyarmat, Belgrade etc. in vast quantities, much of it paid for by the government of Japan in their first major donation programme. 

Goods shipped included tens of thousands of tonnes of  NAAFI biscuits and Bailey bridges, baby boxes, pasta, flour, rice, cooking oil, sugar, seed potatoes, tomato paste, beds, tents, body bags, generators, tractors, bowsers, stone crushers, paper, thermal power plant parts, garbage trucks, tippers, fire engines, armoured Landrovers, Landcruisers and so on. 

Later, in 1999 to 2001, the exercise was repeated with Kosovo resulting in a doubling of turnover in 2000. At all times phone calls in Serbo-Croat to get trucks though borders and vetinary checks was imperative. Use of French, German and Spanish at the loading places was often a tremendous help. Since those hectic years the nature of traffic has become more commercial  however, the necessity to get trucks and containers to their loading places on time when there are a dozen or more volunteers waiting remains as aid is still being shipped although in much lower quantities except in the spring of 2016 when great quantities of blankets mattresses and tents were taken to the migrant camps on Lesbos, near Athens, Novi Sad, Skopje and Slavonski Brod and .Languages spoken: fluent Serb, Croat, Bosnian, French, Spanish, conversational Albanian and some German.

Margaret Shirley - Forwarder

Margaret recently joined JSL to learn about the business and help develop other sides of the business not focused upon. Margaret has a Ba (Hons) in Education 

Margaret was born close to the beginning of the business so has witnessed it in all its forms and locations; from Ashford to Dover, one end of Snargate to another and finally at it's current location at Dover Harbour Station. 

Languages spoken: Well versed French


Julia Harrington - John Shirley Accounts

 Julia joined John Shirley Limited from Saint Ronan's School based in Hawkhurst. In August 2010, she took over responsibility for the Accounts 

Julia, originally from North London, moved to Folkestone more than a decade ago, having spent thirty years living near Royal Tunbridge Wells. Her career in book-keeping began in a mailing & fulfilment house, a job she had for 14 years. Following this, a year's freelancing took her to a Pre-Prep & Preparatory School in West Kent. There, she was invited to become a member of full-time staff, subsequently becoming Bursar and later, Financial Bursar. Having spent 12 years there, the prospect of a shorter commute led her to John Shirley Ltd.

Languages spoken: conversational French

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


 In the impressive and distinctive surrounding 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 (Braveheart) in 1302 The Green Organisation presented the company with a Bronze for cutting carbon. Arriva North West won the Gold and Logica the Silver. Appropriately in a corner of the room were two company Brompton folding bicycles which had been combined with the High-Speed 1 train to get from Dover to the ceremony.Mr.Shirley commented that "with this award customers can be sure that we do all we can to meet the exigencies of Corporate Social Governance".