Durell's 1847 guidebook
- Military roads
- Goodness of the soil
- Sea baths
- Saumarez manor
- St Clement’s Bay
- Seymour Tower
- French invasion
- Grouville Church
- Mount Orgueil Castle
- Oyster trade
- Dean Bandinel
- St George’s Day
The military roads are the other sort of communication and are also of a more recent origin. The first of them, the Grouville, or Don Road, was formed about the year 1808, and derives its name from its founder, the late Sir George Don, the then Lieut-Governor of the Island. He had a great deal of opposition to encounter, which he finally overcame by his moderation and his perseverance. There are now several of those roads, all of them beginning at St Helier, and communicating with each other. Those roads have the appearance of English Turnpike Roads, except in the essential particular that they are toll free, because from their having been originally constructed by the States, they are still maintained out of the general funds of the island.
The soil is good and fruitful, though generally light. In some of the valleys, however, one may find vegetable earth to a very considerable depth. The slopes of the hills, which formerly were covered with broom and furze, have been brought into cultivation, especially such as have an exposure to the south. The general declivity of the ground is from North to South, which presents, by far, the best exposure to the rays of the sun. The most elevated point is Mount Mado, on the north coast, and in the parish of St John, where it is above 400 feet above the level of the sea. It consists of a mass of granite, or rather of sienite, of a superb grain, and of an extreme hardness. The lowest point is St Aubin's Bay, where the two towns of St Helier and St Aubin at each extremity seem to look at each other, the former as a queen city, and the latter as its humble vassal.
The lowlands which extend from St Helier to Mount Orgueil Castle, near the circuitous road through St Clement and Grouville parishes, are supposed to be the best in the island. It will be in that direction that we shall first conduct our tourist. We leave St Helier near the Theatre, pass Plaisance, the elegant seat of J W Dupre, leaving the large suburb of Georgetown on the left, and going down a good road we soon reach the sea beach, where there is a commodious bathing establishment, on what is called the Greve d'Azette. There are always kept here a certain number of bathing machines in readiness. The accomodations are elegant, and comfortable, and the charges reasonable.
Above the baths, and parallel with the coast, runs the military road to St Clement. At some distance from the road, on a rising ground, and nearly embosomed in extensive plantations, rises the superb mansion of Bagatelle. It commands a most extensive prospect. It has often changed its owners. It was the residence of the late Duke of Bouillon, then of Sir Thomas Le Breton, and is now that of Francis Godfray, an eminent Advocate of the Royal Court of Jersey.
A little farther on we come to a large piece of water, which from its oblong shape is not improperly called Saumarez Canal. It seems to have been originally intended to drain off the waters of the adjoining swamp, and to have afterwards answered the double purpose of being as an ornament and a fish pond to the Manor of Saumarez, close to which it extends. Some ancient recollections attach to that venerable place. It was, for a long time, the seat of the eldest branch of the Dumaresqs, one of whom was Henry Dumaresq, the republican, and the adversary of Sir George Carteret. It was also the property of Philip Dumaresq, whose Map of Jersey is prefixed to the Second Edition of Falle's History. He wrote a treatise of great merit on the state of Jersey, which, was presented to James II in 1635.
An avenue of hardy weather-beaten oaks formerly led to the Seignorial mansion, and seemed to have resisted for centuries the sweeping storms that came rushing upon them from the neighbouring sea. The oaks, too, have experienced the vicissitudes of their ancient owners. They have been felled, and they are gone.
After passing the avenue, an old road, perfectly shaded by trees, and interspersed with several farmhouses, takes the direction of the coast, at a small distance from which, and in the middle of a field is to be found the Witches Rock, more commonly called Rocbert. Some of the good people still aver that his Satanic Majesty, in one of his nocturnal visits, left the vestiges of his cloven feet deeply imprinted in the solid rock. It was there that in the days of our grandmothers, the neighbouring wizards and witches met to celebrate their sabbath. The belief in sorcery is disappearing very fast, and the fear of the mischiefs which its vengeance might occasion has given way to derision and contempt.
Well might the scoffer sneer at the ignorance and cruelty of priestly superstition, when he is told that the existence of witchcraft is still acknowledged to exist in Jersey, and that by the Canons of its Ecclesiastical Court it comes within the Dean's Jurisdiction. It is, indeed, become a dead letter, but there is always danger, as long as a law is suffered to remain unrepealed, especially when in the hands of a tribunal that pretends to be distinct from the civil power, and which if ever directed by tyrants or fanatics might be fatal to the peace of individuals, and to the interests of society. There is a vain and superstitious belief that no human force could remove the rock from its present situation. That will certainly be the case, till some bold projector has the audacity to quarry it away in spite of witchcraft, for the purpose of some impious speculation.
The sea appears again from this place, and at low water it uncovers an immense extent of low rocks, enough to impress the soul with horror. On the right is the small island of La Motte, containing about half an acre of land. Its neighbourhood is noted for shipwrecks: but a little farther out to sea, and on a rock that never covers, is the tower of Icho, to defend the bay, and still farther out, at some miles distance, Seymour Tower seems to rise from the waves, near which, the Baron de Rullecourt and his Frenoh invaders landed in 1781.
The path which lines the coast of that terrific panorama leads, in a few minutes, the tourist to the village of Pontac, a place of fashionable resort for convalescents, and for the amusements of many a picnic. There is an improbable tradition that Charles II landed at this place. That Prince landed near Elizabeth Castle, and was attended by a numerous fleet. He had been driven by his enemies from place to place in the West of England, till finding himself unsafe, even in the Scilly Islands, he sought an asylum in Jersey, where he remained some months. Thus far for the traditions of King Charles in Jersey, most of which were the nursery tales of our grandmothers, and are not deserving of further credit.
The point of land which separates the Bay of St Clement from that of Grouville is the most southerly land in Jersey, and the nearest to Seymour Tower, at the distance of something less than three miles. There is a tradition that there was once a hermitage on that rock in honour of St Samson. It is well known that he was one of those Armorican Saints who converted the Channel Islands to Christianity. It is from that rock that a shoaly bottom is supposed to extend to France, and that this is the place from which, if ever, it was separated from the Continent.
According to the chart of Capt Robert White, the soundings in the intermediate distance do not average more than six or seven fathoms. That disruption took place about the beginning of the Eighth Century, when, according to the Abbe Manet, the waters scooped out St Michel's Bay in France, and swallowed up all the lowlands round the island, so as to leave little more standing than its rocky site. There is also another tradition of the kind, that in the time of St Lo, who died on 21 September 565, Jersey was separated from the territory of Coutances but by a narrow stream, over which the lord of the soil was, by his tenure, obliged to supply a plank to ferry over the Archdeacon of Coutances, when he was engaged in his pastoral visitations. The latter part of this statement is probably false.
When the French invaded Jersey in 1781, they seized a battery at La Roque, and left there a detachment of about 100 men. On the first alarm of that occupation, the late Rev F Le Couteur, then Rector of St Martin, had two field pieces immediately removed to Fort Conway. They were his own private property, and had been put in a state fit for service at his own expense. He came up himself to Captain Campbell and urged him to dislodge the French detachment who had occupied the battery.
That officer had already received the Lieut-Governor's capitulation, with his orders not to stir, hesitated at first, and finally refused to comply with Mr Le Couteur's request. That spirited man having next applied to Lieut Robinson, was told that he dared not to attack the enemy against the orders of his superiors, as if he did, he would lose his commission and be ruined. Then, said Mr Le Couteur, I am a man of some property, and if you should lose your commission, I will take care that you shall be fully indemnified.
During that indecision Captain Campbell received a letter from Major Pierson, that, notwithstanding the Governor's orders, he was resolved to attack the enemy. On receiving this intelligence, he detached the company of Grenadiers, divided it into two parties, took the command of one himself, and gave the other to Lieut Robinson. Before he could, however, come up, Robinson had already dislodged the enemy, and occupied the battery. Six of his brave men fell, who were honourably interred in Grouville Churchyard, where the parish caused a suitable monument to be erected to their memory, where it remains to this day. Eight others were wounded.
After leaving the hamlet of Pontac, the tourist goes up the road to St Clement's Church, and after turning to the right and then to the left, he gets on the higher grounds of Grouville, and after passing between the orchards of Hugh Godfray, he has a full view of Woodlands, the elegant seat of that gentleman. As you advance, the luxuriance of the vegetation improves. At the bottom of a large village rises the modest steeple of Grouville Church, the prettiest country church in the island. After passing the church, the road gets confined between hedgerows planted with high and over-branching forest trees ; but very soon the obstruction vanishes, and the eye roves delighted over the rich amphitheatre of the rural district of Grouville.
On the right is the sea, and the level turf which the tourist leisurely traverses forms the race course. That noble amusement has been introduced from England, and is yet in its infancy; but it is hoped that, in time, it will affect its principal purpose that of encouraging an improvement in the breed of horses, and of relieving residents from a larger country from the monotony which they must necessarily experience in such a small island. There is also another racecourse on the sands, in the Greve d'Azette, below the baths, and at a small distance from St Helier; but there the sport is even of a still inferior nature, and has nothing to deserve any particular description.
Before us, and rising on a stupenduous rock, stands Mount Orgueil Castle in all the venerable majesty of the olden time, and the decayed grandeur of generations, who have long since vanished. It is easy to imagine why that fortress was so long the bulwark of the inhabitants, and a kind of sacred pledge, that while it remained untaken, the island would not yield to a foreign yoke. If nature might be said sometimes to have been an accomplice with man, in affording him facilities in the art of war, it certainly marked out to him this place for the site of a fortress. Notwithstanding the great changes which time has effected in the art of attacking and defending fortified places, it is astonishing that Government has not done more to prevent its being dismantled, and a part of its buildings from falling to ruins.
A position with so many glorious recollections deserves to be kept in suitable repair, and the more so, on account of its harbour, which forms a good station, whence in time of war, the motions of shipping between it and the Continent might be effectually watched.
The road is lined by contiguous houses, which soon lead to Gorey, a large village or rather town, supposed to be already more populous than St Aubin. It has a chapel of the Church of England of its own, as the parish churches of Grouville and of St Martin were too far. The chapel is built in a good style, and on an eminence, which has a good effect, as it towers above the modest habitations of the village below.
Gorey owes all its importance to its oyster fishery, which is of a very recent date, and gives it the character and the bustle of a small seaport town, especially during the fishing season. The oysters are dredged for in the intermediate Channel, and occasion almost perpetual altercations with the French local authorities who, as our people say, have extended their oyster limits too far, and restricted the oyster season to too short a time. The truth is that the oyster beds are nearer to the French coast, that the French fishermen see the English dredgers with an evil eye, and that by a convention between the two governments, the latter are restricted from dredging nearer than within six miles of the French coast.
During the fishery from two to three hundred boats are constantly in motion from the oyster beds to Mount Orgueil Harbour, and from thence back to England. The harbour is safe and commodious; it has a bason, fitted with artificial beds, in which the oysters may be deposited as they are brought in, unless they are shipped off immediately for the place of their destination; as too long a stay in bulk would cause them to perish.
The greater part of the English fishing cutters belongs to the county of Kent, and the money which is so lavishly expended by their crews is really an object of importance to the inhabitants of Gorey. The motions of the flotilla are highly animating. It is really delightful to see that swarm of fishing boats gliding along over those shallow bottoms, which anciently the overwhelming force of the waters rent from France. On Sundays, the boats are all confined to the harbour, which then presents a small forest of masts.
It frequently happens that there are differences between the fishermen and the oyster merchants. No boat is then allowed to come out, and woe would be to him who would endeavour to break through this combination. On more than one occasion it has been necessary to have recourse to the intimidation of the military. It is really painful when such a state of things comes to interrupt the course of laborious industry, in which all parties are losers, when the obstinacy of the fishermen to secure themselves against low prices causes them to miss the profits of perhaps a whole fishing season.
The merchantable oyster ought not to pass through a ring of two inches and a half in diameter. When it is smaller, it ought to be thrown back into the water, and when larger it would not suit the merchants, who buy their oysters by the tub. It is on that account that the oysters generally brought to the St Helier's Market are of an enormous size, and unfit to be sold in England.
The Jersey fishermen, notwithstanding the limits which have been traced for the two nations, have frequent altercations with their French rivals. The latter naturally suppose that the oysters with which their coast has been so bountifully supplied ought to be exclusively their own, and that no limits ought to have been traced to prevent their fishing in any particular part. On the other hand, the English fishermen are very apt to incroach on the French limits, where the oyster grounds are better supplied and more easily dredged. Scarcely a year passes without the capture of some English boats within the French limits.
The boat is then carried into Granville, and tried by the French, and if condemned, the produce of the fishery is confiscated, and the crew are subject to a fine and imprisonment. A ludicrous circumstance of the kind happened some years ago, when a Jersey boat was captured by a French Garde Cote under those circumstances. The crew went down below, and the Garde Cote put some men on board to take the oystermen into Granville. As soon as they had got to a certain distance, the Jerseymen unexpectedly appeared on deck, overpowered the French, and taking their places, very coolly steered about, and reached again the island in safety.
The yearly exportation of oysters to England amounts on an average to 130,000 tubs, of three bushels each; and each of those tubs varies in price from 3s 6d to 4s. To this may also be added a profitable trade in the exportation of lobsters.
A visit to the castle
Mount Orgueil Castle has given its name to the harbour, and some part of its celebrity to the village of Gorey. There the tourist may stop and refresh himself at Payne's British Hotel. A short walk from thence will bring him to the entrance of the castle. As you go in you will meet with a few great guns, without their carriages, lying uselessly on the grass, as if only to point out where they had been formerly mounted. After having gone up a first staircase, the visitor reaches the Porters' Lodge. There he is expected to pay sixpence, and inscribe his name. The setting down of the name may be no more than to gratify the visitor, while the sixpence is understood to be to keep up the ruins in a tolerable state, to prevent them from falling into further dilapidation.
Such is now that once impregnable edifice, which, in the time of its prosperity was the best work of Jersey. But for the protection which its walls might have there afforded, of how many deeds of darkness and of shame has it not been conscious, and how often have not extortion and the abuse of power been concealed within its walls?
The foundation of this castle is commonly attributed to Julius Caesar, as everything else which has any pretensions to a Roman origin is most commonly assigned without any further inquiry to that first of the Emperors. This would have happened 800 years before the island, had as it is supposed, been yet dissevered from the Continent. Though it is probable that such a commanding point had been fortified from the most remote antiquity, the reasonable opinion is that Mount Orgueil Castle was the work of some of the co-temporaries of Henry II, that is like the Abbey of St Helier in the 12th Century.
Notwithstanding its apparently impregnable situation, on a perpendicular rock of above 200 feet high, it must have had its weak sides, from the circumstance that strangers were not admitted but blindfolded within its walls. It was never taken by force, but it fell by surprise from Floquet, a Norman captain, acting for Pierre de Breze, the celebrated Count of Maulevrier, who had obtained a cession of the island through the intrigues of Margaret of Anjou, the heroic and unfortunate Queen of Henry VI.
The upper part of the Castle was built by Richard Harliston, who had recovered the island from Maulevrier, and was called from him the Tower of Harliston. That brave man, like many others, had the close of his life, after a brilliant career, clouded by misfortune. Having been implicated in the civil wars of his time, he was proscribed and banished by Henry VII, and retired to Flanders, where he died in want and obscurity. He was the father of the virtuous Margaret de Harliston, who had married a de Carteret, and was the traditionary mother of 20 sons.
Among the curiosities are the ruins of St George's Chapel. Thomas Overay, one of the best governors of Jersey, who lived under Henry VII, and under whose administration it became particularly rich and flourishing, was buried in that chapel. The memory of that good man still gives after the lapse of ages an interest to that sacred place.
There is a well which has been excavated in the natural rock, of great and uncertain depth, which travellers are often desired to test by casting a stone into it. A Roman origin has been assigned to it, the usual convenient mode of accounting for any work of unexplored antiquity.
The next place are the ruins of a prison, in which offenders were confined before a jail was erected at St Helier under Charles II. There are also stone seats on which the magistrates of a former period are said to have met to hear and determine causes; but this must have been very ancient, as there is a company of halberdiers, who are bound by their tenures to attend the prisoners to and from trial at St Helier.
There is a suite of rooms in which Charles II is said to have been entertained during his exile; for he never fixed his residence in the Castle. Those rooms were probably the residence of the old governors of Mount Orgueil. It was there also that George Poulett resided under Elizabeth, and Sir Philip De Carteret under Charles I, the same who had the keeping of the celebrated Pryuna, and whose humane attentions so far relaxed his puritanic austerity that he would play cards with Lady De Carteret, and her daughters. At a later period, the late Duke of Bouillon, Rear Admiral D'Auvergne, resided there for some years, during the French Revolution, and made several improvements to the apartments.
Another interesting object is the room almost at the top of the Castle where David Bandinel, and James Bandinel, one of his sons, were confined during the civil wars of Charles I, for their disloyal conduct, from whence having attempted to escape, he and his son fell from a great height on the rocks. The former was taken up senseless the next morning, and had just time to be brought back to expire in his cell, while the latter was so severely bruised that, although he partially recovered, he did not long survive his fall. No alteration has been made to the room, and it seems to be even now in precisely the same state, as it was at the time of the Dean's fatal escape.
There is a tradition that he was an Italian, who had left his country for his religious opinions. Among the noble families of Pisa in Tuscany there is one of that name. Much evil has been said about his memory, but it ought to be received with some distrust, when it is recollected, that it has come down to us from the chronicles of his cotemporary adversaries, who could see no merit but in a blind attachment to the virtues, as well as to the faults of their unfortunate king. Let his errors be either forgotten, or his sufferings be remembered, but by the sympathy of the historian.
There is an annual holiday kept every Easter Monday at Mount Orgueil Castle. On that day, it is thrown open gratis to the public, who crowd in great numbers up and down its staircases to enjoy from its summit the enlivening prospect of a beautiful and highly cultivated country, interspersed with elegant mansions and numerous villages, containing an industrious and contented population, while the adjoining sea is covered with the whitening sails of vessels of different sizes.
There was formerly a pilgrimage made by the devout people to St George's Chapel in the castle, on his anniversary, which falls on 22 April. It is well known that St George is the Patron Saint of England. The Governors apprehensions of a surprise were excited by the admission of so many pilgrims into their feeble garrison. It was, therefore, suppressed by an article in the Ordinances of Henry VII, in 1495, and has remained so ever since, except that in after times the holiday, on Easter Monday, seems to have been substituted in its stead.
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