Durell's 1847 guidebook
Library and Courthouse
- Public Library
- Court House and Hall of the States
- The Royal Square
- Statue of George II
- The streets
- The theatre
- Markets, prices, etc
Nearly in the centre of the town stands a plain brick building, containing a large and valuable public library. It is open to any person of respectability who resides in the Island, on the payment of a small and even inadequate subscription to the librarian.
It contains many scarce and high priced books, especially in divinity and ecclesiastical history. Of late years the States of the Island have occasionally made liberal grants of money, which have been applied to the purchase of the best Latin, English, and French classics. There is a Latin inscription over the front door, which states that this library was founded by the Rev Philippe Falle, a native of Jersey, Chaplain to William and a Prebendary of Durham, who was then almost 80 years old.
It may be worthwhile to observe that Mr Falle was the same person as the honest and upright historian of Jersey, whose work is still held in such high estimation that it has become in some sort a textbook. Mr Falle lived to a very advanced age, and expired at his Rectory of Shenley, near St Albans, in 1742, when he was almost a nonagenerian.
The Library received a large accession by the gift of the books of the Rev Daniel Dumaresq, a Canon of Salisbury, and also a native of Jersey.
That truly good and learned divine lived to be almost as old as Mr Falle, and terminated his earthly pilgrimage for a blessed immortality in 1805.
The situation of the library has been thought by many to be confined and inconvenient and, therefore, susceptible of receiving considerable improvements. As the same objections have long been made to the Court House, it has been in contemplation to rebuild it, with the library annexed, in some more commodious situation. But the execution of such a project would require large sacrifices from the resources of the country, and numerous other difficulties would have yet to be surmounted before this could be carried into effect.
The librarian is in the nomination of the States. That situation which lately became vacant had been held for nearly a century by the respectable family of the Quesnels, through successive elections. Mr John Falle is the newly elected Librarian. He has the house for a residence, but on the whole the office enjoys but a slender remuneration.
The Courthouse, or as it is called in French La Cohue Royale, is built on the southern side of the Royal Square. The word seems to have been derived from coeo, a Latin word, which means to assemble, though ill nature has often assigned it to Cohue, an old Norman word, which means confusion.
Though the prisoners were formerly detained in Mont Orgueil Castle, they were always brought to St Helier for trial, at least from the time that any of the records of that Court are extant, which do not begin till the latter end of the reign of Henry VII. The business of the Court before that period could not have been much, but whether the records previous to that date have been lost, or whether some had been regularly kept, it is not possible to determine.
The building is at the charge of the Crown, and has been rebuilt more than once. The present edifice is a handsome one, and was raised in the early part of the reign of George III. It has, however, undergone various expensive and ornamental improvements, which have generally been paid for by the States, out of the public funds of the island. The interior is distributed as well as circumstances can admit, the entrance is into a spacious hall, which on Court days is open to the public. At the end of this hall is the Court itself, with the necessary accommodations for the magistrates, the men of business, and the different persons more immediately interested in the proceedings.
A large room on the first story, and fronting to the Royal Square, has been fitted up for the meetings of the insular States, with a handsome gallery, which has been erected at its lower end, when only a few years ago the debates were thrown open to the curiosity of the public.
Adjoining to the hall of the States are three other rooms, one appropriated to the keeping of the records of the Court and States, another as a registry office for copies of all deeds executed for the sale and transfer of real property, and a third reserved as a chamber for the Bailly and the Jurats, where they occasionally meet in private consultation.
This disposition of the Courthouse was originally sufficiently convenient, and quite adapted to the due transaction of official business. The change of times and circumstances has, however, occasioned many complaints about the inadequacy of that edifice.
That part of the building, where the Court sits, is so much annoyed from the noise of carts in the adjoining street that it often occasions an interruption to public business. Many plans have often been devised to remedy that inconvenience, but the most effectual one would be to remove the Court to a less objectionable situation.
Two things have, however, hitherto prevented it; the former, the central situation of the Court for business, and the latter, the heavy expense which it would entail on the public. It is to be observed, that the larger part of the revenues of the island is exclusively applied to the building and improving of harbours. While that continues to be the case, there will be here but few disposable funds to be expended on works of ornament or of general utility. The different chapels, the theatres, the national schools, and every other public building in St Helier, has been raised by private benefactions; the public purse has contributed nothing.
In front of the Courthouse is what is now called the Royal Square, whose capacious area was used for a market till 1803. It was the spot where the short struggle of 6 January 1781, which ended in the triumph and the death of Peirson, took place. It is now much frequented, particularly on Court days, as a kind of exchange for the transaction of business, and as a public walk.
There is a statue, at the upper end of the Square which passes for one of George II, though doubts are entertained on the matter. It was given in exchange for permission to build against one of the ends of the Courthouse, by one Gosset, a Frenchman, in 1749. It was inaugurated with a good deal of ceremony by all the local authorities, civil, and military. The statue is gilt, and in a Roman dress, but is said to be of lead, with a new head which was fitted to its bust, when it was allowed to assume the name of George II. That head is not unlike those on the coins of that sovereign. Since the sale of the Town Hill to Government in 1801, the town has lost its best public walk for health and recreation. The Square and the Harbour are the only public walks remaining; but in course of time when the trees planted on the Parade have grown larger, that spot may eventually become one of fashionable resort.
The streets were formerly narrow, and inconvenient, as in most of the old country towns in England. Those streets have participated in the general increase of wealth, and the unceasing desire for improvement. Most of the old streets have been widened, wherever it was practicable, the houses which lined them have been rebuilt, and the ground floors fitted up into elegant shops.
There are few towns out of London where the streets present a more copious and splendid display at the shop windows. Of the old streets, King Street is the best for trade, being the great thoroughfare for the six western parishes, and as it were a kind of London Strand in miniature.
Halkett Place is the most fashionable, the richest, and the handsomest of all the new streets. Broad Street is also a wide and open street, being almost as extensive as the Royal Square. The town further contains several modern ranges of buildings or terraces, the principal of which are Grosvenor Terrace, and the Crescent.
The latter was built not many years ago in the centre of which a neat and elegant theatre was erected at the same period. It is a beautiful edifice with a facade of Doric pillars and an ornament to the town. The inside of the theatre is fitted up with all the conveniences and decorations usually required for such an establishment. It is occasionally occupied by performers either from England, or France.
This theatre was built as a private speculation and has long been thought to be a losing concern. The taste for the drama was never very flourishing in Jersey, and the religious spirit of the times has rendered it of late years still more discouraged. A great deal has been written against and in defence of the drama, and it is not necessary to discuss a matter of the kind in this little work. It may not, however, be amiss to observe that what the present age may have lost in accurate taste and in sublimity of composition by the discouragement of the drama, it has been more than compensated by the prevalence of the precepts of religion and morality.
The markets are the next object worth drawing the attention of strangers. There was formerly but one market, which had been held from time immemorial in what is now called the Royal Square, and cattle were sold along the south wall of the outside of the Churchyard. The present market was erected by the States and opened in 1803. There are now several markets, all of which are well supplied, and which have been subsequently opened at different times — the vegetable and meat market, the fish market, the foreign provisions market, the fair, or cattle market, and a market for pork and poultry, which has just been finished, and is the most roomy and elegant of all of them, with its principal entrance into Halkett Place. The whole of the front of the market to Halkett Place has lately been decorated with a handsome iron balustrade.
While we are on the subject of the markets, many of our fair readers will not be sorry to have an average list of the prices of provisions. The Jersey pound is of 16 ounces, but these are equal to 17½ avoirdupoids weight. All kinds of butcher's meat are from 6d to 7d for the best cuts. From April to October butter is on average from 10d to 1s 1d per pound; but from October to March it may be averaged at from 1s 1d to 1s 3d. Eggs in the summer months are about 5d per dozen, and in winter 7d. Milk is carried to the houses at 2d a quart. Bread, according to quality, but the best seldom exceeds 1½d and 2d per pound. The island does not supply a sufficiency of corn for its consumption, but the deficiency is made up by abundant importations from the North of Europe. Poultry mostly comes from France, and is very reasonable, a good goose from 2s to 2s 6d, and a turkey 5s.
As to fruit and vegetables, they are abundant and cheap. That is also the case with fish, except at particular seasons. All kinds of groceries are not charged at half what they would cost in England. As to wines and spirits, the reduction is still more considerable. The very best Cognac brandy, 7s. 6d. per gallon. Fine brandy 3s 6d per gallon. Pure Hollands 3s 6d per gallon. Port Wine from 9s to 18s a dozen. Finest Marsala 8s a dozen. Fine Sherries from 12s to £1 4s per dozen. But wherefore all this enumeration of the finest wines to tantalize and irritate the thirst of many of our readers? It is therefore best to conclude by recommending in the words of the Jersey Wine, Spirit and Porter Metropolitan Company, their superior Sparkling Champaign, at 36s. a dozen.
The dearth of the present year has materially affected the prices of bread and of all kinds of market produce. It is hoped that this misfortune will be but temporary.
The day was now far advanced, our travellers after strolling a little longer, and amusing themselves with a peep at the different fine shops in Halkett Place, returned to their lodgings with a keen appetite, for the gratification of which, they found a copious repast spread before them, which argued well in favour of the good cheer and the salubrity of the Channel Islands.
The dearth of the present year has materially affected the prices of bread and of all hinds of market produce. It is hoped that this misfortune will be but temporary.
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