Durell's 1847 guidebook
- St Aubin’s Road
- St Matthew’s Chapel
- Martello towers
- St Peter’s Valley
- St Aubin
- Noirmont Point
- St Brelade’s Bay
- The Quenvais
- Desolate coast
- St Peter’s Barracks
To St Aubin
The next tour will be to the westward. The road out of St Helier is by the Esplanade, or by Charing Cross and Cheapside; for those popular names have also an existence at St Helier. One of the roads to St Aubin goes over the sands at low water, and is something shorter. The upper road, which is that of the omnibuses, runs parallel with the coast, and like it describes a kind of semicircle till it reaches St Aubin. The road would be delightful were it not for the clouds of dust and sand which are occasionally thrown in the faces of travellers.
The whole of that road is lined nearly all the way by seats and villages, and the country is so populous that it has the appearance of the suburbs of a large town. About half-way on that road, in St Peter, stands the Church of England Chapel of Ease, St Matthew. It was erected by private subscription not many years ago, and affords a valuable accomodation to that part of the parish who are far from the parish church. [Editor's note: St Matthew's Church, now better known as the Glass Church, is in St Lawrence, not St Peter]
A little farther on the road is a large mansion, close to the sea, and called La Haule. There the road to St Aubin forms into two branches, the upper, and the lower. The former goes up a hill, and soon opens into St Aubin's main street; the latter runs over a causeway below high-water mark, passes in front of the Tower of St Aubin, and, at the end, communicates with the town by a rather steep ascent.
The magnificent prospect of the bay would easily recall the Bay of Naples, if the sky of the British Channel exhibited as bright an azure. After resting the eye for some time the view presents Elizabeth Castle rising on the surface of the sea beyond it, till it is bounded by Noirmont Point. St Aubin's Bay presents, on a clear day, the interesting spectacle of shipping of every description moving on its waters, as it were in a living picture. The land at some distance from the coast forms a bold amphitheatre, which rises from the sandy beach to a considerable height, and is terminated at one extremity, by the rocks near the Tower of Noirmont, and on the other by the Harbour of St Helier, and by the fortifications which proudly rise over it on Fort Regent.
It forms a semicircle, in the landscape of which there is an almost endless variety to be admired. It would be superfluous to dwell minutely on any of its particular beauties. The land, which about Noirmont is rocky, elevated, and sterile, is relieved by a well sheltered glen of singular fertility, in which the mansion of the Lord of that Manor has been erected. After passing this barren tract, the land improves in quality on the eastern side of St. Aubin, where, between natural fruitfulness, and cultivation, not an inch of it seems to be lost. The vales, the slopes, the recesses, and the heights which diversify this amphitheatre, are covered with meadows, conrfields, groves and orchards, in all the luxuriance of rural scenery, among which, habitations, from the humblest cottages, to the most ornamented gentlemen's seats, are interspersed in every direction.
The coast from St Helier to St Aubin is defended by Martello Towers, at the distance of about a mile from each other. They are but little above high water mark, and were built during the first American War. There are also batteries and guardhouses, once objects of much attention, but now almost forgotten since the return of peace. Within that space there are several small valleys, which open into the bay, where they discharge some copious streams, which turn in their short course several corn mills.
These are the vale near Beaumont, as well as the valleys of St Peter, St Lawrence, and Millbrook. The upper road to St Peter, after leaving the valley, winds painfully for nearly half-a-mile up the steep ascent of Beaumont Hill; but on reaching the summit, the trouble of the traveller is amply repaid by a most magnificent prospect of the bay, and of the wide expanse below. That view has some particular advantages over the others, from its being in a more central situation.
The town of St Aubin is about four miles from St Helier. The tide in the bay recedes to the distance of about half-a-mile, and leaves an extensive plain of fine white sand, sufficiently hard to bear carts and foot passengers. The road over those sands is preferred by many during the summer months. The military road to St Aubin is the greatest thoroughfare in the island, and from which branch of the main roads to the six western parishes.
The site of St Aubin was selected on account of proximity to the harbour of the Tower. The town is built on the side of a steep declivity. In many places the ground has been excavated to produce level spots for the buildings. There is but one main street, very tortuous and narrow, the steepness of which has however been partially removed by levelling.
The town is not large, but the last census has ascertained its population to be on the increase. It has an air of neatness, and of general comfort. The houses are most of them substantially built of the granite of the country, but few of them are of modern date. It participated, however, in the general prosperity of the island, though to a less extent than its more fortunate neighbour, St Helier.
During a long time St Aubin engrossed nearly all the trade of the island; and many are the memorials of the prosperity of its former merchants. The town undoubtedly owed its foundation to the commodiousness of its neighbouring harbour of the Tower. The date is uncertain, though probably it has existed in some state or other since the 16th century. Its patron saint, Aubin, or Albinos, was either a Welsh or an Armorican saint, and in that name we seem to recognise the St Aubins, who have long been reckoned among the largest landowners in Cornwall.
The town increased with the commercial prosperity of its inhabitants. The Newfoundland trade did not begin in England till about 1580, and Sir Walter Raleigh, who was Governor here in 1601, is said to have been concerned in some Newfoundland adventures from Jersey. Therefore it is perhaps to that distinguished soldier that our ancestors were first indebted for a participation in that fishery.
St Aubin had reached its highest prosperity under Charles II, when it possessed all the shipping of the island, and when St Helier had not even the semblance of a harbour. The first attempts to form a harbour at St Helier began under that Prince, but the progress was slow, and it was not till the beginning of the present century that the commercial prosperity of St Aubin was materially affected by the rising harbour of Helier. Since that period St Helier has advanced with giant strides, and in the same proportion St Aubin has declined. Some of the principal merchants have removed with their shipping and capital to the former town, so that at this moment St Aubin has no hopes remaining of ever regaining its ancient ascendancy.
The inhabitants have, however, made efforts to avert this declension of their trade. It is about 30 years ago that they had interest enough to induce the local legislature to build them a pier, contiguous to this town, on which about £20,000 were expended. But it was soon discovered that the shallowness of the water did not only render that pier almost useless, but that in the opinion of many naval men, it affects the safety of shipping in the neighbouring and more valuable harbour of the Tower. This memorial of legislative imbecillity puts us in mind of a certain King of Spain, who built a superb bridge at Madrid, but quite forgot that he had no river which he could bring to flow under its arches.
St Aubin does not, however, exhibit any of the signs of a decayed town, but has rather the appearance of a small English seaport with a limited trade. Its shipping still amounts to a considerable tonnage, and it exports large quantities of the agricultural produce of the country.
A commodious market was built there by the States about 20 years ago, which is held every Friday, and is well supplied. Omnibuses from St Helier ply several times a day, and at this moment St Aubin, from the salubrity of its situation, the beauty, and the variety of its walks and prospects, the comparative cheapness of house-rent, and above all, that stillness and retirement, which are so desirable for invalids, is become a favourite resort for those English visitors, who repair in quest of health to our side of the Channel.
A signal post on the brow of the hill, above the north-end of the town, communicates with the signals to the west, on the heights of La Moye, and transmits intelligence to another signal station erected on Fort Regent, St Helier.
There is a well-endowed hospital, or rather Almshouse, in this town, which was founded by Mrs Bartlett, the widow of one of its opulent merchants. That establishment is still in a flourishing state. As the town is at an inconvenient distance from St Brelade, its parish church, a chapel of ease was erected at St Aubin about 100 years ago, where divine service is performed every Sunday by a minister elected by the inhabitants.
St Aubin's Fort
The Tower of St Aubin is built on a rock in the bay, about a quarter of a mile from the town. It is a place of some note in the history of the island, and though it is not known when its fortifications were first erected, it is evident that they are of considerable antiquity. The Fort, from the limited extent of the rock, can have never been large, nor could it have had any other object than that of protecting the shipping in its harbour, and of co-operating with Elizabeth Castle, by their cross fire to command the entrance into the bay.
The Harbour is sheltered by the islet on the south side, and by the main island on the north and west, so that it is esteemed the safest of all the Jersey harbours, for merchant vessels and even for frigates. It is a tide harbour, though it is so only for a few hours at a time. At the new and full moon it has at high water, a depth of 30 feet.
The Tower was garrisoned by the Royalists in 1651, when a powerful fleet was sent to attack it, under Admiral Blake. All resistance against that formidable expedition would have been useless, and, therefore, the commander surrendered with his feeble detachment on the first summons.
The present Tower, in the centre of the ground, was erected a few years ago by the late Major-General Sir William Thornton, who was then Lieut-Governor. The space round the Tower is laid out in a formidable battery, so that the place is now in the best possible state of defence. The value of this islet is, therefore, entirely on account of its harbour, and of its command of the most important anchorage in the bay. On the land side it could make no defence, as it is completely commanded by the Noirmont heights, and by the high grounds that rise immediately above St Aubin.
Men-of-war, transports, conveying troops, and other large vessels which cannot come into St Helier for want of water, remain at anchor in that part of the bay which is called the Great Road, between the approach of shipping for some hours before its arrival.
St Brelade's Church is built on the western side of the bay, and its churchyard is not much above high water mark. It is a very humble edifice, said to have been built early in the 12th century, and to be the oldest of the churches in the island. It has neither spire, nor tower, but it is roofed over the nave like a house. There is a round turret that rises from the ground, but which is built in a nook, and ascends only to a small belfry. It has an altar at the eastern end, and likewise pillars and communicating arches, similar to those in the other Jersey churches.
There is a small chapel in the churchyard, known by the name of the Fishermen's Chapel, which, on account of its antiquity, is well worth the attention of the tourist. There were here formerly many of that sort of chapels, which have gradually been demolished till this is the only one which remains in a perfect state. Those chapels are generally understood to have been built in Jersey before the parish churches, and to have been, for a long while, its only places of worship.
The Portelet, within which is the rock called Janvrin's Tower, is but at a small distance from St Brelade's Bay.
Above St Brelade's Bay, and in a westerly direction, there is a large tract of sandy and uncultivated downs, known by the name of the Quenvais. It was anciently, says the Old Chronicler, a very fruitful spot, where everybody wished to have some property. He then proceeds with his tradition, which is in substance that on 25 November 1495, four Spanish vessels were wrecked, probably among the breakers of La Corbiere. One of those vessels, however, reached the shore and saved its crew, with the exception of one man. The savage inhabitants plundered those unfortunate people of what little they had saved. Divine vengeance, however, was not slow to overtake those inhuman wretches. Clouds of sand, driven by the high winds, overwhelmed their devoted district, and changed their fruitful fields into an arid desert, which has since been known under the name of the Quenvais.
Man is fond to have recourse to the interposition of Heaven, to account for the extraordinary effects of natural causes. The violation of common humanity had been atrocious, and the people of that period imagined that such guilt could not be expiated, but by some miraculous punishment from the offended Deity. That vengeance, however, was perhaps nothing more than a strong westerly wind, which happened about that time, and caused that signal devastation. It is well known that those winds, which often prevail there, carry over with them immense showers of sand far into the land. In the course of time the natural ground becomes covered with a thick layer of sand, and becomes totally unfit for cultivation.
This opinion is further strengthened from the fact that the subsoil is a vegetable mould, and that even remains of buildings have been discovered in some places, where the sand has been removed. Even now a great many of those sandy hillocks might be removed, and the ground restored to agriculture; but the process would be too tedious, and too expensive, to let us hope that for a long time it could be more than partially accomplished. Experiments of this sort were made even on a large scale, by the late General Sir George Don, who succeeded. The ground, after having been once uncovered, the effects might be rendered permanent, by preventing afterwards the gradual accumulation of sand.
Near the Signal Post at La Moye, and at the bottom of the cliffs, are some curious caverns, but of recent exploration; the visiting of which, would well repay the curiosity of the traveller.
The tourist has to continue his road across this desolate tract. He will have a distant view of the dangerous rocks of La Corbiere, which present the most formidable obstacle to the communications of St Helier with England, or are at least the most frequent cause of delay. In sailing from England, the first part of Jersey which emerges above the sea is the bold promontory of Grosnez, lying at its northern extremity. It is usual for vessels to approach nearer, or to keep to a greater distance from the Corbiere according to the weather. It is during fogs that those rocks are particularly dangerous, when local knowledge and prudence can in many cases be of little avail to the pilot. Steamers now approach it much nearer than any sailing vessel would have formerly ventured to do, and it is from the deck of any of the former that one is enabled in fine weather to have the best view of those rocks, especially, if it be low water. The coast of Jersey, on first nearing it, has a most forbidding and unpromising appearance. Nothing can exceed the dreariness and desolation of Grosnez, and La Corbiere Points.
After leaving the Quenvais behind him, the tourist reaches St Peter's Barracks. A large mass of buildings seen to a great distance, which were erected during the late war for military purposes, as the name imports. Since the return of peace they have been left untenanted, or are merely occupied by a few soldiers to prevent depredations, and to keep the buildings from getting into a state of dilapidation.
On returning homewards, the tourist passes by St Peter's Church. It is situated in a fruitful and populous part of the country, but it has nothing particularly interesting either from traditional or historical recollections. Its steeple is higher than that of any other parish church in Jersey. On the way to St Helier the traveller may stop a few minutes on the summit of Beaumont Hill, whence there is another prospect of the ay, which is particularly grand and magnificent. From this place a good road with a steep descent joins the St. Aubin's Road at the third Martello Tower.
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