A history of Gloucester Street

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What's your street's story? – Gloucester Street


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The newly refurbished Opera House in 1935


This article is based on the Jersey Archive Street Story presentation in September 2016


Gloucester Street contains two of Jersey’s most famous buildings, Jersey Opera House and the General Hospital.

Royal visitor

The Street got its name after a visit from the nephew of George III, William Duke of Gloucester, in September 1814. His visit caused much excitement in both Jersey and Guernsey, largely because visits by royalty had been virtually unknown up to this time and it would not be until 1846 that Queen Victoria became the first reigning monarch to pay an official visit to Jersey.

The Duke was widely known as a pompous, vain man. He was heavily lampooned in the press and he earned himself the unflattering nickname of ‘Silly Billy’.

The street did not become known as Gloucester Street immediately after his visit. Contracts from as late as 1821 still refer to Rue de l’Hopital.

Gloucester Street has changed much over the 200 years since it was developed but never more so than in the last 20 years when major modern developments on both sides of the road have replaced much older buildings, changing the Victorian streetscape for ever.

There are a few original buildings left in the street. Numbers 13-19 and 25 are recorded as under development in the Jersey Magazine Map of 1810. The listed buildings database records that most of these buildings were originally two storeys and had an extra floor added to extend them into guest houses.

17 Gloucester Street is recorded on the database as being part of a mirrored pair of houses with No 19, part of an original row of seven houses erected in 1810.

The men most closely associated with the development of these houses were Jean de Veulle and his son, also Jean, Bailiff of Jersey from 1831 to 1848. A contract dated 15 September 1821 shows Jean de Veulle, son of Aaron, obtaining a property and land in this area from Jeanne de Carteret, his niece, who obtained if by inheritance from her brother.

No 17 has changed hands many times since it was built. It remained in the de Veulle family until 25 May 1842, when it passed to Gedeon Leigh. Gedeon was upwardly mobile, going from an ordinary seaman to shipwright in 20 years.

Professions linked to the ship building industry were recorded in the area. No 20 was a shipyard and one of the early public houses in the area was known as the Ship Builders Inn. There were other public houses on the street with the Dolphin and the New Hospital Inn, which was located for many years at No 3, next to the Adelphi eating house and opposite the Hospital.

General Hospital

The General Hospital has a long history and its development from a bequest of Marie Bartlet in 1741 to the present day proposals has been well documented.

The original plot for the hospital extended to the seashore. This land included the area of what are now Patriotic Street car park and Century Buildings. An Act of the States dated 30 December 1809 released part of this land for sale but retained the area on which the current hospital is built and a block in Newgate Street where the former prison was built. This is currently the Gwyneth Huelin wing and hospital car park.

In 1859 fire tore through the hospital building making the 300 inmates homeless. These people were almost entirely poorhouse residents, because this was Marie Bartlet’s original concept for a hospital and so it operated for many decades, the poorhouse element gradually being overtaken by a medical hospital, and disappearing entirely in the 1930s.

The history of the hospital includes fascinating stories of many individuals. In December 19968 a young woman named Bridget Newlands and her child Honora Ryan were admitted for vagabondage. They stayed in the hospital until April 1861 when Bridget died of a fever on the eve of the census.

In December 1861 a visiting Polish war hero, Major Charles Janciewicz and his wife took a fancy to little Honora. Hospital records show that Mrs Janciewicz asked if they could adopt here. Many years later Honora, who never married, was a woman of means. She erected a large stone memorial to the fond memory of her adoptive parents.

The Duchess of Gloucester, wife of a later Duke than the one after whom the street was named, visits the General Hospital in 1952

Prison

Newgate Street Prison was opened in 1812 on land next to the hospital. The cost of the new granite-faced prison was about £19,000, a tremendous sum at the time. It was named Newgate after the famous prison in London which stood on the site now occupied by the Old Bailey.

Prison reformer Elizabeth Fry visited Jersey in 1833 and made several recommendations for reform. These included segregation of different types of prisoner. She also advocated the building of a house of correction to ease overcrowding and the introduction of manual work to keep the prisoners occupied.

Jersey Archive holds a journal written by the Prison Governor over a short period from 1838 to 1841. It appears to have been written to show how Elizabeth Fry’s reforms had been implemented. It includes a record of the names of male prisoners working the treadwheel.

This machine was considered a huge advance in prison labour and can be seen at the Jersey Museum. The manpower turned a small mill which ground, among other things, coffee, allspice and ginger.

It is estimated that prisoners on the wheel walked at least 11,000 feet a day. Women prisoners picked oakum, involving the removal of tar from ships’ rope. As well as being a monotonous job, the rope was so harsh that it made their fingers bleed. One female prisoner, Betsey Cabot, was repeatedly mentioned in the journal for misbehaviour, including a total refusal to work and shouting at men out of the window.

Opera House

The Opera House is opposite the junction with Newgate Street. The current building is not the first on this site. It has suffered two disastrous fires and undergone many changes of ownership. The man who built the first theatre was Henry Cornwall. Cornwall’s Royal Amphitheatre and Circus opened in 1865.

When he went on tour, Cornwall left the theatre in the hands of William Wybert Rousby, to whom he sold the property in 1868. Rousby owned the renamed Theatre Royal for the next 30 years, providing a variety of acts, including traditional pantomime.

In 1898 after a court case involving another potential purchaser, Sidney Cooper bought and renovated the theatre, only for it to burn to the ground in 1899. The building was replaced with the familiar building still standing today, designed by architect Adolphus Curry. On the opening night of the new building Lillie Langtry performed for the Jersey audience.

The building survived a second fire in 1921 and its recent renovations have ensured that it will continue as a location for the performing arts for many years to come.

Gloucester Street has always been home to a number of hotels. Where Century Buildings now stands was the Farmers Hotel. It offered the latest in modern facilities, including a billiard room. It later became the Hotel Casablanca and the Blue Fox night club.

Next door in the 1930s was Stevenson’s Garage, which specialised in Studebaker cars. In 1831 a Gypsy Moth aircraft landed on the beach at West Park for a weekend visit to the island. The plane was towed to the garage to be refuelled, presenting the opportunity to take one of the most iconic photographs of the early days of flying in Jersey.
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