On the coast
A history of Grouville Common
Rifle shooting on the Common
This article was first published in the Grouville Gazette
Grouville Common was used for many purposes, one of which was as a venue to inspect the British soldiers garrisoned in Jersey, and for the Grand Review of the Jersey Militia. The Grand Review was an annual event which was originally held on the 29 May each year to commemorate the restoration of King Charles II to the throne after the English Civil War, but was later moved to the 24th to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday.
Details of the military inspections can be seen in the Public Works collection at Jersey Archive, which contains a number of records relating to military matters in the island.
Included in the collection are some letters from a W Mackenzie to his mother in Bristol. Mackenzie was a young officer who was serving as Adjutant to the infantry depot at Fort Regent during the mid-1830s. In a letter dated 30 September 1836, he says:
- “Monday, I have been busy all the morning getting things in order for the inspection; it is to take place at a place called Gorey where there is a piece of waste ground. All the island are to be out looking at us. We have to march four miles to the ground – but as I am on horseback that does not make much difference to me”.
Shooting practice also used to take place on the common. In the early 1800s Lieut-Governor General Sir George Don made a number of modernising changes to the Jersey Militia. As part of this a 300-yard firing range was built on the common, with the targets north of Fort Henry. The common continued to be a venue for target practice for many years, sometimes with disastrous consequences as the weapons used became more advanced and capable of firing bullets at greater ranges.
One fine day in 1867 David Girard was enjoying a picnic with his family in their boat which was moored off Mont Orgueil, when he was unexpectedly hit in the right arm by a bullet fired from the Grouville target range. An article in the Jersey Express of 18 May 1876 highlights some of the problems the range caused and is entitled ‘Firing on Gorey Common’.
Militia shooters charged
James Le Templier, John de Veulle, Philip Edward Buesnel, James Bisson, William Hutchings, Thomas de Gruchy, Buesnel Mourant and Philip Le Couillard, all members of the East regiment of the militia, were charged by Centenier de Faye with having been engaged in target practice on Gorey Common. They were accused of firing on a day when firing was not allowed by order of the Constable.
When the case was brought before the Magistrate’s Court , Advocate Vernon, who defended the men, declared that the Constable and tenants had no right to dictate when firing would be allowed and that ‘the militia had a perfect right, as they had enjoyed it from time immemorial, to use the common for such purposes’.
In reply the Constable, Abraham Mourant, said that ‘the practise of shooting had been so great a nuisance, and firing very dangerous to visitors and to the parishioners and persons engaged in getting vraic on the beach that he had been requested by the tenants to hold a meeting’. This was when they had agreed on the new regulations for use of the firing range.
The Attorney-General was asked to adjudicate on the matter and said that the common belonged to Her Majesty and therefore the militiamen should not have been arrested as trespassers, as he could not see that they had committed any offence. The men were released without charge.
Problems of this nature continued for quite some time as can be seen in a letter of May 1889, sent by Captain N Tempest Hicks of the South Regiment to Colonel Le Rossignol, the militia’s commander. In it he complained that firing practice on the common often hae to be suspended as ‘the inhabitants, most particularly at low tide, cross and recross behind the targets, or remain there, loitering about.’
The Lieut-Governor was again asked to adjudicate on the matter, but it was found that there was no law to stop people from walking or sailing behind the targets and eventually the firing range fell out of use.