A history of Jersey transport - road

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By Doug Ford

Once life settled down in the island, the population steadily grew and more land was taken over by the farmers. Paths and tracks became more permanent until the beginning of the 19th century when an extensive programme of road improvement and building was undertaken.

Mont de la Chenaie, St Lawrence

Narrow and twisting roads

Until then Jersey roads were narrow, twisting, muddy in winter and dusty in summer; names like Rouge Bouillon and Rue Poudreuse recall these two extremes. Most medieval roads were no more than local tracks connecting settlements with the church, the fields with the mills and the nearest suitable beach for the collection of vraic.

Some tracks were wide enough for a bullock cart, while others were so narrow that they were designed for use by pedestrians or donkeys. Some of these narrow lanes still exist in the island, although many have disappeared from the modern landscape as a result of later road widening or straightening schemes. Those that still exist are public paths which have never been surfaced as they are too little used or too narrow for modern machinery to use.

The oldest roads that still exist were originally those roads that connected settlements with major central points such as the market or a harbour. These are the roads that are marked on the Richmond survey of 1787. However, they are often minor roads today - an example of this is Mont es Croix in St Brelade, leading up from the parish church to La Moye.

The narrow, local roads were in feudal times under the control of the seigneurs of the fiefs through which they passed. The function of seeing that the hedges were kept from overgrowing the roads and that the surfaces were kept in repair was later taken over by the parish authorities and this in turn led to a greater importance being put on the position of the parish boundaries.

One of the characteristics of this assumption of parochial responsibility is the appearance of the parish boundary stone, with the initials of those official responsible for the adjoining road works. Often this was associated with a change in road surface. Another feature of this parochial responsibility is the branchage, which takes place in July and September.

Before the enclosure of fields there were no hedges bordering the lanes, so that roads could be unofficially widened by the traffic avoiding a particularly muddy patch. Once enclosure occurred, this became impossible and the road surfaces in wet weather became appalling. When the fields were enclosed, banks were erected around them and hedgerows planted.

Sinking surface

Deviating from the course of the road became impossible and the road surface gradually sank, which resulted in many of the road surfaces being lower than the surrounding fields. In 1808 a captain Lyte of the 1st garrison Battalion commented that the roads were sunk so low that "they act as drains to the adjoining fields, and in the winter are nearly impassable". This gradual lowering process was halted from the 1820s onwards when the metalling of roads began.

The pattern of repairing the roads followed the French custom of corvee or compulsory, unpaid labour. This was performed by most adult, male parishioners for six days per year - this could take the form of actual physical labour, while farmers and horse owners would cart the materials to and from the site. As road repairs became more technical, the corvee was substituted in many areas with a money payment, almost like a parish road tax. This system was finally abolished in the island in 1938, although it carried on in Sark until 1951.

St Peter's Valley


The roads followed the Norman custom of being classified by width 24, 16, 12, 8 and 4 feet. This was the Jersey foot, which was the equivalent of eleven Imperial inches. De Gruchy in his work Medieval Land Tenures in Jersey believed that those roads that were 24 Jersey feet wide were the perquages, as 24 Jersey feet equals one Jersey perch.

The perquages are popularly regarded as being the sanctuary paths which ran from the parish churches to the sea. AsJoan Stevens pointed out that those parts of the perquages that still exist tend to be about 4 feet wide, and so she postulates that the name perquage referred to a measuring rod of 4 feet, rather than the land measure.

I said that perquages were "popularly regarded" as being sanctuary paths, as there is very little documentary evidence for this use. The advantage of such a system was that it rid the island of undesirable characters while at the same time prevent blood feuds breaking out which would have been the case in the event of executions. The courses of some of these perquages have been worked out with some certainty, and it appears that wherever possible they followed the course of a stream. The first recorded description of these routes was given by Poingdestre in his book Caesarea published in the 1680s, yet even here he questions this exclusive sanctuary use.

These perquages, if they were sanctuary paths, obviously went out of use with the Reformation and in 1663 Edouard de Carteret was given the gift of the perquages by the King, in recognition of his loyalty during the Civil War. He sold most of these strips of land to the owners of the adjoining land. His relatives continued ridding themselves of these strips of land until about 1715.

The vehicles that used these roads were in the main built locally to suit the local conditions. The boxcart was a sturdy two-wheeled vehicle used for collecting vraic, carting stone and manure. The hay cart had a longer body and was fitted with ladders fore and aft to support the load. The four-wheeled vans which are often seen in photographs from the late 19th century were introduced into the island during the 1870s and were used for general farm duties and for carrying barrels of potatoes to St Helier.

Situation in 1764

There was no proper vehicle access between the Town and the Pier. Pedestrians could use the narrow track that skirted the foot of the Mont de la Ville; in order to off-load cargoes, carts had to use the beach when the tides allowed.

The horses of Jersey were small, hardy and capable of enduring much fatigue. They were described as being well-shaped, docile and surefooted, resembling the smaller and best breed of Suffolk horses; their legs were flat and hairless.

There was no official road between St Helier and St Aubin until 1810; until then the quickest way was to walk across the sands at low tide or else to take a boat. In 1788 the first omnibus was seen in the island running along the sands between Water Lane (at the foot of Wellington Hill), St Helier and St Aubin.

Before Victoria Avenue was built

Situation in 1787

The Caledonian Mercury of July 1779 describes St Helier as having "the sea on the south west, and sheltered with hills on the north, has a stone pier and a good harbour, consists of about 400 houses, with wide streets, and well paved, and watered by a rivulet of pure water, that enters the streets and the very houses, so as to be drawn up by buckets."

It estimated the population to be over 2,000. Much of the information for this article came from Falle's History of Jersey produced in 1734 and at best can be said to be misleading. The streets of the town were not clean nor were they paved, while the streams, particularly in the summer, would now be condemned as a health hazard. The population of 2,000 was that of the "town" and did not include the rural vingtaines. A plan of the Town of St Helier in 1787 taken from a map drawn by M Momonier, an engineer, on which the main buildings and roads are marked shows a number of open streams running through the town.

In 1786 the Parish Assembly of St Helier voted money for the construction of Conway Street. This would give easy access to the beach from town.

The situation in 1809

In his book A Picture of Jersey, published in 1809, Stead wrote:

"The original Roads of the Country are narrow and canopied with Trees, planted upon the circumscribing lofty Banks; the Foot-paths are paved, and so constructed as to afford the Pedestrian a dry, safe and sheltered Path in all Seasons. If the Visitor wishes for extensive Views, or open Roads, he may digress into Fields from the ancient Highways, inhale the saline Particles on the firm and wide spread of Sands of St Aubin, or take the Route of the military Roads projected by the late learned and respectable Le Couteur, the regretted Pastor of Grouville, and completed by his Excellency Lieutenant General Don, the present Lieut-Governor and commander in Chief."

It is also interesting to note that Stead suggests that the Traveller "necessarily be accompanied by a Guide".

A horse-drawn omnibus

Horse-drawn omnibuses

It was the versatility of the motor bus combined with its cheaper fares that caused people to shift their travel allegiance from the railways. The first horse-drawn omnibus service began in November 1788 between The Swift tavern, St Aubin and the Bunch of Grapes, Water Lane (at the bottom of Wellington Hill), St Helier. The fare was 10 sous. This service ran every Saturday.

Other services sprung up in the 19th century and for a while there was a certain amount of rivalry, with rival omnibuses leaving Town at the same time for the same destinations. Common sense soon prevailed and by the mid-1840s the more popular services became more frequent. These companies operating out of the various livery stables in Town served the island well in conjunction with the two railway companies until the Great War. At first the routes were served by omnibuses which were known by individual names such as Old Glory, The Regulator or Jenny Lind, but by the 1860s they were more generally known by the name of the operator.

In 1850 Mr TW Sinnat started the first omnibus service that concentrated solely on Town. St Helier was growing, and it was felt that there was a demand for such a service. But it was short lived for, in common with the omnibuses running out to the country parishes, the fares were still relatively high, so the bulk of the population tended to walk.

Coaches were used to connect the hotels to the harbour, but these were for the benefit of the growing number of visitors. The two busiest routes from St Helier to St Aubin and Gorey were superseded by the railways, but other services operating out of Town to St Ouen, St John, Trinity and St Martin survived.

The military roads

It was the threat of French invasion that finally introduced an efficient road network into the island. This was necessary in order to facilitate the easy movement of the garrison and its artillery. At the same time the macadamised road surface was invented and would soon make its appearance in the island. The man responsible for this military road building programme was the Lieut-Governor, General Sir George Don.

Between 1806 and 1814, despite much local opposition, 18 military roads were constructed in Jersey. These included most of the main roads in use today. The first was the direct road from St Helier to Grouville. Others included Grande Route de St Clement (St Clement's Inner Road), Grande Route de St Martin, Grande Route de Rozel, Grande Route de Faldouet and Grande Route de St Laurent. The main road to St Aubin was built as far as La Haule in 1810.

Grey granite milestones were erected on these military roads with the initial of the parish and the distance from the Royal Square. These roads were not all new, as existing roads were followed, widened, straightened and levelled when necessary. Where no road existed, the land was bought or exchanged for a stretch of road that was no longer needed.

These new sections were laid out with military precision and so are perfectly straight. Where a stream was crossed, an abreuvoir was constructed with a piece of the old road left to give access. Sometimes fields were cut in two, hence the occasional small, triangular parcels of land that can still be seen by roads.

Macadamised roads

The first recorded use of macadam surfacing on an island road was by the Constable of St Brelade, John Le Couteur, in 1824, when the road at Pont du Val was treated. In his papers he writes :"Appointed to the Committee of Roads, and introduced Macadam's system in the western parishes ... the contrebanques near the Pont Duval to be built. The hillock in the road between Mr Edward and Mr Francis Marett's field to be levelled ... The road leading to the church to be broken up and macadamised."

By the time St Aubin's High Street was macadamised in 1830, the St Peter's Valley road had been metalled. While this work cost money, Le Couteur managed to convince his parishioners that it would be beneficial and would lead to a reduction in the corvee.

"I told my parishioners that if they would allow me to macadamise their small roads, in the course of six years ... there would not be occasion to call them out three days for repairs of roads, instead of the six days they were then subject to. The result is, as I anticipated, there is scarcely occupation for two days cartage, and as most of the parishes have adopted the system; we are on the eve of modifying the law, in order to admit of commutations of money, in lieu of personal service and cartage, as efficient work is never obtained by such means."

Road making on such a scale as that carried out in the period 1805-1840 has not been undertaken since. Modern roadmaking is essentially minor adjustments designed to keep a growing number of motor vehicles circulating on this early 19th century road system. The major exceptions are Victoria Avenue, constructed in the 1890s, the Fort Regent Tunnel of the 1960s, and the new Underpass of the 1990s - but even then these are essentially expensive but minor adjustments.

With the advent of the hard metalled surface, the pace of travel quickened, with the arrival of the horse drawn carriage, and the consequent growth in the number of livery stables. This period lasted for the rest of the 19th century, but all was to change when on 31 July 1899 Mr Peter Falla brought a Benz, the first motor car, to the island.

Motor omnibuses

With the advent of the motor bus, an effective mass passenger transport system could evolve and as a result a number of companies were set up.

On 6 October 1909 the island's first motor bus service was inaugurated between the Weighbridge, St Helier and St Aubin by the Channel Islands Motor Company, of Don Street. Because of mechanical difficulties this service ended within a month.

Early the following year a company called Omnials Ltd ran an hourly service between Library Place, St Helier and St Aubin. But this service also ceased to operate within three months, because the number of ruined tyres caused the service to be run at a loss. The bus was bought by Mr FW Clark who also had to cease operating because of mechanical difficulties.

The next attempt to run a motor bus service was not until May 1918, when Mr Edward Lander's Channel Island Motor and General Engineering Company, of Bath Street, started operating between Town and the northern parishes and in 1920 a frequent service to Milbrook was introduced. Mr lander died that year and his company was taken over by the St Aubin's Motor Coach and car Company. This company changed its name to the Blue Bus Service and continued running buses to those parts of the island not served by the railway until 1925 when it ceased operating a bus service and concentrated on the coach service which is still operative today as Blue Coach Tours.

In 1921 Major Butterworth's Jersey Bus Company made the first attempt at running a complete bus service serving the whole island. They were known locally as "Orange Boxes" because the company buses were Ford T Chassis fitted with locally made wooden bodies. However, the whole operation was very much run on a shoe string and the company ceased operating in 1925 because of the state of its vehicles. Most bus companies at this stage were one-route operations.

The whole picture of cheap mass passenger transport changed in March 1923 when Commander FT Hare set up Jersey Motor Transport. Using experience gained on the mainland, he brought over 10 larger and substantial buses to operate seven routes. These buses were able to withstand the rigours of a regular bus service.

In 1924 the Jersey Railway and Tramway Company recognised the threat and set up their own bus service, which ran in competition with the JMT. The Eastern Railway were slower off the mark and paid the price; although they entered the bus business in 1926, it was too late and the company along with its bus company folded in June 1929.

The JMT was eventually takeover by the Jersey Railway Company in August 1928, but it retained its own identity and the railway company's buses adopted the JMTs green and cream livery.

Other companies continued to be formed and various routes were operated - 1923: Star, Islander; 1926: Yellow Bus, Grey Bus, Opal; 1927: Trinity Bus Service, Safety Coach Service; 1929: Liberty, Ville de Paris, Rondel. 1934: Jersey Bus Service, also known as Joe's Bus Service. The most important of these was SCS, affectionately known as the "Hallejuahs" because the owners were members of the Salvation Army.

The 1930s was a period of consolidation for the larger companies, which bought out the smaller opposition and operated a dirty tricks war, including operating untimetabled "chasers" which left Town just before scheduled buses on the same routes to pick up passengers just before the timetabled bus turned up. These "bus wars" lasted until October 1934 when the JMT and SCS agreed to share the island - the JMT was to have the West and the SCS was to have the east and Town was to be shared. The Bus wars were not without their casualties for in an effort to cut running costs maintenance had been neglected and on 27 June 1931 a JMT bus ran out of control and turned over at the foot of Mont Felard which resulted in a number of injured passengers and three dead.

This pattern of takeover and buy-out continued until October 1960 when the JMT bought the last independent operator Promenade Bus Service which had only been in operation since 1958. The SCS had been bought by the JMT in 1946

In 1920 within 20 years of the arrival of the first motor car in the island there were an estimated 4,000 motor vehicles registered in Jersey. The motor car in its various forms affected all parts of everyday life for in 1923 the St Helier horse drawn fire engine was replaced by a motorised version and in February 1929 the first motorized funeral cortege was seen in the island.

In 1936 the Motor Traffic Office was opened and for the first time proper driving tests were carried out

The pace of travel in the island was limited by law in August 1962 when the States introduced a 40mph limit on island roads.

26 February 1968 the island's first multi-storey car park opened in Green Street.

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