Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 10

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The town in the 16th and 17th centuries

Let us now examine the extent of the Town in the 16th and 17th centuries. A document bearing the date 1572 is to be found in the parish archives at the Town Hall which informs us that the parish of St Helier was then divided into four Vingtaines only - Vingtaine de la Ville, Vingtaine du Mont-a-l'Abbe, Vingtaine du Mont Cochon, and Vingtaine du Mont-au-Pretre.

The Vingtaines de la Ville and Mont-au-Pretre had not as yet been divided into two cantons each; nor did that of Rouge Bouillon then exist.

Main street

The main thoroughfare of St Helier was King Street, then known as Rue de Derriere, together with its continuation, Queen Street, sometimes called Rue du Milieu, and sometimes Rue-es-Porcqs, after the family Le Porcq dwelling therein, and not after the quadruped of similar appellation.

Beyond Charing Cross there were no houses; the land from there to Gallows Hill was called Les Mielles, and was nothing more than sand dunes such as exist in St Quen's Bay today.

Poingdestre, writing late in the 17th century, speaks of the unprotected state of St Helier, fully bearing out the remark contained in the letter of 1593 from the Privy Council which I have already cited. He tells us that all that part of the Parish of St Helier "from the very Towne to the Bulwark of St Laurence" was "quite spoiled by the sands, from the sea to the very hills".

These Mielles, which have since been built upon and comprise Sand Street (Rue es Sablons), Gloucester Street, Patriotic Place, Kensington Place, The Parade, Elizabeth Place, Peirson Road, the public parks and the Esplanade, were then of little or no value and deeds exist in our Public Registry which inform us that large plots of this land were sold from time to time for a consideration of a few pence.

Across Les Mielles a road led to St John by Mont Madgris, now Old St John's Road; another ran through the Parade to Rouge Bouillon; another across Le Marais to Moulin de la Ville.

Gardens and fields

On the north of the single row of houses bordering King Street were to be seen nothing but gardens and fields. The limit of the town on the east was Snow Hill, then named Pompe de Haut, in contradistinction to Pompe de Bas (Charing Cross). These public pumps have now been removed.

On the south, Broad Street, then called Grande Rue and sometimes Rue d'Egypte, ran nearly parallel with King Street, but on its south side there existed only two or three houses.

This part of the town was protected from the ravages of the sea and the accumulation of sand hills by what was called Muraille de la Ville, constructed as an old Act of tho States informs us, pour la saufte et le repos de la Ville de St Helier. This sea wall extended from Charing Cross to the present entrance of Bond Street by Conway Street. Bond Street did not then exist.

The Town Mill stream, a branch of which found its outlet to the sea at the east limit of Muraille de la Ville, through the present Conway Street, worked a mill called Moulin a Foulon situated quite near the present corner of Bond Street and Conway Street.

On the other side of this stream was the wall of the cemetery, which extended to the foot of the Town Hill a few yards up the present Pier Road, and against which the sea at high spring tide washed. This cemetery wall thus formed a continuation of Muraille de la Ville. Beyond this was the shore and we can therefore easily judge how large a tract of land has been reclaimed from the sea since those days.

Outside the cemetery wall on the beach and about 60 yards distant was a large rock surrounded at high spring tide by the sea, a portion of which existed until quite recently. Here was held the Cattle Market or Foire a betail. An Act of the Court dated 14 September 1605 prohibits cattle brought to town for sale from being kept elsewhere. In the cemetery walls were inserted iron rings to tie the cattle, and some of these were still to be seen a few years ago when a portion of that old wall was brought to light.

Market square

The Royal Square of today was then the Market Place (Marché Public), a large open space unpaved apparently until 1668.

The Corn Market (Halle à blé), originally a wooden shed constructed early in the 16th century, was situated at the bottom of the Square under the room now in the occupation of the United Club. In 1668 the States proposed to erect a more commodious building and as a portion of the old shed had been built on ground belonging at that time to Susanne Dumaresq, Dame de la Ramie, a curious agreement was arrived at between the States and this lady, whereby she agreed to construct the Market on the condition that she be permitted to build on the roof thereof for her own use and that of her heirs.

In order to support the building she intended to erect on the market roof, she set up the fine and massive granite arches which are still to be seen, and were brought to light in 1900 by the removal of the plaster with which they had been covered.

This agreement explains how it was that until recently the lower part of this building belonged to one proprietor while the upper belonged to another.

The Meat Market (Halle à viande) was situated where are today the Picquet House and the National Provincial Bank, formerly the offices of the newspaper Nouvelle Chronique.

At the top of the Market Place was the old Market Cross, Croix du Marché, where public proclamations were made and the laws and ordinances of the Court and States promulgated, a custom prevailing to this day, though the cross has disappeared.

La Cage

Between the Market Cross and the building occupied for many years by the offices of the Chronique de Jersey, (now 19 Royal Square) was La Cage, an iron cage where the hallebardiers deposited their prisoners brought from the Castle of Mont Orgueil to await their turn to be tried by the Court. This cage was ordered to be demolished in 1697 after the prison had been built at Charing Cross and there was no further necessity for this receptacle.

After 1697 prisoners were ‘caged’ in the Court House, and the cage which was to be seen until recently in the Court with its iron railings, exposing its occupants to the view and curiosity of those who frequent the public gallery, is a relic of those barbarous days. This Cage still exists, but is now encased with wood.

From a passage in Lieut-Bailiff Le Geyt's writings it appears that the cage in the Market Place was also used as a kind of pillory, where recalcitrant citizens were exposed for so many hours on market days according to the gravity of their offences.

It was considered an ignominious punishment and Le Geyt tells us that people preferred being sent to prison on bread and water to being exposed to public gaze for one hour. We may take it for granted that the occupants of the cage were heartily chaffed by the gay throng of the Market Place, and one can well appreciate the veracity of the remarks of the distinguished Lieut-Bailiff.

The cage was not the only public institution which attracted the idle and curious crowd in those times. At the gate of the cemetery were the public stocks, called Le Cep, in which drunkards and other malefactors were placed, and it would appear that the Constable had the power to place persons in the stocks without an order from the Court. The stocks were a purely municipal means of correction and doubtless a very effective one.

We have seen that the cage was sometimes used as a pillory. On its disappearance a regular wooden and removable pillory was constructed, and occasionally it made its appearance in the Market Place to receive some culprit condemned by the Court to this kind of punishment, which was usually combined with the cutting off of an ear, a favourite punishment with the Royal Court of those days.

Even as late as 23 June 1787 we find that a man named David Brouard and his wife were both whipped by the public executioner from the Court House to the Prison at Charing Cross; after which the man's right ear was cut off and nailed to the Prison door.

It may be interesting to note that the last use of the pillory in Jersey was on 19 November 1836, but at that period this mode of punishment was used only in cases of forgery. On 23 May 1835 three Jews were exposed in the pillory in the Royal Square for one hour for such an offence.

The Market Place was used as a thoroughfare in those days. Horses and carts traversed it in order to reach the southern part of the town or to gain access to the beach and the Cattle Market. This was found to be very inconvenient and to be prejudicial to the merchants and the public generally, who flocked there on Market days. By an Act of the Cour de Catel dated 12 October 1615 it was ordered that in the future horses and carts should not cross the Market Place but make use of the road in the rear of the Court House to obtain access to the roads leading to the north or south of the Town.

Nicolle: The Town of St Helier
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