Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 15

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It is now necessary to say something about trade and industries. Philippe Dumaresq stated that 20 vessels could maintain the commerce of the Island in the latter part of the 17th century. It is not improbable that the conger fishery lasted until replaced towards the end of the 16th century by the Jersey-Newfoundland cod fishery. Sir Walter Raleigh, who was Governor of Jersey from 1600 to 1603, is generally credited with having founded this trade, but this is incorrect as there is evidence that it was carried on in 1591, when a Jerseyman named John Guilliaume was fined by the Royal Court for selling his cargo of fish in France. Raleigh doubtless encouraged the trade.

By the end of the 17th century the Newfoundland trade, which had brought a certain amount of prosperity to Jersey, had declined, owing to Colbert, the minister of Louis XIV, having placed a high protective duty on fish imported in foreign vessels. It only revived about 1730 and, from that date until the French Revolution, was a very prosperous period in the annals of the Jersey-Newfoundland trade.


The principal local industry in the 16th and 17th centuries was the manufacture of stockings. Dumaresq complains much that husbandry was being gradually abandoned by the country people and that after the fashion of their town cousins they applied themselves to knitting, which he was pleased to term a "lazy manufacture".

Jersey at this period was indeed a land of knitters; all classes and both sexes were employed in this industry. Time was so strictly economised that the farmer's wife riding to market with her well-stored baskets, knitted as the old horse jogged on through the narrow roads; and the fishermen after having set their nets and anchored their boats to wait for the turn of the tide, occupied their leisure hour in fashioning a pair of stockings or a Jersey woollen waistcoat.

The extent of the trade may be gathered from the fact that over 6,000 pairs of stockings were manufactured per week for export.

Lieut-Bailiff Poingdestre writing in 1682 in his Caesarea, an account of the Island, said that:

"All these stockings are bought by merchants of that profession every Saturday in fewe houre's time, in the Towne of St Helery, where a plentiful market is kept that day, all the year long, for all commodities in the manner of a Fair: and having been washed and prepared by them, they are for the most part transported into France: some few are also caryed into Spaine of a different making from the rest, according to the use of that country; fewe or none go to England, but knitt waist-coats onely."

The word jersey as applied to a knitted woollen shirt is derived from this island's name. To knit "tricoter" in French, was termed in Jersey-French "ouvrer," and stocking-knitters were then called "ouvreurs" and "ouvreuses". In the long winter evenings neighbours were in the habit of meeting at each others’ homes in turn. By the dim light of the "crasset" they knitted, sang songs and told stories of olden time, of ghosts and of witches, thus beguiling the irksomeness of their task. These knitting parties were called "veilles".

It would appear that the poor people found this industry paid better than farming, for as early as 19 July 1606, there was an Act of the Court ordering that the people shall not knit during the harvest or craic-cutting seasons, under a penalty of imprisonment in the Castle on bread and water.

Nicolle: The Town of St Helier
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