Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 19

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Regulations for the welfare of the people

It may be interesting to note that our forefathers supplied the want of a fire insurance company by a licensed system of begging, a species of mutual fire insurance. When a person's house was burnt down, application was made to the Court for permission to collect a sufficient sum to rebuild it. The rolls contain many examples. For instance on 7 July 1638, Jean de la Court, whose house had been destroyed by fire through the carelessness of two boys, obtained the necessary license de tournoyer par les paroisses de St Ouen, St Pierre, St Brelade et St Laurens pour recuellir la liberalite des mieux affectiones pour le rebastiment de sa maison.

Smoking and drinking

Doubtless the danger of fire in a town like St Helier, consisting of thatched houses, was great. On 15 October 1691, the States decided that in six years from that date all houses in the town should be roofed with slates, but there are many indications that this regulation, like so many others, remained a dead letter. Sir Walter Ralegh is credited with having effected many changes in Jersey during his too brief governorship. It is highly possible that, great devotee as he was of the pipe of tobacco, he introduced the custom of smoking into Jersey. Tobacco was known to the Jerseyman of those days as "betun" or "petun", a word still in use by those who speak Jersey-French, and our ancestors became much addicted to the habit of smoking.

Following the example of James I and the Puritans, who could not understand people making chimneys of their mouths, the Royal Court of Jersey strongly disapproved of the practice. An Act of that august body dated 5 February 1624, condemned smoking as a great abuse, tending to the ruin of the constitutions of those addicted to the habit. The Court therefore ordered that henceforth no tobacco should be sold in the Island.

The beverages in which the Jerseyman of the 16th and 17th centuries indulged consisted of cider, beer "cervoise", French wines and a locally manufactured article called "Vittoe", a kind of mead of which honey was the principal ingredient.

The prices at which all these were to be sold were regulated by direction of the Court. Falle, the historian, in the first edition of his history which appeared in 1694, treated his readers to a dissertation on the evils of the excesive drinking which existed in his day.

Agriculture, he said, was neglected and the greater part of the land was converted into orchards. Cider was produced in vast quantities. He estimated the number of hogsheads manufactured at 24,000 annually.

"A good year commonly supplies us for that and the next ensuing beyond use and necessity, even to excess and debauchery, could men be satisfied with the common drink of nature, water, I mean. No people in the world are more liberally stored with that than we of this island. It abounds in excellent springs. Nor do we want water for physick, no more than for common use. We have a fountain of excellent mineral water in the judgement of the learned Dr Charleton,

late President of the College of Physicians in London, now residing in this Island, who has tried the water and approved it."

Three remarkably pure springs existed in the suburbs of the town. The Fontaine de St Marc, now called the King's Well, at the foot of Mont Martin, Rouge Bouillon; the Fontaine Fiott afterwards known as the Pompe Perrot, situated until quite recently in Halkett Street, then removed to Market Street and since suppressed, and the Fontaine Lamptot, Lametot or Amitots near La Coie. The King's Well water is to this day noted for its purity and excellence. Although situated on private property, the public have a right to use the water of the King's Well.


It is on record that in 1572 there were only 14 taverners in St Helier, and yet on 7 June 1597, the States complained of the misery which existed through the common people flocking to the town to attend the Court, and once in town, spending their time in the taverns and "Cabarets", and thus neglecting their families. There is nothing new under the sun.

The "Black List", the invention of present-day temperance reformers, was an institution not entirely unknown to our forefathers, except perhaps in name. When a man was fined for drunkenness, he was at the same time prohibited from again frequenting taverns. As early as 27 September 1595 we have an example of this method of coping with the evil, but this was not the only precaution taken.

An attempt was made by means of a curious though possibly effective proceeding to ensure an unadulterated supply of refreshments to the public. No taverner could sell wine until it had been first sampled by the Bailiff assisted by the Jurats, nor beer until it had been tasted by the Constable or a Centenier. This must have been a somewhat trying ordeal for these officials. It was a task certainly difficult faithfully and conscientiously to fulfil.

On 19 December 1648 the States reduced the number of taverns in St Helier to six, but with the development of the town and increase in the population, the number constantly grew until in 1771 it had reached 60 in St Helier alone. In 1777 it was reduced to 40, between 1777 and 1797 it had increased to 100. In this latter year it was reduced to 80 and in 1801 to 61, since when it has again increased.

It would be interesting to know the names of the hostelries where our ancestors were wont to meet to discuss business matters or the topics of the day, but unfortunately not a trace survives, not one single name has been handed down to us. But if we cannot know the names of these resorts, we have on the other hand ample evidence of their existence.

As early as 28 April 1608 an ordinance was passed to compel taverners in the town of St Helier to keep at least two beds available for travellers, nor can it be doubted that our forefathers and particularly the members of the Court and States held good dinners in high esteem.

Nicolle: The Town of St Helier
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