By Doug Ford
When Jersey’s population exploded in the first half of the 19th century – it more than doubled to 57,000 between 1806 and 1851 – moving around the island became much more important than it had been.
Previously a largely agricultural community (60 per cent of those in the country parishes worked on farms) had little need to go to town, and St Helier’s population, although growing steadily, was only about a quarter of the island total, and mainly happy to remain in the town. But by 50 years later, affluent town dwellers with time on their hands wanted to move about the island. Many had come from England, where railways had been connecting with the mail steamers to Southampton since 1840, and they wanted an alternative to horses and carts in their adopted island.
For many hundreds of workers in Gorey’s oyster industry, the island’s largest town was simply out of reach, until the advent of the Jersey Eastern Railway in 1872.
There had been talk of laying railway lines in the 1860s, but it was not until October 1870 that the Jersey Railway opened between St Helier and St Aubin, with intermediate stations at West Park, First Tower, Millbrook, Bel Royal, Beaumont and La Haule.
The early success of this line prompted plans for a railway between St Helier and Gorey.
This required legislation, and the Loi pour l'établissement d'un Chemin de Fer entre la Ville de St Helier et Gorey was approved on 16 March 1871 authorising the railway from Snow Hill in St Helier, to Gorey and from there to St Catherine's Bay, although the extension was never begun. The law provided for access to shipyards along the route; stipulated that the Clameur de Haro could not be raised in the event of disagreement over any property on the route; fixed a maximum fare of 1d per mile for second class, 1 1/2d for first class; required a minimum of four services a day in each direction; and called for the Gorey route to be completed in three years and the connection to St Catherine in ten.
Initially passenger numbers were good, particularly on days of special events such as the races on Gorey Common, and the handing over of Mont Orgueil Castle to the States in 1907 when 6,200 passengers were carried on 32 return journeys.
It was actually possible at one point to book a through ticket from St Helier to Paris, using the Compagnie Rouenais de Navigation steamship service to Carteret, the Carteret-Carentan line across the Cotentin Peninsula and then a further line to the French capital.
The first turf was dug by Mrs Mourant, wife of Edward Mourant, the chairman of the board of directors, at a private ceremony on 17 September 1872. The town terminus was at Snow Hill and there were six intermediate stations at Georgetown , Samares, Le Hocq, Pontac, La Rocque and Fauvic, en route to Grouville station, opposite the Wimbledon Hotel. This was within walking distance of the population centre at Gorey.
The line was opened on 6 August 1873, with a train of six carriages taking States Members and their wives along the track to Grouville Station in 15 minutes. It wass to be another 18 years before Gorey station opened on 25 May 1891, to coincide with Queen Victoria’s birthday. The journey of just over six miles from St Helier cost 9d first class return, 6d second class return.
Meanwhile there were moves to extend the first line further to the west of the island. In 1884 a new company opened a line from St Aubin to Corbiere, but it failed and was taken over by Jersey Railways and Tramways the following year. The line to Corbiere was of different gauge to that from St Helier and it was not until 1898 that a tunnel was constructed to link the two lines just a few hundred metres apart in St Aubin.
Unfortunately the success of the railway lines in Jersey was to be short-lived. A number of small operations set up bus routes in competition with the trains and in 1923 Jersey Motor Transport started a bus service carrying passengers all over the Island.
Both railway companies ran their own bus services to connect with their trains but the Jersey Eastern Railway ceased all operations in 1929. Most of the land was sold to owners whose properties bordered on the track, but part of the route can be seen near Fauvic, where it has been preserved as a footpath.
The western route struggled on, but in 1936 a disastrous fire swept through the St Aubin terminus, destroying the roof and most of the carriages, and this signalled the end of Jersey’s train services, although the German occupying forces during World War 2 opened their own lines, mainly to move materials for the construction of their concrete bunkers and other military installations. The St Helier station became the Tourism Offices at the Weighbridge. At the St Aubin end of the line was a station and hotel, now the St Brelade parish hall.
Associated with the railway’s construction was the provision of a sea wall along St Aubin’s Bay. The track gave way to a paved walk between the two towns which is still enjoyed today, and the route from St Aubin to Corbiere was preserved as a pedestrian walk, which is also extremely popular.
- Jersey's railways
- Jersey Eastern Railway
- Jersey Western Railway
- A history of the Jersey Western Railway
- A history of the Jersey Eastern Railway