St Helier, the parish
The parish covers a surface area of 4.1 sq miles - 9% of the total land area of the Island. This includes reclaimed land of 494 acres.
The parish crest is two crossed gold axes on a blue background, symbolising the martyrdom of Helier and the sea.
There is evidence of Neolithic activity in Saint Helier with a number of megalithic sites (some existing, and some destroyed or removed during the historical period). Among major archaeological finds is a gold torc of the Middle Bronze Age discovered in Saint Helier in 1889.
Evidence of Roman or Gallo-Roman presence is slight, but by the late Iron Age, Jersey formed a link in an extended trading network. The Island was Romanised and pottery dating to the 1st century BC demonstrates the presence of Roman goods in Saint Helier.
St Helier is named for Helier (or Helerius), a 6th century hermit. The traditional date of his martyrdom is AD 555. His feast day, marked by an annual pilgrimage to the Hermitage, is on July 16. A monastic community was founded on the adjacent islet (later destroyed by Norman raids).
In 933AD Jersey became part of the Duchy of Normandy. It is in the Ducal period 933-1204 that the institution of the Parish as an administrative unit in Jersey is formalised. Opinion among historians varies: perhaps the Parishes were a new system established by the Normans, or perhaps pre-existing community institutions centred around the churches were reformed in his period under the Bishop of Coutances. What seems certain is that the process of formation of the twelve Parishes, including Saint Helier, was complete by 1087, and probably by 1066.
In medieval times St Helier was a small fishing village on the dunes between the marshy land behind and the high-water mark.
The Parish Church of Saint Helier is first mentioned in a charter of William II of Normandy (the Conqueror) dating before 1066. Although the parish church is now some considerable distance from the sea, at the time of its original construction it was on the edge of the dunes. Before land reclamation and port construction started, boats could be tied up to outside of the churchyard wall.
The Town Mills of Saint Helier were first mentioned in 1154 in a Charter of Henry II. Excavations in Saint Helier have revealed the existence of an aisled hall-house dated to before 1185 - no doubt part of the urban development of the bourg of Saint Helier promoted by actions of Henry II in the late 12th century.
An Abbey of St Helier was founded in 1155 on L'Islet, a tidal island adjacent to the Hermitage. This was a refoundation of the monastic community that had previously occupied the site.
Saint Helier's commercial importance was underlined by the presence of a market. The Abbey was granted market rights, and a "forum regis" (King's market place) was in existence by 1299. By the beginning of the 14th century Saint Helier was clearly recognised as the major urban settlement in Jersey and centre of civil administration. The Parish contained more than 92 taverners and bakers by 1309.
The Constables of Saint Helier are reliably listed from 1524, by which time the urban settlement had grown from a small bourg to what was soon to be described as a town. The earliest mention of the Town of Saint Helier comes in a letter from the Privy Council to the Royal Court in 1550.
At the Reformation the abbey was definitively closed and the site of the abbey was fortified to create the castle that replaced Mont Orgueil as the Island's major fortress. The new Elizabeth Castle was named after the Queen by the Governor of Jersey 1600-1603, Sir Walter Raleigh.
Houses along coast
Until the end of the 18th century the town consisted chiefly of a string of houses, shops and warehouses stretching along the coastal dunes either side of the Church of St Helier and the adjacent marketplace (since 1751, Royal Square). La Cohue (a Norman word for courthouse) stood on one side of the square, now rebuilt as the Royal Court and States Chamber. The market cross in the centre of the square was pulled down at the Reformation, and the iron cage for holding prisoners was replaced by a prison gatehouse at the western edge of town.
George II gave £200 towards the construction of a new harbour - previously boats would be beached on a falling tide and unloaded by cart across the sands. A statue of the king was erected in the square in 1751 in gratitude, and the market place was renamed Royal Square, although the name has remained Lé Vièr Marchi (the old market) to this day in Jèrriais. The sculpture was carried out by John Cheere and, thanks to modern cleaning and restoration, is recognised as the best public sculpture of George II anywhere in the world. The importance of the statue is demonstrated by the fact that all distances in Jersey are measured from the base of the pedestal and it is from the foot of the statue that official proclamations, including those of Royal accessions, have been made. The court house, seat of government and justice, was rebuilt in the 1760s. All these civic embellishments must have added to the impression of a thriving urban centre - as an Order-in-Council of 1750 described the Town of Saint Helier: "the Capital of His Majesty's Island of Jersey".
Many of St. Helier's road names and street names are bilingual English/French or English/Jèrriais.
The foundation stone of the old Public Library (one of the oldest public libraries in the British Isles) was laid in 1737. The foundation of the Hospital dates from 1741. In 1794 a Post Office was established.
The Royal Square was also the scene of the Battle of Jersey on 6 January 1781, the last attempt by French forces to seize Jersey.
Military roads linking coastal defences around the island with St Helier harbour had the effect of enabling farmers to exploits Jersey's temperate micro-climate and get their crops on to new fast sailing ships and then steamships to get them to the markets of London and Paris before the competition. This was the start of Jersey's agricultural prosperity in the 19th century.
From the 1820s peace with France and better communication by steamships and railways to coastal ports encouraged an influx of English-speaking residents. Speculative development covered the marshy basin north of the central coastal strip as far as the hills within a period of about 40 years, providing the town with terraces of elegant town houses.
The visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846 spurred the long-mooted foundation of a college, and since 1851 the imposing building of Victoria College has been a landmark over the skyline. Further imposing civic buildings followed: the States Chamber (constructed for the Golden jubilee of 1887); the new Public Library (1886); the Covered Market (1881); the Abbatoir (1888); the Town Hall (1872). Parks and public amenities were provided.
In the second half of the 19th century, the need to facilitate access to the harbour for hundreds of trucks laden with potatoes and other produce for export prompted a programme of road-widening which swept away many of the ancient buildings of the town centre. Pressure for redevelopment has meant that very few buildings remain in urban St Helier which date to before the 19th century, giving the town primarily a Regency or Victorian character.
Pierre Le Sueur, reforming Constable of St. Helier, was responsible for installing sewerage and provision of clean water in the town following outbreaks of cholera in the 1830s. An obelisk with fountain in the town centre was raised to his memory following his premature death in office from overwork.
In the 1970s, a programme of pedestrianisation of the central streets was undertaken.
In 1995, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jersey being liberated from Nazi occupation, a sculpture showing islanders raising the British flag was erected in what is now called Liberation Square, in front of the Pomme d'Or Hotel, the focal point for the celebrations when the island was originally liberated.
- A history of the town of St Helier
- Town Hall
- Old street names
- Some details of 18th century St Helier
- Maps of 18th century St Helier
- Maps of St Helier showing its development from the 16th century to the present day
- Growth of the town
- List of Constables
- Aerial photographs of St Helier in the 1960s
The parish is divided into vingtaines for administrative purposes:
- Vingtaine de la Ville (Canton de Bas and Canton de Haut)
- Vingtaine du Rouge Bouillon
- Vingtaine de Bas du Mont au Prêtre
- Vingtaine de Haut du Mont au Prêtre
- Vingtaine du Mont à l'Abbé
- Vingtaine du Mont Cochon
For electoral purposes, the parish is divided into 4 districts.
- St Helier No 1 (Vingtaine de la Ville) elects 3 Deputies
- St Helier No 2 (Vingtaine de Bas du Mont au Prêtre and Vingtaine de Haut du Mont au Prêtre) elects 3 Deputies
- St Helier No 3 (Vingtaine du Rouge Bouillon and Vingtaine du Mont à l'Abbé)
- St Helier No 4 (Vingtaine du Mont Cochon)
Votes from polling stations in Nos 3 and 4 are combined into one district electing 4 Deputies.
- St Helier Harbour (St Helier harbours to the beginning of the 19th century)
- Vallée des Vaux (Moulin Nicolle, Harvest Barn)
- Triangle Park
- La Collette
- The Weighbridge
- Mount Bingham
- First Tower
- West Park
- People's Park
- The Parade
- Springfield Stadium
Saint Helier is twinned with:
- Balleine's History of Jersey, Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1-86077-065-7.
- Jersey in Figures, 2003 – 2004, published by the States of Jersey.