The development of silversmithing
It is possible that the occasional piece of silverware from the Armorican, Roman, Carolingian or Merovingian periods would have been used in the Channel Islands but unfortunately none appears to have survived. The earliest records referring to local plate date from the 13th century but the oldest surviving pieces date from the 16th century.
At the close of the Middle Ages the Channel Island peasant class had no chance to acquire the fineries of life such as plate, but the seigneural class, as society developed in the following centuries, would have had an increasing requirement for such items. Certainly the church possessed plate from the earliest times and this would have provided exposure to all classes. As few items of domestic plate survive from these early times we must look to the sociological and economic history of the period, together with the few surviving early wills and inventories, to construct a picture of the quantity and usage of plate in the Islands from the beginning of the 16th century.
Until the emergence of the merchant classes later in the century, we can consider that nearly all plate would have been manufactured for and used by the seigneural classes or the clergy. This class was by no means small: in Jersey alone it was estimated that the noblesse numbered some 2,000 persons by 1600. The stylistic influences would have been a mixture of French and English. The seigneurs travelled widely, and with the limited availability of local goods, would have regularly attended the luxury goods markets in Lessay and Guibay. In 1644, Elie Dumaresq, the learned seigneur of La Haule and noted dandy, bequeathed a gold ring, a watch, a clock also knives spoons and candlesticks all bought in London and Paris.
As early as the 14th century records exist of the seigneurs or their agents travelling to England on business. It is likely that they would have brought back items of plate commensurate with their position and status.
It should be remembered that in contrast to the impoverished peasantry the seigneural classes were relatively wealthy, deriving income from the taxes on their ténants. The concentration of wealth in so few hands explains the constant reoccurrence of the same names in the limited documents mentioning plate that have survived from this period. The lack of large quantities of plate is at first glance curious and requires careful consideration.
The first mention of silver in Guernsey is found in the Inquisition of 1274. Pierre L'Archier had used a silver cup as surety for a loan of £40 tournois from the notorious Bailiff Jean. The Bailiff's deputy Pierre Chauncebrun had not returned the cup after L'Archier had repaid the loan. (It is interesting that this loan was taken out by L'Archier in order to purchase the rights to operate the King's Mills.)
The earliest mention of silver in Jersey is in 1306 and concerns the arrest of the Rector of Grouville on suspicion of the theft of two silver cups.
Jersey's first recorded silversmith was John Fryth, originally from London. Fryth came to the Island in 1452 as part of the company of John Nanfan who had been appointed Warden of the Island. As an indication of the problems with the French at the time, it is worth noting that Nanfan had to pay 250 crowns ransom to the French to ensure his safe passage to the Island. Jersey's first recorded native silversmith was Jean Le Porc who appears to have set up business in the first half of the 16th century.
A number of silversmiths of Channel Island origin are known to have worked or been apprenticed in England, Richard Orange, the possible maker of one of the St Brelade mazer cups, entering his London mark in 1542.
A Guernsey marriage document has survived referring to the marriage of Thomas Careye to Perotine Bonamy. John Bonamy, the bride’s father presented her with a silver knife of Ferrara (Italy) make. In 1496 John Bonamy willed his two silver hanaps and silver spoons to his children to be divided equally.
Hanap was a word then used to signify any intrusive standing cup. The term survives as a French word for hamper, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon hnaep meaning drinking-vessel by way of hanaperium, the box or closet in which hanapers were kept.
In 1561 a deed dated 1539 was registered in the Royal Court of Guernsey whereby Guillaume Coquerel as executor for Thomas Coquerel passed to his brother Edmond, a merchant grocer of London, certain moneys and items of plate. It would appear that Thomas Coquerel was, at least for part of his life, a working silversmith in Guernsey and that he had some trade connection with Flanders as his estate included two Flemish Armorial rings, half a dozen silver goblets and a quantity of Flemish iron.
In 1550 Handois Manor, the home of the Bailiff of Jersey, Helier de Carteret, was broken into and amongst the contents stolen were items of silver and gold. Unfortunately the stolen plate is not listed.
The Guernsey will of Nicolas Careye survives. Nicolas Careye's father had been a Jurat of the Royal Court from 1515-1535 and his mother was the sister of Dominic Perrin who became the Seigneur of Rozel in Jersey through his marriage to Renouard Lemprière's wealthy daughter. Nicolas Careye left to his godson, Collas Careye, later seigneur of Blanchelande, his grande tasse ou le nom de John Martin est au fond and to his grandson Collas de Beauvoir his platte tasse ou le portrait de St Jacques est au fond.
Not only does this will give an indication of the importance placed on these tasses by their owners but also gives an insight into the intermarriage prevalent at the time between the seigneural families of Jersey and Guernsey. This clearly reinforced their position and increased their wealth and land holdings.
On 28 July 1578 the Guernsey Royal Court ordered Nicolas Careye's other sons Jean and Pierre to deliver to their half brother another tasse d'agent a gift from his uncle Pierre Careye, a Catholic priest.
This cup must have been pre-reformation, as Pierre Caraye had been ordained as Rector of St Saviour's in 1518. This cup reappears in the will of Judith Careye in 1697 being described as une grande tasse d'argent ou dans le fond est represente St Nicolas where it is bequeathed together with six unmarked silver spoons and a large cupe a bière engraved T C on its side.
In 1574 the Guernsey will of Pierre Brehault lists ten silver cups. He bequeathed his best silver cup to his son Pierre; to his wife, three cups and £60 sterling; to his younger son Thomas £40 sterling and two cups; to his daughter £40 sterling and one cup. In addition, he bequeathed to one granddaughter five pounds sterling and a cup and to another, clearly his favourite, ten pounds sterling and his own silver cup. Notably he bequeathed a silver salt cellar and a goblet together with ten pounds sterling to his grandson Leonard.
As the 17th century unfolded these wills give a measure of the increased usage of items of plate, particularly cups, and we are given an indication as to their cost. In 1670 Alice Fashin bequeathed to her daughter Elizabeth a silver cup or its equivalent value of ten écus. She also left £30 tournois to her son-in-law Nicolas Ozanne, clearly a working silversmith, for the purpose of manufacturing two silver cups as gifts for her grandchildren. She also directed that he engrave the grandchildren's names on the cups. In 1672 Samuel Noel an innkeeper in St Peter Port bequeathed £60 tournois to his two sisters to buy each a coupe d'argent. Charles Andros was left seven pounds sterling with which to purchase a tanquard d'argent, and Jean de Sausmarez and Jeanne de Beauvoir were each left five pounds sterling to purchase silver tankards. The daughter of John Andros was given three pounds sterling to purchase a coupe d'argent.
Ellie Le Boutillier was bequeathed five pounds sterling to purchase a silver cup.
Clearly by the end of the 17th century, cups and other drinking vessels were relatively common and were available in many shapes and sizes. Abraham Lyhou's will of 1670 details a petit goblet a vin, a grand coupe d'argent and a goublet d'argent a bière. Marie Ollivier's will dated 1660 notes six coupes a vin and one coupe a bière together with five silver spoons and another of silver-gilt. Theses items were bequeathed to her niece who had married into the Hanson family who owned the Town Mills.
James Rougier's will of 1674 notes a coupe d'argent bastie en goublet and a tasse d'argent. Ann Perchard's will of 1667 notes a coupe a bière and a grande coupe dorée.
One inventory of a Guernsey farmhouse dated 1682 lists three silver spoons, a silver fork, a silver cup on feet and a silver wine cup. Additionally the house contained a Rouen chair, pewter jugs, tankards, a salt cellar, a sauce boat with dish, a crasset or hanging lamp and a number of oak chests. This family may have prospered in trade as an earlier inventory of the same house in 1644 makes no mention of items of silver merely listing the same wooden chest, three copper candlesticks, pewter plates and a long table and benches.
In 1657 Sarah de Beauvoir bequeathed to a cousin, James de Beauvoir, a salière d'argent doré. This probably refers to a standing salt and it may have been pre-reformation. The existence of this standing salt may be an indication that in this family at least the social distinctions defined by such a salt were maintained. A later silver salt cellar appears in the will of Edward Sutton in 1693.
By the mid-17th century all kinds of silver items were appearing in wills. In 1664 Thomas Lihou gave to his brother a cordon d'argent , a silver belt, probably of woven silver wire and the 1696 de Carteret inventory includes one of gold. In 1677 Peter Careye, Rector of St Saviour, bequeathed a number of porringers and une grande équierre d'argent (ewer).
As new tastes developed, the silversmiths were able to produce silver wares to suit. In 1732 Jean Andros, Seigneur de Sausmarez, who in 1715 had introduced the habit of tea drinking to Guernsey, presented to his daughter Elizabeth on the occasion of her marriage to John Guille, Seigneur of St George, the following silver items: a tea pot and stand, two sugar tongs, two strainers, a milk jug, 12 spoons, six forks, two salts, and a pepper.
Rather confusingly many wills and inventories make no mention of plate. This list of gifts given by the father of Jean Payne on his marriage to Marie Le Feuvre in 1609 makes no mention of plate. More significantly the 17th century inventory of Philippe Maret's house in Jersey is quite detailed and despite this obviously being a wealthy household there is still no mention of plate. The significance of these omissions is a matter for conjecture.
The lifestyle of the seigneurs at that time was certainly commensurate with a requirement for plate more than likely similar in type and usage as cherished by their counterparts in England. Manor life was leisurely and the lifestyle cultured, chess and tennis were played and the seigneurs occupied themselves with hunting, and fishing and taking great pride in their gardens.
Sir George de Carteret, for example, engaged footmen in a livery and red coats, white hats and leggings to run before his carriage. As previously noted Sir George clearly had an impressive quantity of silver plate including at last two large chargers, as this formed the bulk of the cargo he attempted to despatch to France in his final effort to buy mercenary troops to defend Elizabeth Castle. The remainder of his silver plate was specifically noted in the possessions he was allowed to take with him after his surrender. However, unfortunately no inventories has survived of de Carteret’s plate.
Charles II, whilst exiled in Jersey, used a substantial quantity of plate. Chevalier the diarist records "As he took his seat a kneeling squire presented a silver-gilt dish in which he washed his hands ..... The silver dishes on which the board was loaded were placed before him". And a servant had a silver bowl beneath the King’s chin to prevent drops from falling upon his clothes. With this evidence together with the surviving fine Elizabeth Castle plate it is likely that many of the local noblesse would have possessed plate in an effort to emulate their monarch's taste.
The great economic changes described in the last chapter had started to affect the prosperity of a few islanders by the early 17th century. The great milling families had achieved prosperity and merchants were exporting the fine woollen goods produced in the homes of the country people and brought to market. The vast cod reserves off Newfoundland had been discovered and the triangular trade route begun.
The way was clearly set for the rise of this whole new merchant class and a new market for the silversmiths had begun. The vast fortunes amassed by these merchant families were without doubt the catalyst for the increase in the number of operating silversmiths and the variety of silverwares produced. The fortunes made in agriculture in the late 18th century provided further demand. These newly rich fishermen, smugglers, woollen merchants, agriculturists and bankers required goods to emphasise their achievements and new found status, and these included silverware manufactured by the local silversmiths.
The first French Huguenots arrived in the islands after the Massacre of St Bartholomew in 1572. There are no records at this stage, however, of these émigrés being engaged as silversmiths, although it remains a strong possibility. In 1598 Henry IV of France invoked the Edict of Nantes granting religious freedom to the Huguenots and as a result many returned to France. However when, in 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict, there was a mass exodus of skilled craftsmen from France and hundreds found their way to Jersey and Guernsey.
Amongst these new arrivals were silversmiths, some, no doubt, attracted by the relative ease in setting up in business in the islands. There was no requirement to enter their mark, no assay office and their tools were easily transported. These Huguenot silversmiths found a ready market for their sophisticated silverwares amongst the newly rich merchant classes and the older seigneural families. As news of their success spread, many more silversmiths arrived over the next 25 years.
There is no evidence that these silversmiths met with the same opposition as their counterparts in England. In view of the lack of a requirement to register their mark or to submit their wares to assay, it would seem unlikely. Many of them even brought their punches and continued to use them in the Islands. Even when they made new punches, their French origins are often unmistakable through the inclusion of the fleur-de-lys and crown surmounting the maker's initials in the typical French fashion of the time. There is much evidence that many of the silversmiths did not operate exclusively in the Channel Islands. The prosperity of the island merchants suffered at times and as the demand for the silversmiths' wares was dependant on the circumstances of this class they had to learn to be adaptable.
During the early part of the Napoleonic Wars, for example, the merchants and ship owners suffered badly as they could not safely ship their goods abroad and many of their ships were captured by the French. Trade with the merchant towns of the south coast of England had existed for many years and during such difficult times the silversmiths moved over there for at least part of the year, many forming permanent associations with these towns. Some carried on other professions to supplement their income: Jacques Limbour and Jacques Quesnel of Jersey as part time librarians and Jean Du Port of Guernsey, as a blacksmith.
Together with the native silversmiths the Huguenots who had prospered invested in the other enterprises emerging at that time. Some purchased an interest in shipping, others, later, in banking.
Along with all male islanders over the age of 16, the silversmiths were conscripted into the Royal Militias and many achieved rank in addition to supplying the regiments with presentation pieces and militia spoons.
Perhaps the assimilation and prosperity of the immigrant Huguenots is best epitomised by the story of Pierre Amiraux. Amiraux was a second or third generation working silversmith in Jersey, the first having arrived in the island from Saumur after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. As well as being a working silversmith with premises at No 1 Queen Street in St Helier, Amiraux was also a lieutenant in the East Regiment of the Royal Jersey Militia, the owner of a privateer, the Revenge, and a town surveyor. In addition to all these activities he was a founder member of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the first chamber in the English speaking world.
The Jersey Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1768 by the owners of trading ships and was responsible for the development of St Helier harbour as well as representing the interest of its members both in the island and to Parliament. Amiraux also played a significant part in the Battle of Jersey in 1781. Having been arrested by a French officer and bound to Captain Charleton, he was forced to lead his captors to the residence of the Governor, Moses Corbet, to accept the surrender.
The Huguenot silversmiths brought with them their classical designs and subtly developed the existing traditional local designs. Their surviving work is supremely elegant, often relying for decoration on a suitably engraved inscription or the owner's initials. There is a noticeable difference between the sophisticated style of Huguenot pieces and the provincial primitiveness of the native silversmiths during the first years of the Huguenot immigration. But gradually the competence of the native smiths rose.
In 1668 three silversmiths are recorded as having premises in St Helier. As a consequence of the success of the immigrant Huguenots, many new retailers had opened in St Helier and St Peter Port by the mid-18th century.
Competition from wares produced outside the islands had been of concern to local tradesmen since the 17th century. The islands position as a theoretically neutral area due to the Papal Bull of 1483, and later their spreading reputation as thriving commercial areas, had attracted many merchants offering imported goods of all kinds.
In February 1660 the Privy Council, after receiving a petition from local merchants, retailers and inhabitants of Jersey, directed that an order be read out in the States of both Jersey and Guernsey restricting the operation of the immigrants to that of wholesalers only. However, unlike in England there is no evidence that local smiths made any attempt to prevent the Huguenots from retailing their silverware.
Items of plate and in particular elaborate presentation pieces had often been imported from England and, on rare occasions, from the continent. The local silversmiths prior to the arrival of the Huguenots were relatively unsophisticated in their production and it is unlikely that they were able to manufacture the most elaborate pieces. The de Sausmerez tazza, previously discussed, is an indication of this and the wine cup in St Lawrence church Jersey, bearing the London hallmark of 1598, shows that even items that could clearly have been made by local silversmiths were occasionally imported.
As sea communications improved at the end of the 18th century, a number of English silver retailers began to offer their goods for sale in the islands. In 1786 an advertisement appeared in a local newspaper announcing the sale, by Mr Nathan at the Duke of York Hotel, Royal Square Jersey, silver watches, silver buckles for shoes and knees and several other items. Nathan offered to take in exchange old gold and silver, braid and watches. In 1786 Samuel Gordon offered for sale at the Irish Linen shop in the Royal Square, Jersey, silver buckles from 40 sous to eight livres tournois per pair together with knives and forks for the table and pocket.
Local silversmiths and retailers were also selling wares of English manufacture. Mr Aubin of King Street advertised in 1788 that he had received a new consignment of English buckles, spoons, and pincers and would take old items in part exchange. In 1790 Mr Gallichan advertised the sale by auction at the Duke of York hotel, six pairs of silver chandeliers, 30 silver plaques and four silver coffee pots.
It would appear from these advertisements that silverware of English manufacture was less expensive than local production. This was certainly one of the contributing factors towards the demise of the local silversmiths. The final ending of the hostilities with the French in 1815 had assured the safety of crossing the channel and, spurred on by the increasing prosperity of the merchants in the islands, many more English silversmiths were attracted to offer their goods for sale.
At the start of the 19th century, local silversmiths were still producing wares in the simple Huguenot styles. It is clear from much of the surviving plate from 1815 that islanders' tastes had changed to the more elaborate chased styles prevalent in England at the time. Many of these pieces were produced with the aid of machinery and the resulting economies priced local smiths out of the market. This is evidenced by any study of Jersey Militia spoons.
Prior to 1815, these were still in the simple hand-made Hanoverian style and of local manufacture, mainly by Jacques Quesnel, but by the mid-1820s, the vast majority were fiddle pattern with cast heads, made in England and retailed locally. By then, items of silver could be ordered from pattern books in local shops and delivered quickly and reliably to the islands.
The change in style, lack of machine production and economies of scale thus all played their share in the demise of local production which by the mid-19th century, had virtually ceased. Retailers, previously also silversmiths, were predominantly importing wares from England and in many cases over-stamping the English maker's mark with their own. Again a study of the militia silver at Elizabeth Castle is indicative, as no presentation piece of local manufacture and dated after 1820, exists in this collection.
As to why, with such a profusion of silversmiths and such evidence of local demand, so little plate survives, and none prior to the 16th century, the answer can be found in the economic and sociological changes through the centuries. Most of the plate produced in Jersey since its first mention in 1306 was destroyed or melted into coinage. For example, in 1406 the island paid ten thousand gold crowns as ransom to Pero Niño, the Castillian invader.
Prior to the reformation each of the parishes would have had church plate consisting of a chalice with paten, a ewer for water, a ewer for wine and a casket. During the reformation, in 1548, all the chantry chapels were shut down and all emblems of popery confiscated. In April 1550 the crown appointedcommissioners in Jersey to sell all the confiscated ecclesiastical property, including the plate.
In the same year, in order to pay for the initial fortifications at Elizabeth Castle, the Governor of Jersey, Sir Hugh Paulet, ordered the sale of all the church bells leaving only one for each parish. With this level of confiscation it is hard to imagine the survival of any quantity of church plate, however the historian, de la Croix, records that some of the church property was sold into private hands and therefore may have survived at least until the Civil War.
The story of the Civil War mint in Jersey undoubtedly contributed to the loss, as islanders loyal to the King willingly delivered up their domestic plate in the belief that in so doing they were supporting the prince. Charles ordered the establishment of a mint "to smelt silver and strike coins" and this was set up before 1643 at the house of Michel Le Guerdain in Trinity. Intriguingly Michel's son, Aaron Guerdain, became Cromwell's master of the Mint in London from 1649-1660.
Colonel William Smyth was appointed as master of the Jersey mint. Initially a Parliamentarian, Smyth had converted to the Royalist cause in 1643 and, as well as a Privy Councillor, had been master of one of the King's mints in England. After the defeat of Charles' army, Smyth had fled to France and then to Jersey. He smelted French bullion and local silver producing half crown pieces, gold unites and shillings. The half crownpieces were known as St. Georges and worth 30 sous, they showed the King on horseback, carrying a raised sword. The unites were worth 20 shillings and were known as Jacobuses.
The mint subsequently failed and there is no doubt that it was a counterfeiting operation. This is proved by the striking of Jacobuses. Jacobuses, bearing the image of James I, which carried a premium over the coinage of Charles I and Smyth intended to profit fraudulently from this differential. The silver coins are generally considered to have been made of base silver but unfortunately as those produced in this mint are indistinguishable from other counterfeit coins of the time, no coins can be positively identified as being produced in the Trinity mint. Few counterfeit coins will have formed part of local hoards and Jerseymen, such as the diarist Chevalier, knew these coins were counterfeit and ensured that they did not accept them as payment.
Sir George de Carteret
cSir George de Carteret fined many Parliamentarians after securing the island of Jersey for the King. Perhaps some of these fines were paid in the form of plate which was later smelted in the Trinity mint. Conversely in Guernsey, the Parliamentarians heavily fined a number of Royalists and perhaps their plate was used to aid the Parliamentarian cause.
Sir George lost much of his own plate in his attempt to buy mercenary troops from France and his remaining plate was taken with him to France after the surrender. As he rarely returned to Jersey during the remainder of his life it is unlikely that his plate also did not return.
After Sir George’s defeat the Guernsey Parliamentarian troops, under Colonel James Heane and Major Harrison, went on a six week rampage destroying much domestic and church property and it is likely that only plate that was hidden would have survived this period of barbarism. Chevalier records that Heane’s troops even burnt the church pews. Heane later required all royalists wishing to retain their estates to pay a fine, and further local plate may have been smelted to meet these substantial fines.
As in England, the effect of the Civil War period was the destruction and smelting into coinage, whether in support of the parliamentarians or Royalists, of the vast majority of the islands' plate existing at the start of hostilities. The loss of so much plate during that period did, however, provide the demand for new pieces that was fulfilled firstly by the native island silversmiths and some twenty five years later by the immigrant Huguenot smiths.
The smelting of plate to form coinage was by no means restricted to the Civil War period. Before the development of banks, the collection of items of plate was a way of storing wealth and demonstrating position. In times of need, plate was smelted and turned into coinage. It should be remembered that for many centuries the cost of workmanship of silver goods was only a small fraction of their total value.
It was thus that families and even the churches smelted their plate to have it fashioned into more popular styles. This was the fate of the church plate in the parish of St Peter Port which was totally remodelled as late as 1847. Similarly a platter dated 1799 carries an inscription stating that it had been exchanged for two wine cups dated 1639 that had become unusable.
By the beginning of the 18th century there had been a substantial increase in the value of silver and gold. The French merchants demanded to be paid in silver livres and sous and paid the islanders in return in copper liards, causing much of the silver coinage in the islands to disappear. In 1735, in an attempt to stabilise matters, the States Assembly in Jersey tried to devalue the copper currency. However this resulted in riots and a hasty retraction on the part of the States.
The shortage of silver and gold continued throughout the century and resulted in the emergence of paper notes issued by local business houses. In 1813, the States of Jersey, fearful of the consequences of so much weakly-backed currency in circulation, issued two English-minted silver coins of one shilling and six pence, and three shillings.