Jersey's coastal towers
Ouless sketch of a tower
This article presents as much information as is available about the individual towers which, unlike those in Guernsey, which are numbered in sequence around the coast, do not have a sequential numbering system. For our purposes is is, therefore, convenient to start at Greve de Lecq in the North-west of the island, where the only tower on the island's north coast was one of the earliest to be built.
Grève de Lecq
Work started on this tower in September 1780, according to the newspaper Chroniques de Jersey, a guardhouse having been built the previous year. Other fortifications exist along the north coast, mainly predating the tower at Grève de Lecq, which is isolated but was deemed to provide sufficient protection for the only beaches in the area which could offer the enemy a potential landing place.
The tower still stands in the centre of the bay and is owned by the States of Jersey.
This tower at the northern end of St Ouen's Bay, also known as L'Etacquerel, was built between 1832 and 1834, and is of similar style to Martello towers. It was destroyed by the Germans in World War Two.
This Martello style tower, which is still standing, bears the date of 1835 and has the name 'Lewis' caqrved on it. It was named in honour of Colonel G G Lewis, who waqs the commanding officer of the Royal Engineers in Jersey at the time. His successor, Colonel Harry Jones, complained about the damp state of several towers, including Lewis, in a letter on 31 July 1839 and was allowed to cement or stucco them the following year. This tower was also known as St Ouen No 1, although it was completed after No 2.
Shown on some maps at Grosse Tour, this tower was named after Sir James Kempt, who was Master-General of the Ordnance when it was built in 1834. It can legitimately lay claim to being the only true Martello tower in Jersey, conforming to the design of the English towers. It was completed in 1834, a year before Lewis Tower.
St Ouen D Tower
The next tower has various names, in addition to its designation 'D' as the fourth of four towers leading up from the southern end of the bay. It was commonly known as the High Tower, because it was taller than the Martello type towers to its north. It was also sometimes known as St Ouen No 3 tower, when it was the third remaining tower in the bay. During the 1930s a garage and two bungalows were built just inland from the tower by Leonard Taylor. These buildings and the tower itself were destroyed by the Germans during the Occupation.
St Ouen B and C towers
These towers are thought to have been constructed before 1795 and to have disappeared some time between 1849, when they are shown on Hugh Godfray's map of the island, and 1933, when there is no sign of them on the Ordnance Survey map. It is believed that they were undermined by the sea, which encroached closer and closer across the sandy shore to where they had been built.
The B tower is also sometimes known as Tour de la Pierre Buttée.
St Ouen A Tower
The A tower, or Tour du Sud, was built by 1780 suffered the same fate as its two nearest neighbours, being undermined by the sea, but more is known about its demise. Sir John Le Couteur, who was Militia ADC to Queen Victoria on her visit to Jersey records in his diary of 17 April 1851:
- "Drove the Lieutenant-Governor and Colonel Hammond to the undermined Martello Tower near La Carriere in St Ouen's Bayy. The sea has half demolished it as I foresaw years ago and we have asked the Lieutenant-Governor to allow us to batter it down with twenty four guns of the Artillery - as a grand Field day. There is an admirable place at point blank range four hundred yards from it; by having it at high water in Spring tides, no danger whatever could be apprehended. Colonel H was delighted at the idea."
It is not known whether the tower was demolished in this way, but it certainly disappeared between 1854 and 1933.
La Rocco Tower
Today this tower built on a rock bank in St Ouen's Bay is universally known as La Rocco, but on 14 May 1801 the States officially named it Gordon's Tower, in honour of the then Lieut-Governor, Lieut-General Andrew Gordon. On the 1982 Ordnance Survey map it is called La Tour de la Rocque-Ho, although where this grand spelling came from is uncertain.
This was the 23rd tower to be built, and the last of the original Jersey round tower design. It was started in 1796, after the death of Conway, by Colonel Evelegh, who was commanding officer of the Royal Engineers in Jersey. But funds were short and two years later his successor, Colonel Benjamin Fisher had to write to the Lieut-Governor asking for another £3,400, on top of the £7,000 already spent.
Given that Conway's original budget allowed £156 for each tower, this suggests an enormous overspend, but it seems probable that Colonel Fisher was writing of 'pounds' when he meant 'livres'. At an exchange rate of 26 livres to the pound sterling, that would have meant a total cost for the tower of around £400, which could be explained by the large battery, which was otherwise only constructed at Archirondel. The expenditure was authorised and the tower was completed some time between 1798 and 1801.
The gun platform could accommodate five 32-pounders.
The tower was badly damaged during World War Two. In 1969 a public appeal persuaded the States that the tower should be restored to its former glory.
St Brelade No 2 Tower
Very little is known about this tower in the centre of St Brelade's Bay, which is now in private ownership. It was built before 1787 and turned into living accommodation in the 1970s
St Brelade No 1 Tower
This tower is in Ouaisne Bay and is now privately owned. It was built before 1787.
This tower is built on an islet known as Ile au Guerdain in the middle of Portelet Bay and is popularly known as Janvrin's Tomb because sea captain Philippe Janvrin was buried there after he died of the plague; but this was some considerable time before the tower was built.
It is styled on the Martello design and was completed by March 1808, when the Lieut-Governor, General Don requested that it be dried out for a fortnight and then occupied by a sergeant and twelve men.
At the foot of the cliff at Noirmont Point, this Martello style tower is properly known as Tour de Vinde. It was probably built between 1810 and 1814, although some sources suggest that it might have been completed by 1811, when it was included on a map of Jersey's defences.
The westernmost of three towers built to defend St Aubin's Bay, Beaumont Tower, also known as St Aubin No 3, was cruicial to protect the approach to St Aubin, the island's main harbour at the time. It was built before 1787 and is now owned by the States.
Bel Royal Tower
Also known as St Aubin No 2, Bel Royal Tower was built before 1787 and demolished by the occupying German forces on 7 January 1943 to make way for a concrete bunker. By then the sea had eroded much of the sandy bank which stood between the tower and the high water mark when it was built.
Despite its name, this was not the first coastal tower to be built. It was designated St Aubin No 1, but has always been known as First Tower, the name adopted for the surrounding district, which was the first main extension of housing to the west of the town of St Helier in the early 19th century. It was built before 1787. At one time it had a windmill on the top and it is now owned by the States and used to provide ventilation for an underground pumping station.
La Collette Tower
This tower, also known as Pointe des Pas, was conceived as a communication link between Fort Regent and Elizabeth Castle, and also gave protection to the approach to the early elements of St Helier Harbour and the coastline eastwards from Havre des Pas. It was constructed about 1834 in the Martello style.
Le Hocq Tower
Had Le Hocq Tower, the first to the east of St Helier, existed when the French invaded in January 1781, the Battle of Jersey might never have been fought. Work on this tower, which is now owned by the Parish of St Clement, was probably started before the Battle, because it is referred to in an act of the States of 18 June 1781 in terms which suggest that it had been completed by then.
Various references to the tower in the early 19th century suggest that it was used to store military equipment rather than as a manned fortification.
Platte Rocque Tower
The closest tower to the point where the French invaded in January 1781, Platte Rocque was commissioned in the wake of the Battle of Jersey. It is sometimes known as Tower No 0, because No 1 had already been built. It is now privately owned.
The construction of this Martello style tower can be accurately dated because General Don wrote on 4 January 1811 that "a tower was commenced by the Ordnance on l'Icho Rock last Summer, and it is now in sufficient forwardness to admit of a guard being mounted at it". Icho is an islet 40 metres by 20, two kilometres from the shore.
Archaeologists have found flints, pottery and human bones on the islet, suggesting that it was inhabited in Neolithic times, although it may not then have been an island, depending on where the sea level was. Icho has variously been known as Le Hyge Hoge (1563 map), Ickhoe (1685) and Croix de Fer (1645, 1737 and 1825). This is a reference to an iron cross which once stood there, but had long disappeared.
Seymour Tower is unique among Jersey's coastal towers because it is square, rather than round. There is no obvious reason for the design change, because this tower was undoubtedly part of Conway's originally proposed 30 towers, and was hurriedly constructed in 1782, the year after the Battle of Jersey. Standing on rocks some three kilometres off Jersey's south-east corner, it might have altered the course of the 1781 French invasion had it been in existence then.
While some suggest that it was named in Conway's honour - his middle name was Seymour - this seems highly unlikely. Had that been the intention it would surely have been named Conway Tower. A much more likely explanation is that there was already an earlier tower at this location, built when
Grouville Nos 1-5 towers
Despite the French landing at La Rocque which led to the Battle of Jersey, Conway clearly thought that the greatest threat was in Grouville Bay, where five closely-spaced towers were constructed at the southern end. The first of the five, at La Rocque, close to Platte Rocque Tower, is sometimes called St Samson's Tower, but the name more properly belongs to the adjoining guardhouse and magazine, which it is thought might have been constructed on the remains of a former chapel dedicated to St Samson.
This description has been shown to be totally inaccurate by historian Giles Bois, owner of Platte Rocque Tower and a noted authority on the other towers. He writes:
- "The guard house referred to in the records, where Sergeant Falle and his men failed to attend that night [The Battle of Jersey] is the Guard House at Le Boulevard de la Rocque (the St Saviour's guard house, along with the tower, manned by the men from St Saviour and the guard house built by the Parish of St Saviour, with a 2nd magazine added later by St Clement). The reference to St Sampson is most likely a transcription mistake, possibly for 'St Saviour'. There is no basis at all for a St Sampson's chapel there or anywhere else. It is possible to track the development of the Stevens' idea through their writing, from speculation all the way to 'probability'. As far as Platte Rocque goes, my impression is that any building at the Platte Rocque battery was just a magazine, and so not a guard house. The confusion is, as far as I recall, recent."
There are conflicting views as to whether No 1 tower was built by 6 January 1781, when French troops landed nearby, leading to the Battle of Jersey later in the day. There are reports of the first soldiers to land sleeping outside the guardhouse, which predates the tower and which had been deserted by its drunken guards that night. There are no mentions of the tower in the reports of proceedings at La Rocque, but Jersey historian Richard Mayne, who wrote the main history of the Battle to mark the bicentenary in 1981 believed that he had uncovered proof that the tower was already there. This is supported by Giles Bois.
No 2 tower is also known as Keppel Tower, No 3 as Le Hurel Tower, and No 4 as Fauvic Tower. All have had houses built round them. Tower No 5 has not been altered or extended in any way.
It is probable that all five towers were completed by 1786, and very probably earlier than this, because all Conway's construction team's efforts were concentrated on the south-east corner of the island in the wake of the Battle of Jersey.
All five towers are now in private ownership.
Grouville No 8 Tower
This tower, actually located over the parish border in St Martin, which was located at the northern end of Grouville Bay, close to where Gorey Village Station was built, disappeared after 1849, when it was shown on an island map. It is thought that it may have been demolished to make way for the station and railway line, around 1872, although neither was actually constructed where the tower stood. In truth nothing is really known about when, or why, the tower disappeared. This is quite remarkable given how well the life of the island was documented by newspapers in the second half of the 19th century.
Giles Bois wrote in the Grouville millennium book The History of a Country Parish that it was "demolished by order of the War Office on 25 May 1871" because of fears that vibrations from trains would cause it to fall on to the nearby railway track. This is by no means certain, however. The railway track had not yet been extended and, although a map exists with a reference to the War Office order and the date 25 May 1871, it is by no means clear whether this was the date of demolition or the date the order was issued.
The tower is shown in a mid-18th century watercolour on the boundary between Grouville and St Martin
The tower is wrongly identified as Grouville No 6 in H R S Pocock's article on the towers in the 1971 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. The reason that it was designated No 8 is that between No 5 and No 8 there were existing fortifications in the shape of Fort Henry and Prince William's Redoubt, also known as Fort William, which Conway evidently viewed as an integral part of the defensive chain in the bay.
This tower is not a true coastal tower, having been built inland of Mont Orgueil Castle in 1837. Although closer to a Martello tower in design than to the earlier Round Towers, it is unique among the Jersey towers in having a moat and drawbridge, presumably on the basis that if it did come under attack it would mean that enemy troops had already circumvented the coastal defences and would be threatening the castle.
The tower was built partly to defend against a landing in Anne Port Bay and partly to deny invaders access to Mont Saint Nicolas, from which artillery fire could have been directed to the Castle.
The naming of the tower is attributed to its completion having coincided with Queen Victoria coming to the throne in England. It was the 31st and final tower to be built.
Archirondel Tower was actually constructed offshore on a rock bank, work starting in the spring of 1793 and finishing 18 months later. It was the twenty second tower to be completed, sixteen years after the first. Conway was annoyed that it took so long to complete the tower when it had earlier been possible to build four in a single year.
It was the first tower to have a gun platform constructed around the base and was a prototype for La Rocco Tower in St Ouen's Bay. It is also unusual in that the mâchicoulis at the top are double the usual size, but there are only three of them rather than the usual four.
The tower is now connected to land by the first part of the uncompleted breakwater which was intended to be the southern arm of a great harbour at St Catherine.
St Catherine Tower
Constructed half way between Archirondel and Fliquet Towers, this was part of Conway's planned defences of the north-east of the island, but he was not given permission to construct further towers on either end of the proposed chain at Rozel and Anne Port.
This tower is believed to have been constructed to the same design as the nearby St Catherine Tower, but has been substantially altered at some time with the mâchicoulis removed. It was constructed before 1787 and was probably one of the earliest towers to be completed, this corner of the island having previously had no defences at all.
These pictures show the towers following the coastline in a clockwise direction, starting at Greve de Lecq
North coast and north east
Icho Tower, photographed by Emile Guiton
La Collette, or Pointe des Pas tower, photographed by Emile Guiton