Constructed in the 1730s, 16 New Street is undoubtedly the finest remaining Georgian town house in St Helier and, as such, presents a wonderful example of the elegant architectural style and fashions of 18th century Jersey.
16 New Street began its life as part of a speculative development initiated by the Durell family. With its fine panelled interiors and detailing, the house epitomised early Georgian taste. However, by 1812 architectural fashions had changed and the new owners of the house, the Journeaux family, initiated an extensive refurbishment programme to reflect the new Regency style. This involved the replacement of all the windows at the front of the house, along with window sills and door casings, the truncation of the roof, and the installation of a fine marble fire surround in the drawing room.
As a result of the bankruptcy of Phillipe Journeaux in 1850, the property was acquired by Abraham de Gruchy and Co. It then became a letting house before being taken on by the Liberty gentlemen’s Club. The Club removed partitions on the first floor of the house in order to install their billiard tables. When the Liberty Gentlemen’s Club departed in 1909, the Jersey Young Man’s Christian Association moved in, removing further partition walls for their snooker and table tennis tables.
When the YMCA left in 1964, de Gruchy’s established their curtain and blind manufacturing workshop on the ground and first floors, using the top floor for storage. The workshop operated until the late 1970s and the building became a surplus storage area. For the next 20 years the house was neglected and gradually decayed until the parapet gutters gave way.
Having witnessed the wrecking of Hue Street, various farmhouses and other buildings in the early and mid-1990s, architectural archaeologist Warwick Rodwell was informed by Stuart Fell, then States of Jersey Planning Officer for historic buildings, that the owners of 16 New Street were intent on its demolition. In 1996 Dr Rodwell was commissioned by the States to undertake an independent assessment which concluded that, while the building could yet be saved, several floors had collapsed and many rooms were inaccessible due to mountains of debris and pigeon detritus.
With a deficit of funds required to clear the property and shore up its beleaguered structure, the project ground to a halt. However, the demolition of Colomberie House in 1997 reignited the drive to save 16 New Street. Adequate funds for the 2000 clearance operation were scraped together with support from Marcus Binney of Save Jersey’s Heritage, the Planning Department and de Gruchy’s.
Driven by Collette Stevens, then the vice-President of the National Trust for Jersey, a costing exercise was conducted, while Stuart Fell persuaded the new owners of de Gruchy’s, the Merchant Retail Group, to offer the property to the Trust. Members of the Trust’s Council were inspired by the conviction of Miss Stevens who concluded that, if they did not secure the future of the house, the purpose of the Trust would be largely invalidated. It was a defining moment.
In December 2003, the Trust accepted the gift of 16 New Street with funds barely adequate for merely making the property wind and watertight. All was to change in 2004, when it became the recipient of a £1 million bequest from Mrs Mollie Houston – funds enough to facilitate the complete repair of the house.
With 2011 being the 75th anniversary year of the foundation of the National Trust for Jersey, it was important that the jewel in the Trust’s crown was at last unveiled. On November the 5th the Bailiff of Jersey, Mr Michael Birt, opened the doors.