A history of the Jersey Eastern Railway

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A photograph of the site of the future Snow Hill terminus, taken by Victor Hugo 20 years before the station was completed. This image proves that a cutting already existed and was widened and enlarged rather than created from scratch, as many histories wrongly claim, for the railway line

Impressed with the success of the Jersey Railway, from St Helier to St Aubin, the inhabitants of the eastern parishes began to agitate for a line running from town to Gorey.

A new company was registered by an Act of the States in 1871. Tenders for the line were put out and the successful contractor was Daniel Baldwin of Weybridge, in Surrey.

Wet weather delays work

He undertook to complete the construction in nine months, although it was at the time recognised that Snow Hill would need a little longer for complete excavation. Unfortunately 1872 went down in the records as one of the wettest years Jersey has had, with the result that the work was subject to many delays.

Further trouble was caused by the presence of a large body of men working on the new Harbour Works, and the two groups spent much time urging each other to strike for higher pay, with the result that when either obtained their increments, the other would stop work until they, too, were paid the new rate.

Baldwin soon realised that he was not going to be able to complete his contract on time, and applied for, and got, an extension of three months. Just before the expiry of the extension, he paid off all the labourers and left the Island.

The works were then taken over by the company itself, which worked until 6 August 1873, when the line was opened from Green Street to Grouville Station. A month later the line was opened as far as Gorey Village, and a year later the new station at Snow Hill was completed.

This had presented problems. Many men had been injured during its construction. It is difficult to imagine what the area of land in which the cutting was made, looked like before work commenced. There Was a quarry at the Green Street end, and the military and the parish had both made inroads into the rock at various times.

The railway company reopened the quarry and used the stone extracted to good advantage. Material obtained was tipped in large quantities along the stretch from Green Street to Cleveland Road to form the embankment, and better quality rock was used in the construction of all the stations and sheds along the line.

The line left Snow Hill, crossed Green Street and ran through the yard, where the carriage sheds were to be found, and over two bridges, one over Roseville Street and the other over Cleveland Road, although when they were built, they were both in the middle of fields.

The stationmaster at Pontac, his wife and the family cat

To Gorey Village

The line then fell gently towards Georgetown, where there was a station which was closed before the end of the century. This was sited opposite Baal's Corner. The line then ran along the flat land of St Clement to Samares, and then on to Le Hocq, Pontac, La Rocque, Les Marais, Grouville and Gorey Village.

Although sufficient land had been purchased for the provision of a double line, the line was left as a single track, loops only being provided at important stations, such as Pontac and the termini.

The rolling stock consisted originally of two engines named Caesarea and Calvados, and some 14 assorted carriages. The Eastern Railway was unaffected by the unfortunate financial troubles which plagues Jersey in the 1870s, and caused the Jersey Railway Company to fail.

When that happened, the Eastern line took the Western under its wing and provided facilities to keep it running, as well as purchasing a surplus engine, the Great Western.

When the Western line was purchased by an English company, the two lines were once again operated separately. The Eastern line did purchase some carriages from the west, when its line changed gauge, and also subscribed to a through-booking arrangement from Gorey to La Corbiere, and vice versa.

To attract further traffic, Georgetown Station was closed and replaced by new ones at St Luke and Greve d’Azette. The latter was a rebuilding of the little halt which had been opened in 1892 for use by spectators watching the events at the cycling grounds at Belgreve.

The line was extended in 1891 along the newly built sea wall from Gorey Village to Gorey Pier.

Fleet enlarged

More engines were added to the fleet. Carteret in 1886, and Mont Orgueil in 1886, and Carteret in 1898. New carriages were also added, designed specifically to attract the golfers who played on the Grouville Links. It was here, too, that the masses were transported to see the racing on the Common.

In the early days, the horses, too, were taken by train, and unloaded on to a special ramp, which still exists, hidden in the thick undergrowth to the north of Grouville Station.

Having briefly described the line from Town to Gorey Pier, let us now return, in say 1910, from the Pier to the Town. The train leaves Gorey, running along the new road, between the promenade and the road to the Village, where the engine is uncoupled and runs forward to the tank, fed by Gorey Stream, to refill.

After replenishment, the engine moves back to pick up the carriages, before pulling away over Gorey Common, over a track which is now incorporated in the new road from the Village to the Automobile Association phone box, plunging through the wild greenery to Grouville Station.

Here remains the double line, evidence of the days whoa Grouville was a busy race-goers station, but now, with the racing transferred to Don Bridge, seems to enjoy only a scholars' traffic. To run to Fauvic, numerous level-crossings, each with its own keeper, have to be traversed.

The station at Fauvic is small, and was originally named Les Marais, but was changed to avoid confusion between that and Samares. From the relative quiet of Fauvic, the train breaks into the bustle of La Rocque, which is the busiest through station on the line.

Gorey Village station in 1905

Fishwives and fish

The guard's van is laden with fish from the harbour, and our carriage doors fly open to admit several fishwives, who are taking their offerings to the market. Having squeezed them all in, the train proceeds around the sharp curve to Pontac, where it pulls into the seaside loop line. A party of holidaymakers leaves the train to visit the Pontac Hotel, just as the other down-train pulls in on the other side of the loop. The point blades are reset, and the townbound train pulls out along the sea wall, before swinging sharply landwards, under the main road, and through a deep cutting to Le Hocq, a beautifully kept little station.

The stationmaster manages to keep the engine-driver talking for a few minutes, while two well-wined passengers struggle up Le Hocq Lane for the train. Safely in, the train departs, over the little wooden bridge and on to the long embankment to Pontorson Lane, constructed with the soil taken from the Le Hocq cutting (which has now been filled up by the Germans) to Samares and Greve d'Azette.

Here the train waits, as if gathering strength for the long upward climb to town. The whistle is blown, and it sets off past the Canning Factory and the derelict Georgetown Station to St Luke. All the level crossing gates are opened for its passage up the gradient and as we pass over Roseville Street bridge, a quick look reveals Down's bus passing beneath, the passengers on the top, securely seated, heads bowed, to prevent any embarrassing contact with the Newport iron of the bridge.

Passing through the yard, the two other engines and other carriages are waiting to be impressed into rush hour traffic later on in the day. Our train steams across Green Street, into the cutting, right up to the entrance of the Station at Hill Street.

After the Great War the sharp rise in the price of coal had a bad effect on the Eastern line. There were no barracks or races to provide great subsidies to the line, and now that the Government were releasing large quantities of old lorries after War service, which were easily converted into omnibuses, the line fell on hard times.

One engine and train were all that was needed for the postwar daily service, to which insult was added the injury of the buses running along the Gorey inner road, wrestling passengers from the line. The buses, travelling at breakneck speed, feared nothing from the slow engines and their out-of-the-way line. In aneffort to fight back, the Company bought the little concern of Mr Thullier, putting his buses to good effect on the Coast Road.

A train on its way from Gorey to St Helier

Railcars

They also bought two steam railcars, the Brittany and the Normandy, with which the service was greatly improved. But the improvements were introduced too late, with the result that the name of the rail car manufacturers, Sentinel Cammell, headed the list of creditors when the company failed in 1929 — despite a last minute attempt to have the line electrified.

The last train ran on 21 June 1929, just before the season’s tourists arrived.

Clearing up of the company's assets took several years, when the line was divided up and sold off to individuals for building plots. All the engines were cut up and shipped to Germany for scrap, and most of the rails were sent to Liverpool for the foundations of the roads which were being built to serve new estates.

The carriages were disposed of locally, as either labourers cottages, or as interiors for real houses, such as at Maufant and Pontac’

There were five managers of the line in its 57-year life. The first was John Wimble, a local steamship agent who resigned in 1874, his post being taken by H G Hammond Spencer, who had been the line’s engineer and had designed all the stations.

When he retired at the end of the 19th century he was succeeded by Mr Payn, who steered the company through the troubled war years, until he retired in 1924.

He was so concerned with the future of the company after his retirement, that it was never actually established how he fell over the Pier Road wall, while watching an old steamship being broken up in the old harbour.

Fate dictated that the ship was to be broken up by the same company which was to get the contract for the removing of the railway. This sad incident took place in the term of office of the new manager, Gilbert More.

Major More immediately set about modernising the line, purchasing the buses and the railcars. A new station was built at Le Bourg and a small halt constructed at Pontorson Lane. But, despite this valiant attempt to win back the lost passengers from the buses, the company cried halt to the spending, and Major More was replaced by W T Grellier, who remained with the company until its end in 1929.

When the land was sold off, two stations were demolished without delay, those at St Luke and Le Bourg. The two termini were taken over by the local authorities and let stand. The station at Gorey was demolished in 1933 and that at Snowhill in 1934, to make way for the new SCS bus station.

All the remainder are still standing, with those at Pontac and Green Street being in ever constant danger of being swept away. The latter will be removed this winter, to make way for the new road to Georgetown Road.

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