Growth of St Helier
This article, based on a talk given by Robin Cox to a conference on the history and conservation of St Helier’s buildings in 1980, was first published in the1984 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise
The parish of St Helier is the fourth smallest in the island, only 4,700 vergees in extent, and yet it is the parish which enjoys probably the most varied terrain. The northern highlands encircle and protect the southerly marshland from the worst of the prevailing westerly winds, as well as from the less frequent cold northern and easterly gales. It was on this relatively protected southern flatland that the town of St Helier originally grew.
Emigration brings growth
Current research suggests that growth was spasmodic rather than constant, and coincided with periods when there was marked migration into the island. Much more information about the economic development of the town is required before an explanation can be offered as to why the town grew, and this paper offers some theories as to how the physical spread evolved, based on research into the Extentes and the Land Registry which was instituted in 1602 during the governorship of Sir Walter Ralegh.
In order that legal fees for vendors and purchasers might be kept to a minimum, the barest information only is given for many of the transactions recorded in the Land Registry, and frequently records must be traced back over many years before the location and area of the land in question is ascertained. It is hoped to complement these investigations in the near future by perusal of Parish Records, which may be instrumental in answering some of the questions remaining regarding land ownership and patterns of development.
Islanders are fortunate in having a number of accurate maps of St Helier, the earliest being Meade's plan of 1737. In 1787 the Duke of Richmond, Master of the Royal Ordnance, ordered a survey of the whole island; the town of St Helier was carefully detailed on this, and provides a useful starting point for any discussion of the development of the urban area, as field boundaries and other details of surrounding land are given, which are not available from Meade's plan. In 1799 Momonier produced a plan of the town, while in 1834 the splendid map of Elie Le Gros's appeared.
The Richmond map published in 1795 supports the theory that the early town consisted of one main thoroughfare running from Colomberie to Charing Cross, passing behind the square where the town Church and market were. This Rue de Derriere was the main route between the east and west of the island, continuing through St Saviour's Road and other lanes to the east of Colomberie, and Old St John's Hill and Rue du Val to the west of Charing Cross. Rue du Val was probably the most important of these routes and led, by way of the roads now known as Old Street, Devonshire Place and Val Plaisant, to the Town Mills at Grands Vaux.
One of the earliest certain periods of growth seems to have been between the Reformation and the English Civil War. Many French Protestants sought refuge in the island, particularly between 1585 and 1588, while the spread of parliamentarianism encouraged many English royalists to move to Jersey before 1642. Although many of this latter group probably moved away on the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1646, these two waves encouraged the growth of the town.
During the same period a remarkable number of butchers and brewers arrived from England, indicating that the population of the island and its needs had expanded considerably. The late Philip Ahier suggested that many of these people came over expressly to victual the garrison. If so, this is an early example of the effect the military presence had upon the development of the island economy - further examples occur in later years.
Broad Street growth
Jean de la Croix stated that Aaron de Ste Croix built the first house on the south side of La Grande Rue (Broad Street) sometime before he became a Jurat in 1814. However, research into the Extentes shows that this south side was being developed two or three hundred years earlier, in an attempt to stop the encroachment of wind-blown sand into the town; this may be the extension to the muraille referred to by de la Croix.
Perusal of Meade's plan suggests that these windbreaks were soon adapted into a network of warehouses and small quays. This reference to the sand problem supports the theory that La Grande Rue was also known as the Rue d'Egypte because of the sand there.
Following the restoration of the monarchy and the outbreak of war with France in 1666, Jersey was subjected to threats of invasion. These threats were not fulfilled, but the island did experience a peaceful influx from France of hundreds of Huguenot refugees in the years following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Not only did this stretch island resources, it also increased insular suspicion of the Catholic faith which, it was rumoured, was about to be imposed on his kingdom by James II, while credence given to this rumour was increased by the fact that the garrison force stationed in Jersey was composed of Irish Catholics.
Promise of stability
On the accession of Wiliam III and Mary in 1688 this entire force was relieved and replaced by Protestants. Now, after nearly 50 years of uncertainty, there was a promise of stability, and it was in the years following 1689 that St Helier experienced a period of considerable growth, and insular confidence developed.
The first areas to be developed were to the west of the town. Jurat Helier Hue had died in 1665 and, as his son was the subject of a curatorship, the family lands were sold to the Dumaresqs, who laid out two roads running north from Charing Cross to the Rue du Va - Hue Street and Dumaresq Street. At around the same time, John Seale purchased some of the sandy wastelands bordering the shoreline to the immediate south-west of Charing Cross and laid out Seale Street.
Towards the end of the 17th century also, the officials of the Vingtaine de la Ville had confirmed their ownership of Town Hill and the land adjoining it to the south and west. They developed the small track running between the Royal Court House and the hill into a 24-foot wide thoroughfare - the Rue des Trois Pigeons (Hill Street).
The land between the new road and the hill was sold for building, and it was suggested that the money received should go towards the expansion and improvement of the existing harbour at Havre des Pas. In the event this was not implemented, and on 29 April 1700 the States passed a special act handing an area west of Town Hill to a consortium of six men who were responsible for the development of Pier Road and the construction of a new road to serve the new harbour on the west side of Town Hill and Mount Bingham.
There is no record as to why this change of plan took place. The obvious explanation is that the new harbour took advantage of the shelter of St Aubin's Bay and the existing causeway to Elizabeth Castle which could be used to service vessels waiting to enter the Harbour, but a more feasible explanation is that of expediency.
Charles II's grant
In 1669 Charles II had granted the right to levy impots on the import of wines, cider and apples, and had stipulated that the annual income was to be used for specific purposes: two thousand pounds for the provision of a 'school, college or other academy', while three hundred pounds should be used to build a work house and provide endowment for the maintenance of the building and the care of its inhabitants - the poor and the unemployed.
The remainder of the annual income was to pay for the erection of a pier and harbour at St Aubin. When this work was finished, a reasonable sum should be allowed for the maintenance and upkeep of these works, but half the balance was to be put towards school funds and the remainder to be employed as the Governor, Bailiff and Jurats thought fit.
On 13 July 1686 it was agreed by Order in Council that as the actual annual income of eight hundred French crowns was insufficient for the projects originally envisaged, the whole sum could be employed for the harbour at St Aubin ... 'until the same be finished'. Now that this was complete, the States wanted to use the impot revenue to build a harbour at St Helier. It is probable that permission would not have been forthcoming for another purely commercial venture at Havre des Pas, but, as the petition to His Majesty in Council tactfully pointed out, the suggested new location was ... proche de la Ville de St Hellier et du Chasteau Elizabeth, dont on se promett un advantage tres considerable pour le service du Roy et le bien du pays, ...
The military advantage of such a harbour to serve the barracks and the Governor's residence at Elizabeth Castle was apparent, and permission for the money to be employed on the work was received.
John Durell had made quite a reputation for himself by buying up a number of the St Helier fiefs, and by the early years of the 18th century he owned all the meadows from the present Bath Street to Dumaresq Street. In 1718 he laid out a new road from the middle of the Rue de Derriere right up to the part of the Rue du Val now known as Devonshire Place. Although this New Street gave a direct route out of the town towards the Town Mills, it remained a private thoroughfare until 1810, but before this one finds frequent advertisements inserted in the local press by Durell's grandson, who complained that people were continually losing their keys to the road and not closing the gates at either end. In 1718 La Chasse too was developed; this was also referred to as the Rue de Madagascar, for reasons which remain obsure.
After these developments there seems to have been a pause until the General Hospital was built on part of the sandy lands given for the purpose by the Seigneur of Melesches. There is no contract for this transaction; it appears just to have happened, and the land from the Parade to the sea handed to the States. When, as in this instance, a new point of focus is created beyond the existing developed area, the new focus seems to exert a pressure for the land between to be filled. The hospital was completed in 1768, and was immediately requistioned as army barracks. The area now known as the Parade was adopted as a drilling ground with high walls around it, and the south side of the ground was soon built over. A little later the north-east side of the area was developed, as was Cannon Street leading east to the Rue du Val, probably getting its name from the cannon sheds on that side of the Parade.
It seems that the first area to be developed rather beyond the existing town was Garden Lane, so called because of its proximity to the grounds of Vauxhall, a large house opposite the south-west end of the present Vauxhall Street. This was laid out in 1782, running north from the Rue du Val and parallel with New Street.
de la Garde family
There had been a protracted argument between the Vingtaine authorities and the de la Garde family concerning ownership of an area of land south-west of the Town Church. Eventually the de la Garde claim to have held it through inheritance and marriage since the Reformation was upheld and they were able to develop it. In 1796 they laid out Bond Street on the side of the previous footpath called the Chemin de la Madeleine, after the early chapel and nearby poorhouse. Numbers 8 and 9 Bond Street were both constructed at this time, although the latter building has a later date of 1814 on the waterhead.
The de la Garde family also developed Hope and Wharf Streets. Subsequent development in this area followed the land reclamation scheme of 1803, which created the ground on which the Pomme d'Or Hotel now stands and destroyed the original function of Wharf Street.
We see here signs that the centre of St Helier was expanding rapidly, and lands previously considered either too far from the centre or unsuitable for development were being used for the provision of additional housing and business accommodation. This trend is well illustrated, too, by the activities of George Ingouville and Louis Poignand who, in partnership, bought an expanse of the hitherto unattractive sandy ground to the west of the Hospital for an extremely modest sum. Here they land out Lewis and George Streets, while Ingouville later also opened Peirson Road. George Street subsequently became notorious for its brothels, so in the 1840s the parish authorities tried to improve the tone of the area by moving some of the inhabitants and renaming the entire street after the rather grand houses at the top; the road is now known as Kensington Place.
At the end of the 18h and beginning of the 19th centuries there was quite a marked fashion for calling roads by English names; Charing Cross, Cheapside and, later, Newgate Street all appear. This is paralleled by the common practice of referring to people by both the English and the French versions of their first names, usually dependent upon the language of context. These trends are an indication of contemporary antipathy towards France, and of growing English influence.
Since the Civil War, Jersey had developed her maritime and fishing interests and her privateers had scored notable success in capturing French vessels. It was probably this which had prompted the French decision to invade the island in 1779, and again in 1781. The near success of these attempts, together with the British involvement in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, encouraged the Government to garrison and protect the island more positively than before.
The coastline had to be guarded, small bays fortified, garrison troops quartered, and it was imperative that internal communications were improved. A new system of military roads was laid out to give direct access to the parishes from St Helier, and from each other, from 1806 onwards. While the building of these roads was in hand it was discovered that the army cannon could not race through the narrow arch under the prison at Charing Cross in the event of an emergency. General Don persuaded the States that, as the building was in need of major repairs, it would make more sense to build a new prison on a larger site while the army would be able to demolish the old building and move the cannon at speed.
The area originally considered for the new prison was near the Rue de la Commune, but this was rejected as being marshy, full of springs and unhealthy. Subsequently it was decided to build the new prison on some of the unused land given for the Hospital, to lay out Newgate Street to service the prison, and to sell the remainder of the ground. The streets in the area appear on the original contracts as Nelson, Wellington and Beresford Streets, but these were changed and the whole area became known as the Patriotic Ground, with Patriotic Place and Patriotic Street meeting at right angles. Much confusion has been caused by these early registry entries referring to a Beresford Street, albeit in the Fief de Melesches, whereas the present Beresford Street is in the Fief de Collette des Augres.
Springs and streams
This change of the proposed site for the new prison was not the only instance where the problem of springs and streams influenced the shape of development. Two streams flow towards St Helier from Trinity and St John; these join at Town Mills and run as the Grand Douet to Tunnell Street, where it divides. One branch, the Faux Bie, flows west along Tunnell Street and meanders towards Gloucester Street by way of Burrard Street, then turns and flows into the sea. The other, the Grand Douet, takes a more southerly route along Hilgrove Lane, before describing a huge semicircle around King and Broad Streets, flowing into the sea under Conway Street. The strange shape of Hilgrove Lane was dictated by the Grand Douet, while the Faux Bie runs on the south side of Minden Place causing a curve in that road.
riginally these streams had been useful sources of fresh water, but as the town developed they were used as drains and sewers, and the possession of a well became both fashionable and necessary before the streams were canalised. The central part of the town was prone to flooding, particularly during stormy weather, as the water from the low-lying streams was unable to escape. This problem was also acute at the east end of St Mark's and Stopford Roads and it was not until the late 1920s that it became possible and economically feasible to drain the area for building.
At times of spate the streams could be extremely dangerous - one casualty was a boy of nine named Piquet, who was returning from work on 20 December 1827 along Minden Place. He slipped from the low wall into the Faux Bie and his body was later recovered from the beach at the Gloucester Street end of the stream.
States show interest
Before the States had been persuaded into building the new prison, they had begun to take an interest in the condition of the town. Previously public development within the area had been instigated by either the parish or the vingtaine authorities, but the States now decided to rebuild and extend the market in the Royal Square. They bought all the property surrounding the market, which probably dated from the Reformation, as the establishment of a market on the site was mentioned at the time that Henry VIII's Commissioners visited the island to supervise the sale of ecclesiastical property.
Subsequently the States had a complete change of mind, and sold the property, which was then redeveloped privately from 1803 onwards. The new market was built in 1803 on the present site, part of a large block of land purchased by the States from the Fiott, Le Maistre and Le Geyt families. The Le Maistre house in King Street was sold for use as Government House, while part of the land immediately north of the markets was sold for private development within the next few years.
This establishment of another new focal point encouraged the formation of a link road (now Beresford Street) to connect the centre of the town more directly with the Rue de la Commune. Clement Hemery took advantage of this trend to lay out two roads, named after his children, to connect the Rue de la Commune and the market with St Saviour's Road: Ann and Charles Streets.
Another development in this area was that of Burrard Street. John Thomas Durell, the grandson of the John Durell who opened New Street, died unmarried in 1803 and his land was inherited by his nephew, Sir Harry Burrard. He in his turn sold large tracts of the land to developers, with the proviso that they all left a certain width for the provision of Burrard Street, Upper Don Street and Grove Place. It is sometimes stated that Sir Harry actually gave the land for the street bearing his name, but a more accurate statement would be that he obliged the developers to contribute some of the land they had bought for the establishment of the necessary streets.
During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars many English people were sent to Jersey, either as army personnel, or as engineers on the numerous building works being undertaken. These people brought new ideas and new trades into the island, one of which was brickmaking.
One of the first brickfields was situated in the area between Nelson, Vauxhall, Victoria and New Streets, while others were on Gallows Hill and at Westmount.
After the war many of the temporary immigrants remained, and the registers show a marked increase of property-owners with English names. Amongst those who remained were three builders, Robert Brown, Nathaniel Westaway and John Philips, whose activities can be traced through the registry. Coincidentally Robert Brown and Nathaniel Westaway were both brickmakers and had fields where Victoria College and the College for Girls respectively are now situated.
Towards the end of the war it became necessary to provide more quays in order to deal with the increased flow of merchandise into and out of the island. In 1814 the Quai des Marchands was constructed on the rocks running underneath the west cliffs of Town Hill by a consortium of businessmen from the Vingtaine de la Ville, headed by David de Quetteville. A logical development from this was the infilling of the area from 31 Quai des Marchands up to the end of Mulcaster Street. This provided more warehouses, and enabled wagons to reach the Quai des Marchands direct, rather than negotiating slipways onto and off the beach between the town and the quay. This second run of warehouses was called Commercial Buildings, although the name is now applied to both developments.
By the time Sir Colin Halkett became Governor in 1821, the town had developed considerably, and the situation of Government House was far from pleasant. It was in the middle of the town near the noise of the market, and in addition there were foul-smelling streams running across the middle and the end of the garden. By means of some complicated contracts Sir Colin came into possession of the present Government House, while Louis Poignand found himself the owner of the block of land extending from King Street to Burrard Street. He then laid out the street named Halkett Place, after an elegant run of cream brick houses, as well as Waterloo Place and Waterloo Lane.
Poignand's former partner, Ingouville, had temporarily moved to St Saviour, where he was instrumental in developing Georgetown and in laying out Elizabeth and Mary Streets, named after his daughters. He later returned to St Helier and complemented Hemery's Charles and Ann Streets with Peter Street, called after his son, and Ingouville Place.
Political wrangles between the two island parties - the Rose, more liberally inclined, and the Laurel, who were conservative in outlook - affected all aspects of life during the three decades after the war, and town development was no exception. Thomas Le Breton junior and his brother Francis purchased the block of land now bounded by Grosvenor Street, St James Street, Don Road and Clarence Road which became the focus of Laurel building activities.
Thomas seems to have been the guiding spirit behind the enterprise, Francis concerning himself primarily with the building of Clarence Terrace. In 1826 The Terrace (now Grosvenor Terrace) was completed by Thomas, and the houses advertised for sale in the Laurel party paper Le Constitutionnel. It was reported on 18 May 1825 that an accident had occurred to a gang of men working on the site. La Chronique de Jersey (the Rose paper) gives the number of men as 16, Le Constitutionnel as 11, but both agree the men were all on a ladder passing building materials up to the men at the top, some 30 feet above the ground when the ladder broke under the strain.
As a result, four men were killed, and two seriously injured. Other development in the area included the Theatre Royal, built by a consortium of 31 trustees, opened on 5 May 1828, and the chapel of St James, which was erected by a similarly composed group after completion of the theatre, and dedicated in 1829. Le Breton sold the land to the east of the theatre site to a developer, retaining that on the west to develop himself in the late 1820s. This development is correctly called 'The Crescent' and in the centre was the Theatre Royal, but over the years the name Royal has also been erroneously given to the houses in The Crescent.
When the Laurel developers had completed the elegant houses of The Terrace, The Crescent and Clarence Terrace, they constructed houses for the working classes and filled in spare plots in the streets in the surrounding area, while at this time Belmont Road, Museum Street, Providence Street and Phillips Street (named after John Phillips mentioned above) were being laid out. It was also at this time that part of the Rue de la Commune became known as Bath Street, taking its name from the public baths erected on the corner of Phillips Street which were opened on 7th August 1826.
To the north-west of the town Edward Nicolle, Constable of St Helier from 1818 to 1821 and from 1824 to 1827, and a leading Rose party supporter, played an important role in the development of the Rouge Bouillon and Val Plaisant area. He started modestly with Clarendon Road, selling plots and allowing developers to build as they chose. Then Midvale and Clairvale Roads followed, the latter being planned to fulfil a service role for the former. There was working-class accommodation here, too, in Clearview, Columbus, Albert and Dorset Streets.
Two developers responsible for some of the most attractive houses in this area were the Baptist ministers Cornelius Traveller and Thomas Jarvis. The whole area was made more desirable and convenient by the opening of Great Union Road, which united the town proper with this new development in the north-west and which was built by a partnership of Le Gallais, Simonet and Journeaux.
An incident concerning one of Nicolle's roads illustrates the personal animosities involved in the politics of the time. On one occasion Nathaniel Westaway, who supported the Laurel party, was seen by Nicolle taking a short cut to his brickfield on Mont Cantel by way of Midvale Road, which only became a public thoroughfare in 1839. Nicolle objected to this trespass, a row erupted, it was even reported that Nicolle struck Westaway, and a long court case ensued.
As the only ground left undeveloped in the lowlands of the parish, apart from the extremely marshy area at Springfield, was the land separating the Laurel and the Rose preserves, it was fortunate for the development of St Helier that the party political scene became less violent. Perhaps it was a matter of commercial and entrepreneurial expediency that such animosities should be glossed over at this point.
David de Quetteville owned a large meadow called the Piece à la Dame at the end of Bath Street, which he now extended by building a row of houses which gave their name to David Place. The St Helier parish officials took advantage of developments in the area to make use of some land they owned. David Place was extended to cross Val Plaisant at the south end of Midvale Road, and a spacious Rectory was built on the south-east corner of the new junction. The remainder of the parish land in the area was sold and developed in 1846 as part of the St Mark's and Stopford Roads and Victoria Street.
The introduction of gas lighting to the town also affected developments in this area as the Gas Company started on a modest scale in 1831 with one oven and one gas-holder on the land between Gas Lane, now Robin Place, and Gas Place. Chevalier Road was laid across an earlier brickfield at La Bironnerie to connect Gas Place with the very old route of Byron Lane.
At the end of the 1820s it was decided that the commercial expansion of the town warranted the provision of another quay, known as the Esplanade, so work on the Gloucester Street end of this undertaking was started in November 1829 by Abraham de la Mare. As this construction also incorporated some sort of defence against the sea, it allowed the further development of Seaton Place and Castle Street, which had hitherto been little more than tracks across the sand, as well as the establishment of Payn, Anley and Commercial Streets.
There was a revival of the terrace fashion around the beginning of the 1840s, and new entrepreneurs came to the fore. Nicholas Le Quesne was responsible for developing the area around Queen's Road, including Queen's Terrace and Gloster Terrace, while John Phillip Aubin built Elizabeth Place at the west end of Rouge Bouillon. The latter also opened Parade Road, stipulating many complicated conditions as to the type of house to be built there. This development linked up with the new St John's Road which became fashionable and culminated in the provision of a cemetery at the top of the hill. Some of these mid-century terraces were economically less successful than others and three of them in particular caused problems to their builders.
ouro Terrace, half in St Saviour, remained unfinished when funds ran out. Almorah Terrace was completed, but caused great financial problems to its developer, whose scheme for building the terrace on co-operative lines nearly foundered; as a result some of the houses were offered for sale in 1845 while still unfinished. Building costs too were the subject of disagreement between Thomas Falle and the builders who worked on Victoria Crescent. Although Falle lost his appeal against the costs, the building was completed.
A disaster of another nature overtook Elysian Terrace in St Saviour's Road towards the completion of building. The whole terrace was razed to the ground, by a fire started accidentally by plasterers working on the site, and was then rebuilt. The same fate befell the last three houses in Pembroke Terrace six years after completion - they too were rebuilt exactly as before, and the end house renamed Phoenix House to signify that it had arisen from the ashes. There are other houses similarly named in Queen Street, Queen's Road, and three on the corner of Waterloo Street and Halkett Place, which were the victims of arson. Tamworth Villas were noteworthy in that five of the eight original houses were destroyed in 1855 and not rebuilt.
St Aubin road
Expansion out of the town to the west had followed on the construction of the main road to St Aubin in 1809, but was never more than ribbon development. Later, efficient horse omnibus services were established which enabled people to live further away from their place of employment in St Helier. The introduction of the railway to St Aubin in 1870 likewise encouraged the trend towards living out of St Helier. The quay-like Esplanade was widened in 1858 to its present form, and later Edward Pickering offered to build a seawall from the Esplanade to St Aubin for a trifling sum.
Unfortunately Pickering was no business man and went bankrupt before the work was completed - as Noel Bonsor so succinctly comments: "it seems probable that other enterprises of his had been similarly underpriced.'
The States were obliged to complete the work which also encompassed Boulevard Baudains, known as Victoria Avenue from 1897. To the east of the town, expansion was stimulated by the foundation of the Jersey Eastern Railway in 1873. Although the first station was well into the parish of St Saviour, much land in St Helier was freed for building as the old landowners had sold comparatively large areas in the parish to the Railway Company who then sold those plots not required for the track to builders and developers. This enabled such thoroughfares as Roseville Street and Cleveland, Hastings and Peel Roads to be extended in the period up to the First World War, which effectively stopped such enterprises. The town of St Helier had spread over the protected low-lying sandy wastelands; at times this growth had followed lines of communication, at others it had stretched to meet new focal points. Military and economic considerations had provided impetus for growth, and eventually it had covered areas of land previously considered unsuitable and undesirable for development. The scope of this survey comes to a logical end in the 1930s with the introduction of commercial redevelopment of sites. Such redevelopment, frequently on a large scale, has become typical of building programmes in the town during the years following the Second World War.