House of Correction

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This article by Philip Ahier was first published in the 1971 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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First building

This building is defined as one for the confinement and punishment of offenders, especially with a view to their reformation. The first House of Correction in Jersey was given by Sir George Carteret on 5 March 1646. The location of this house and its gardens is difficult to determine. The Acte of the States for that day tells that it was between the house of James le Goupil and that of Thomas de Quetteville on the fief of the Prior of the Islet which house has been formerly acquired by Jean Binnet 'a stranger'. This Acte recites that Sir George Carteret gave the House and Gardens for 'le Bien Publicq".

The States on this day had previously decided that it was requisite and necessary for this Island that a Maison de Correction be built (or acquired) in order to punish debauchees and lazy persons and les amenes a leur devoir.

On 3 December 1646 the following orders were decreed by the Lieut-Governor and Bailiff (Sir George Carteret) the Jurats and the States of the Island, relative to the House of Correction:

Constables' orders

The Constables with their officers were ordered, in their respective parishes, to apprehend

  • All swearers and blasphemers of God's Holy Name.
  • Profaners of the Sabbath whether by playing Games or frequenting taverns or those who neglected to come to Divine Service and listen to the sermons.
  • Children, rebellious towards their parents.
  • Indentured servants who quitted their employment before their period of indenture had expired.
  • Those persons, male and female, who have neither a house nor a family but are capable of ploughing the ground of those who are compelled to stop indoors, and those who refuse to let themselves be hired out at reasonable wages.
  • All men capable of working in the fields, if they be found knitting with women and girls in public places, other than in the houses where they live.
  • All beggars in the parishes not possessing a licence to do so from either the Rector or the Constable and the Principals, it being understood that no one will be licensed unless he is incapable of working for his living.
  • All slanderers and disparagers of persons holding esteem, and propagators of false rumours.
  • Those persons who have a family and threaten to leave it or those who do not wish to work for the upkeep of their family.
  • All taverners and bakers who have been forbidden to carry on their profession and who continue notwithstanding.

The Acte gave instructions to the Constables and their Officers to ascertain how many young people were capable of work at such vocations which were deemed appropriate, and they would have the power to indenture them for seven years, according to their ages and capacities. The Constables have the power to put in the House of Correction any of the above delinquents who would be compelled to work. Their punishment would be meted out at the next session of the Royal Court.

Building starts

In 1650 an attempt was made to build a House of Correction for, on 4 April of that year, work upon it was ordered to be begun on the first day of May; the wages of the workers were fixed at the price of a pot (2 quarts) of wine, while the Constable and his Officers were deputed to superintend the work on a rota basis.

The days of Sir George Carteret's regime as dictator were gradually coming to an end. In 1651 the Parliamentarians under General Haines and their successors ruled until 1660, when little is known of their interest in social matters in Jersey as the Actes des Etats for the period 1651 - 1660 are missing.

But at the Restoration the subject of a House of Correction turned up again. The States met on 22 July 1662 and passed a very lengthy Acte in which they mentioned that Sir George had given a house for that purpose. It would seem that this building was not satisfactory, for at this meeting it was reported that it had pleased Sir George to lay the foundation stone of one such.

The States now decided that the whole of the Island should contribute towards its maintenance and ordered that the Ministers and the Constables of each Parish should emphasize the importance of this building after Divine Service and exhort the congregation to contribute according to their means, either in money or in rentes. If more money resulted than was necessary, it would be applied for the welfare of the people and the relief of the poor. Various responsible citizens from the parishes were appointed to collect these sums of money. Nothing however followed from this pious resolution.

Letters Patent

On 4 April 1669, Charles II, by Letters Patent, granted to the Bailiff and Jurats the right to levy duties on wines, cider, etc, the proceeds from which were to be applied towards building a College in St Helier, a House of Correction, and a Pier at St Aubin. The section dealing with the House of Correction is worth reproducing:

"Three hundred Livers Turnois (livres tournois, approximately £30) shall be yearly and every year employed for the erecting and building a convenient house and towards the raising and maintaining of a stoke (=stock) of money to be used for the setting to work and orderly governing of the poor and of idle people; the relief of decayed Tradesmen, and the correction and restraint of Vagabonds and Beggars within the said Isle".

Accompanying this Patent was a letter (written in French) from Sir George Carteret in which he commended the building of a House of Correction in which work could be found for poor persons and to hold in check idlers, so that the Island will be no more inconvenienced as it has been recently.

In 1676 it was stated that the Impot from wines, spirits, etc, which should have been intended for the erection and maintenance of a House of Correction in the Town, according to the terms of the Patent, has been transferred, with the consent of the States, to another purpose, the building of a Harbour at St Aubin.

Petition

In 1679 a petition was sent to the Privy Council praying that His Majesty would authorise the States to raise funds by lawful means in order that another prison be built in St Helier, and for the transfer of prisoners there as the Royal Court sits in the Town. The petition is transcribed in the Acte des Etats:

"As in regard to the inconveniences that attend the Inhabitants of the Island from the remoteness of the prison from where the Courts of Justice are held, we are humbly of the opinion that Your Majesty do permit the inhabitants to erect a new prison in some convenient place within the Town of St Helier to be near the Royal Court there. And the moneys for defraying the charges thereof (in case the product of five shillings per ton which Your Majesty shall assign for that use prove not sufficient) be raised by a just and equal method on the Inhabitants, and particularly that such be chiefly charged who, by older Tenures, are obliged to fetch the prisoners from Mont Orgueil to the Court in St Helier, and during the Assizes to attend there, and carry the prisoners back at their own cost and charges, especial care being taken that no part of the moneys be diverted to any other use whatsoever, and that the Keeper of the said prison be from time to time nominated and appointed by the Bailiff and Jurats of the said Island for the time being."

In the meantime the States themselves had adopted a device to raise money for the building of the Prison, for in their petition to the Privy Council, they stated that by their order of 17 December 1679, the sum of 5s per ton, duty on French vessels, was to be applied towards the building of a Prison. On 26 March 1681, the States reiterated that it be an absolute necessity for a prison to be built on a convenient spot in the Town of St Helier, according to the King's Order of 17 December 1679. A site for the prison was purchased by the Bailiff and Jurats in March 1684 from the reserved Fund arising from the duty of 5s per ton on French vessels.

The Royal Court, on 20 January 1686, authorized the Bailiff, Sir Philip de Carteret (the youngest son of the Sir Phillippe de Carteret who died at Elizabeth Castle in 1643) and Monsieur de Saumarez (Samares?) to prepare a plan for the erection of the prison, and the Vicomte with one of the Crown officers were directed to make the necessary arrangements thereunto. These, incidentally, were detailed in a lengthy Acte of the States on 24 March 1688.

Curiously enough the plan was approved, on 8 March 1687, by the Royal Court and not by the States, but it was not before 1693 that the building was completed. On 15 September, the States received an unsatisfactory report concerning the progress of the construction of the prison. It was not finished and had not been tiled which, if it were not effected, would damage the walls and the wooden roofing. The States then deemed it necessary to borrow slates and other materials to enclose the premises in order to protect it and to put aright that which had already been effected.

De La Croix in his Ville de St Helier gave a most graphic and awe-inspiring account of this prison, which he said was erected in 1689. An attempt is made to reproduce his story in English:

"The prison, situated at the west end of the Town at Charing Cross, was a massive building noted for its railed windows in iron bars; its formidable underground cells nicknamed Les Basses Fosses (deep trenches). It has a huge vault through which it was necessary to pass, in order to leave the Town. It traversed the whole length of the space (45 feet wide) between King Street and Broad Street."

De La Croix said that the building could be compared with Temple Bar in London, which crosses Fleet Street, but with two exceptions, first, its architecture and, secondly, the lack of pavements on either side. He then gave an impression the building made on its beholders:

"The carts trundling under the vault made a noise which seemed to evoke the spirits of those who had been formerly hurled into the underground cells, for popular superstition had peopled them with supernatural beings, while it was said that they were filled with enormous serpents which devoured the unfortunate victims condemned to exist in the humid and non-hygenic conditions. The height of the vault echoed the sounds and multiplied them so powerfully each time the Mounted Guard passed underneath, the noise of the drums made such a din that it was thought that the building was going to fall down. Timid children who had been stuffed up with 1,000 fables flee from it with terror and blocking up their ears."

The present prison was built in 1811 after the old one had become overcrowded. The States decided to built it below the Hospital in Gloucester Street. It cost £19,000 and its frontage has been reputed to be one of the finest specimens of granite work.

In 1838 a House of Correction was added to it, which was originally intended to house those persons whose irregular lives made them a public nuisance. Later it became a Debtors Prison, although not used much in that direction as the creditor had to pay for the debtor's keep. Originally the premises housed both sexes but at some later date two additional blocks were built, one for men and one for women.

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