120 years ago, or thereabouts, a number of very fine houses were built on this Island. They were designed for various families anxious to spend some of the huge profits gained from the Newfoundland cod-fishing industry on creating elegant homes for themselves.
Instead of using traditional dressed Jersey granite or following the early Victorian design of the times, one architect, whose name has been lost in the mists of the past, followed the beautiful Directoire style beloved by the French designers of the 1800s.
The plan was basically simple, and inspiration was drawn from the Greeks for detail. Most of these houses have four fine pillars, a central staircase and hall, four rooms below and four above and are painted white.
St Anne's, at Mont-a-l'Abbe, present home of the Earl of Midleton, was one; Broadlands, the home of Mrs W E Mitchell another; a third was Melbourne House at St John, one-time residence of the late Duke of Leeds and now owned by Major and Mrs Sims-Hilditch.
A fourth, the one with which this article is concerned, was La Grande Maison in the same parish and present home of Mr and Mrs Eudo Stourton. There are several more in other parts of the Island.
Folie de Grandeur
La Grande Maison was built in 1840 for a member of the Luce family. There are many Luces in Jersey and the original family is supposed to have migrated from Wales to this Island, though they doubtless originally belonged to the famous Norman houses of Lucy or Lucie.
Some of St. John's older residents can remember their parents telling them of the extraordinary struggle that went on between Mr Carcaud, for whom Melbourne House was being built, and Mr P Luce, who was building La Grande Maison at the same time.
Perhaps the families had a history of rivalry in the parish. In any event, each was determined to outdo the other. More and more cod-fishing gold was poured into the building of these houses, ending in the near ruin of their owners.
Once installed in their two elegant houses, looking so different from the low granite dwellings of their neighbours, and within hailing distance of each other, the feud appears to have died down. Their descendants recall how they formed the custom of waving and signalling to one another from their lofty verandahs, which command magnificent views over the parishes and down to the sea.
Sad to relate the triumph of both families was short-lived. La folie de grandeur had rendered them virtually penniless and eventually both the Luces and Cartrels had to sell up and leave. In the years that followed La Grande Maison fell upon lean times. A French countryman called Richard spent many years working on the farmlands, and on the death of his master, moved into the cellar of the house, using the present lovely drawing room as a barn for standing his potatoes and the dining room as a byre for his cattle.
More changes were made as time went by, until for a while it became the home of the Cunliffe-Owens, and about three years ago the present owners bought the place and set about making it into the charming home it is today.
Mr and Mrs Eudo Stourton are true cosmopolitans. The name 'Eudo' is Anglo-Saxon for Edward, and its owner is a number of one of the great Roman Catholic families of England. These families had many foreign affiliations; Mr Stourton's great-grandmother was a daughter of the first Lord Acton, whose wife was Italian; and her mother a member of the Bavarian House of Arco. Mrs Stourton, with Spanish blood in her veins, is the daughter of the late H H. Haldin, KC, and her mother, who has her own quarters in the house, is a gracious lady of 92 and the eldest daughter of the late Sir Herbert Leon.
A woman of great talent in her day, she has passed many gifts to her daughter, one of whose most interesting hobbies is tapestry work. Nearly all the beautiful period chairs in the house are covered in the most exquisite petit point, her own work. Perhaps the most striking example of Mrs Stourton's tapestry is a set of dinner mats, each piece embroidered in one of the Signs of the Zodiac from the Book of Hours in the British Museum. She is also a keen writer, gardener and student of economics and politics.
- ”Another of my hobbies is collecting” she said. “I am particularly keen on antique furniture”.
The house is certainly a positive treasure-trove of period pieces and objets d'art, many of them family heirlooms, others discovered at auction sales and furniture galleries.
Many periods collected
In the drawing-room is a wonderful George I chair, which she told me was originally one of a dining set at the Treasury in London. A distinguished old man who was an official there for many years had regarded it as his special seat, and one day told his coachman to take it out to his carriage. No one had the temerity to stop him, so it disappeared into his home and long afterwards turned up in an antique shop where Mrs Stourton found it.
- ”I love French furniture but I think in a country house of this kind it is a little too dressed up', she remarked.
Certainly La Grande Maison, its handsomely proportioned rooms containing rare furniture of many periods - an early Georgian clock, a Queen Anne tallboy and Bachelor's Chest. a William and Mary bureau-bookcase, a Chippendale mirror, to mention just a few, is eminently a family home.
The carpets and rugs are all Persian and in the hall is a series of most unusual prints of the entire series of The Triumph of Maximilian left to Mrs Stourton by her father. Hanging in the place of honour is a huge tapestry of the Stourton coat of arms, also worked by the chateleine of the house.
A missing gate
When the Stourtons bought La Grande Maison, the drive wound round the end of the garden to the front door, and one of the enormously heavy wrought-iron gates was missing. Determined to restore the approach to its original Directoire style with a straight central drive, they created a new drive, which was a mammoth task. Then the search for the missing gate began. They eventually tracked it down to a nearby blacksmith, still awaiting a repair impossible to carry out because of several missing parts. These were discovered at last, buried in the ground near the old entrance. They were welded on and the gate was restored to place by means of a crane and eight men.
Next came the planting of the garden. A very fine avenue of Cedrus Atlantica Glauca, a member of the conifer family seen all along the Atlantic coast, makes an imposing avenue, and these are already more than five feet high. In front of them. green and golden yews are rapidly shooting skywards.
La Grande Maison, St John, is far from being one of Jersey's ancient manors. It can boast no benitier, Norman arch or rounded colombier. All the same, along with its prototypes of Regency style to be found elsewhere in the Island, it makes a stately and elegant home with its tall pillars and gleaming white façade.
Old Jersey Houses
Joan Stevens, in Vol 2 of Old Jersey Houses, cast doubt on the date given in this article for the construction of La Grande Maison. She put the date of construction, by Philippe de la Mare, at 1852, and notes that Mr de la Mare was also responsible for building Melbourne House for Mr Carcaud, possibly somewhat earlier.
The property was in the Luce family before, because it is shown under the same name in Godfray's map of 1849, but Mrs Stevens says that it was rebuilt three years later.