Maison du Mont

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This article by Joan Stevens and Peter Bisson was first published in the 1969 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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The Cedars, originally Maison du Mont, shortly before demolition

In 1968 an old house known as The Cedars, in Green Street, St Helier, was sold to the States for the sum of £29,000, though doomed to demolition, as it stood right in the path of the proposed tunnel under Fort Regent.

Historical investigation

Our Historical Sub-Committee felt that investigations should be made to see if this house was worthy of record historically or architecturally. It proved to be so on both counts. Many keen workers have contributed to this study, both from the documentary point of view and in actual examination of the house. It had stood empty for several years, and the large and previously well kept and productive garden had become overgrown to an extent that one usually associates with tropical forests.

Built into the rock at the foot of Fort Regent on the north, and abutting on to the main road on the east, the house was not particularly distinguished outside, though of satisfying proportions and constructed of mellow and pleasing coloured granite. The dower wing, nearest to the road, and perhaps of later date than the main building, had been covered with modern pebbledash, leaving large granite quoins exposed. The full depth of this wing from north to south was spanned by one splendid beam.

The windows in the front of the house were all modern casements, and it appears likely that the window apertures had been enlarged in recent times. There were cellars under the east and west rooms, but not under the centre portion; these may have been the remains of an earlier house, for, as we shall see, the property was en masure (in ruins) in 1769, assuming that we have identified it correctly.

Building features

The main part of the house had the remains of interior decoration which in England would be dated at about 1720, but which in Jersey is found to continue until much later; in country parishes fragments of it have been found as late as 1796, and in town it seems to suggest a date of about 1750-60. It consists of simple, fine woodwork and panelling of Georgian type, including fireplace surrounds, overmantels, cupboards, doors and partitions between rooms. As is so often the case the first floor rooms had survived modernisation more successfully than those on the ground floor, and the western bedroom had survived intact, just as it was constructed in the mid-18th century, but for the windows and the actual grate in the fireplace.

The stairs were of a most interesting type, with turned oak balusters, the rail of the lower flight crossing the stringer of the upper, making for great strength, and obviating any stair-well. This pattern has been observed in several houses of the period in Jersey. It is curious that the stairs were built right across the panels of the partition wall, indicating that the owner could not afford, or that his carpenter could not achieve, panelling moulded to follow the line of the stair treads. When the stairs were removed the marks on the panelling, and the total absence of paint on these areas, proved that the stairs and panels were contemporary with each other.

A later addition to the north of the house, forming a continuous corridor, had three sash windows of an early type, with typical heavy glazing bars; these were probably relegated to this humbler position when new windows were inserted in the south facade.

There is a cheering sequel to the necessary but sad destruction of this fine building. Much of the excellent woodwork described was saved and removed to the Museum, where it is hoped to incorporate it in the restoration of 7 Pier Road, where existing interior panelling is precisely similar.

History

We shall now consider the history of the house. Known as The Cedars since 1893, it was previously called Maison du Mont. The earliest reference found to a house of that name is in 1761, when Francois and Philippe Marett, sons of Francois Marett, Seigneur d' Avranches, and of his wife Anne Tapin, divided between them the real property of their late uncle, the Rev Pierre Daniel Tapin. Philippe, the second son, a minor at the time, took La Maison du Mont in St Helier.

The Rev Pierre Daniel Tapin, from whom the occurrence of the name Pierre Daniel in that branch of the Marett family must stem, was the son of a French refugee who came to the Island some time after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. He married Marie Seale, whose brother became Seigneur de Samares, He was Rector of St Helier from 1736 to 1761, and is reputed to have been very good to the poor of his parish. He is also remembered as the man who, unwilling to relinquish part of his fine Rectory garden, north of the church, for the erection of Philippe Falle's new Public Library, made the astonishing suggestion that this could be built on the church roof, a plan which fortunately never came to fruition. He died unmarried in 1761.

It is very tempting to think that the Maison du Mont inherited by Tapin's nephew was the same house that we are considering, and which is described as Maison du Mont under the ownership of the Mallet family from 1807 onwards. No transfer of such a property by Philippe Marett to Pierre Mallet, or to the Benests, from whose heir Mallet bought what was almost certainly Maison du Mont in 1769, can be traced by sale, inheritance or any other means; but the records of the period are not infallible, and this question must regretfully be left unsolved. As, however, there were no buildings close to The Cedars except its own outbuildings, which are clearly shown behind the house on the Duke of Richmond's map of 1795, the Marett house, if not this one, must have been in some quite different position, though bearing the same name.

The later ownership of the house has been established without doubt in the name of the Mallet family. In 1769 Pierre Mallet, a widower who had recently remarried, purchased from Anne Louise Anquetil a house on the east side of Mont de la Ville, on Fief de la Fosse, which she had inherited from her mother's uncle Jean Benest. The house, described as being a present en masure was situated en l'est de la Montagne de St Helier et au ouest du chemin public and some of the rentes due on the property are identifiable with those charged on The Cedars in Pierre Mallet's partage of 1815.

In 1773 Pierre Mallet bought more land nearby, apparently further to the south, as it was called clos de la Chapelle ou de Boutillier, which must refer to the ancient Chapelle des Pas, which still existed at that date. This field adjoined on the east the land of Brelade Valpy dit Janvrin, a wealthy shipowner who had shipyards there. Some years later, in 1801, Pierre Mallet's daughter by his third marriage, Marie Elizabeth, married Brelade Janvrin's grandson, Daniel.

Rope walks

In 1804 Pierre Mallet, his son Thomas, and Brelade Janvrin's son Philippe were among the owners of land in the area who ceded property to the Government for the construction of Fort Regent. Precise details are given in the Court proceedings relating to this, and mention is made of the corderies (rope walks) of Pierre Mallet and Philippe Janvrin, which were among the properties expropriated.

Mid-18th century panelling at the Cedars from the author, Joan Steven's book, Old Jersey Houses Volume 2

Mallet's rope walk had probably been established on Clos de Boutillier mentioned above, adjacent to the Janvrin property. Another rope walk existed in the area until recently and was bought by Philippe Laurens from Mathilde Mallet in 1860, and may have belonged to Thomas Mallet who was her father's first cousin, but it was not one of those taken over by the Government in 1804. In 1813, after Pierre Mallet's death, Thomas was granted permission to examine the dower appartments occupied by his step-mother Jeanne Pipon (Pierre's third wife) in his house, which was required by the Government for the fortifications. The expropriation acts specify that the inhabitants of the houses to be compulsorily purchased are to continue in occupation (reserve la jouissance desdites maisons) an important point. It seems almost certain that this was Maison du Mont but that in 1813 it managed, for some reason we do not know, to escape the fate which has now overtaken it.

Disputes between heirs

After Pierre Mallet's death in 1807 his heirs quarrelled continually; the disputes were mainly between Thomas, his son by his first marriage, and Pierre junior and Marie Elizabeth, the children of his third marriage, and their mother Jeanne Pipon. To begin with Pierre and Marie actioned their half-brother to furnish them with their just shares of their father's real estate. The Superior Number of the Court, after viewing the properties in dispute, decided that the cour en gazon ou Green Plat in front of Maison du Mont was to be regarded as one with the house, which it adjoined without any division, the access to the house passing through it.

Pierre Mallet had laid out this large green lawn, 27 perch in extent, in place of the kitchen garden which was there when he bought the house in 1769. It was evidently an unusual feature for its time, so that one wonders if it influenced the choice of the name Green Street. The Court ruled that the house with its green plat and the outbuildings at the back were to form one property with as much adjoining land as was necessary to support the rentes, but Thomas, as eldest son, was to have an allowance for the maintenance of five muskets.

Brickworks

It was decided that one vergee of land in Jardin de la Bironnerie, at Surville, was to go with the house there, as being no more than was necessary to the brickworks established there in Pierre Mallet's lifetime. It is valuable to have this evidence that bricks were being made in the Island prior to 1807. The Fief de Surville, on which this was situated, was a dependency of Meleches, and the Clos de la Bironnerie appears in the Appariement de Meleches when, in 1700, George Dumaresq made his aveu for it.

The brickworks concerned may be those which lay on the Mont a l'Abbe main road, a little way north of the electricity power station. It is worth noticing also that Pierre Mallet had owned a part share in a company (probably a trading partnership) with the curious name of Burin and Lawn. Could this be relevant to the fact that there is to this day a house just south of the site of a brickworks, called Lawn House? Little research has been done on local brickfields, but it is a subject worthy of study.

The feud continued until 1815, when an Order in Council confirmed the original judgment of the Court, from which Thomas had appealed. In spite of this he remained obstructive and the partage of Pierre Mallet's property was implemented by the Greffier in accordance with the wishes of Pierre, the younger son, and of his sister Marie. Pierre took Maison du Mont, which it is clear from the proceedings that he had coveted all along. It was the house in which he had been born and brought up, and he would have had an affection for it. He also took its "green plat" and part of the field or garden to the south of it, the remainder going to Thomas, together with a field adjacent to the brickworks. Thomas, as principal heir, had a chefve maison in Broad Street. A datestone showing PML MC 1762, initials identifiable as those of Pierre Mallet and his first wife Marie Chepmell, Thomas' mother, above Bigwood's shop identify this chefve maison. The heirs were charged in the usual way to furnish the widow, Jeanne Pipon, with her dower.

For some reason young Pierre immediately sold all his share of his father's property to his mother, and in the following year, 1817, she sold it back to him for the same price, whilst her dower rights are confirmed throughout the transactions. This selling and buying back of property was quite common in those days. Thomas continued to harry his stepmother, and also actioned her in respect of his father's personal estate, the case not being concluded until 1821, two years after her death. He appears to have been a most quarrelsome man.

Business interests

Apart from the business interests already mentioned, he was a merchant in hemp, an activity doubtless connected with the family rope walks; he was also a member of a fishing company, ... agent et membre d'une societe qui a ete depuis peu etablie en cette ile pour la peche de poisson, and in 1808 he brought an action against two men for cutting the nets from one of the company's boats at sea, ruining them and allowing all the fish to escape, but the Court gave judgment against him.

Although there may be confusion here between this Thomas Mallet and his cousin Thomas, son of Nicolas, who became Colonel of the St Helier Militia, it appears that he was also an officer in the St Helier Regiment of the Militia, and one can imagine just how popular he must have been with the men. In spite of the fact that he and his wife were godparents to his young half-brother Pierre, the two men were on extremely bad terms always, and in 1811 they actually came to blows. Pierre claimed that he and some other men were walking near his mother's house (probably Maison du Mont) at about midnight when they were assaulted by Thomas and another man, armed with sabre and pistol.

One of his companions, he claimed, had been seriously hurt, and he even feared that another had been killed. The reason he gave for being there at such a late hour was that startling noises were frequently heard in the house at night, disturbing his mother, and he had reason to believe that Thomas was responsible, so he had come to investigate, with his companions to act as witnesses. The case came up before the Court, with the contestants entering claims and counter-claims against one another which show Thomas up in a very poor light; eventually it was heard, with a multitude of witnesses, but apart from enjoining Thomas and Pierre Mallet to keep the peace under the extremely heavy penalty for those days of £200 sterling each, the Court dismissed the sordid matter without giving judgment. We find the turbulent Thomas, however, involved in several other law suits, none of which reflect much credit on him.

His step-brother Pierre did not for long enjoy the peaceful possession of Maison du Mont, as in 1828 a Curateur had to be appointed to manage his affairs, though he was then only 42 years of age. He petitioned the Privy Council that he had been deprived of his liberty and property, but nothing came of it, so presumably his mind had indeed failed.

Difficult sister

Pierre's sister Marie also appears to have been rather difficult to deal with. She, it will be remembered, had married Daniel Janvrin (the family had by then dropped the prefix of "Valpy dit") son of Francois, son of Brelade, and she had three sons and a daughter Jeanne. The latter is referred to in family papers as Jane, but must surely have been christened Jeanne, after her grandmother. She married her cousin Frederick Janvrin, son of Francois, son of Francois, son of Brelade.

One of Marie Mallet's sons, Henry Janvrin, emigrated to Buenos Aires and married a girl named Enriquita. She was left a widow in about 1837, and wrote pitiful letters to the mother-in-law she had never met, addressing her as "Honoured and respected Mother" and describing her troubles, commercial and financial, since the death of her husband. Sir John Le Couteur, who was a relative, was co-trustee, with John Louis Janvrin, another cousin, of the estate of the late Daniel Janvrin, and he found this an onerous task. He was determined to see that the widow, unknown and so far away, should receive her just share of the inheritance, with which she said she wished to buy a house. He found the family dilatory and unable to make up their minds among themselves, and threatened to resign his trusteeship, and was in fact released from this duty, at his own request, in 1840.

The fractious Thomas Mallet died in 1832, leaving no legitimate heirs, but making over all his property shortly before his death to his natural daughter Julie Marie and her husband George Vincent. The contract was contrary to the law of those days which forbade the gift of real estate to an illegitimate child, and in any case Mallet died within 40 days of passing it, so it was attacked by the curateur of his half-brother Pierre, as collateral heir. Vincent and his wife were assigned certain rentes and the contents of Thomas' house; with the law as it stood they were fortunate to get anything at all. Pierre took the rest of the estate.

Further transactions

In 1834 Pierre's curateur sold Maison du Mont to his first cousin Thomas Mallet, son of Nicolas. This Thomas died in 1860, and his son Thomas Britten Mallet renounced the succession in favour of his sister Mathilde, who sold the house the following year to a man named Lemon Hart Walter. At that period it was known as 26 Green Street. In 1862 it was sold to Charles Harrison, who in turn sold it to Sarah Weymouth, but bought it back again in 1870. He died the same year and his collateral heir made the property over to Sarah Weymouth, then described as his widow.

After her death it was ceded back to her husband's relatives, who sold it to Pierre Drelaud in 1881. Ten years later it was taken over by Charles Le Quesne as tenant apres degrevement, the equivalent to bankruptcy proceedings with regard to real property, and he sold it in 1893 to James John Williams, who had lived there as a tenant since 1887. At this stage the house is positively described as "The Cedars, formerly Maison du Mont". The price was £1,190. It remained in the Williams family until 1959, when it was sold to Jersey Bulbs Ltd, who never made use of the house or land, and finally it was bought by the States in 1968.

It will be seen that in latter years, until bought by Mr Williams, the house changed hands far too frequently to have been loved or cared for. To appreciate its qualities we must go back, in imagination, to a period covered by a century or more of its history, when the owners were people of some substance. We may with advantage recapitulate what was happening in this area at the time. Peter Meade's map of 1737 shows no buildings in Green Street but La Chapelle des Pas; he also shows small boats beaching near there "for fetching of sea weeds to manure the land and for fewel".

Later Fort d'Auvergne was built, on the small cape where a hotel of that name now stands. On the Pointe des Pas, slightly to the west, a tower was built in 1788, a rampart existed in 1795, and there were Engineers Barracks in 1817, and perhaps earlier. Mont de la Ville was an open common where the townspeople grazed their sheep and took walks in the summer; there were prehistoric remains there, including the fine neolithic dolmen discovered in 1785 and presented to Marshal Conway. Soon after the turn of the century work started on the construction of Fort Regent, and continued for ten years. From then on expansion of the town continued rapidly, and the area became thickly populated. Two charming small town houses of approximately 1820 have survived on the sea front nearby.

Throughout this period of change our Maison du Mont stood bravely, a fine Jersey homestead in its prime, at the foot of the hill, and maintained its dignity in spite of the feuds and bitterness of its contentious owners. Did the spirit of Pierre Mallet's much-tried widow, disturbed from her nightly rest in her old age by the devilments of her stepson, ever walk abroad in the neglected and empty house of later years? We shall never know, and the motorists who speed over the site of so much past history on the new road through the tunnel will scarcely spare it a thought.

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