Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 17

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Police control

The continual re-enacting of ordinances would seem to point to the fact that the Police were inadequate to cope with the evils they were sought to repress. We must recollect that the Constable of St Helier in those days had only one Centenier and four Vingteniers to help him in the fulfilment of the duties of his office. It was not until 21 September 1649 that the number of Centeniers for St Helier was increased to two.


The general state of insecurity of the inhabitants of the town will be apparent from Acts of the Court dated 21 October 1543, 27 February 1546 and 28 June 1549, which enjoin them to carry sticks for their protection from pirates and sea-robbers, who landed in rough weather.

That the Islanders were greatly subjected to the depredations of pirates is amply borne out by a complaint addressed on 4 June 1524 to Cardinal Wolsey. In 1550 three pirates wore hanged in Jersey. At a later period it was customary in the event of a sudden attack being made on the town for the women and children to seek shelter in Elizabeth Castle.

The lack of an effective police was met by the institution known as the Curfew Bell. It was on Saturday nights chiefly that our forefathers spent their leisure in the taverns of the town and such a deal of disorder seems to have reigned that on 8 July 1676 an ordinance was passed ordering all persons at the sound of the curfew at dusk on Saturdays to repair to their homes and stay there, under pains and penalties at the discretion of the Court.

While on the subject of the ancient police of St Helier it will not be out of place to cite a couple of curious Acts of the Court relating thereto.

Constables' problems

One dated 25 February 1542, relates how the then Constable of St Helier went with his police to inspect a house in the town belonging to one Thomas Beaugie and demanded from him in the King's name a candle. Beaugie protested he was not bound to find the police in lights and expelled the Constable from his premises. For his disrespect Thomas was sent by the Court to the Castle for reflection.

The other, dated 7 November 1549, (Catel) records the experience of the Constable of St Helier, Edouard de Carteret with one of his parishioners. The quaintness of the language of the Act must be my excuse for quoting it in the original:

"Le Conestable de St Helyer denuce (denonce) que Dymenche dernyer passee ledt Conestable fust envoye qrir pour tant que unq nome Mahy Docet faisoit tumulte et bruit par la ville et gu’il batoit sa feme si impetueulsement quo ledt Conostable soy transporta en la maison dudit Docet et trouva ledt Docet. Lequel avait unq faucquet en sa main, duquel it jouoit et voulloit fraper sur chacun venant et ledt Conestable luy

comanda qu'il mynst ledt baston bas pour esviter plus de danger. Lequel Docet luy dist que ne feroit pas por luy et q cestoit unq vaillant Conestable, lui disant qu'il estoit Normant et ledt Docet Breton. Disant aussi que touchant la taillie qu’il demandoit lever q si ledit Conestable soy jugeroit de lever ladite taillie luy et les Vingtenyers y demouroient. Sur quoy ledt Conestable voyant l'insolence dudt Docet comanda aulx assistans qu'il fust myns au chep laquelle chose ledt Docet ne voullut obair mays se couchait criant Haro! et fult porte au chep et print une pierre et en dona unq grant coup audt Conestable et mordit par unq pie a l'unq de ceulx qui le portoit. Par quoy veu la denuciation dudt Conestable ledt Docet est condampne allez au Chasteau et est comande au Vicomte de luy mettre de fait et de mayn mynse, at oultre ce est codampne faire telle admende tant au Roy que a la ptie come au cas apptient."

Our hero, you will have gathered, was provided by the Court with lodgings in the Castle.


The case is particularly interesting as shewing the use of the word Normand as a term of reproach. Docet prided himself upon being of Breton extraction. The appellation of Normand has always been hateful and opprobious in Jersey. The instance just quoted is not an isolated one in the Rolls of the Court. Ten years before the date of this Act another, 18 February 1540, relates how a certain Guile Nicolle was condemned to a fine for having arrogantly, in presence of the Court, called John Hodon Normand et fils de Normand.

This traditional hostility manifested on many occasions and in more than words dates from the times of the original occupation by the Norman of this island. Their name is thus used as a generic term of abuse for all Frenchmen. Even as late as the Franco-Prussian War the misfortunes of the French were a source of rejoicing to many Jerseymen and among the farmers a fresh narrative of defeat was met by the commentary :

" Tiens : v'la ces b—s de Normands rosses ocquo une fais."

Comment has already been made on the readiness with which the islanders welcomed the separation from continental Normandy.

The provocations received from Normandy must have been great to cause such a hereditary hatred. The existence of such hostility may be adduced as one of the many proofs of the non-Norman origin of the bulk of the Islanders.


In those days punishments were as barbarous in Jersey as in other countries, the cage, the pillory and the stocks were in frequent use as instruments of punishment. For the least offence the Court ordered a public whipping or the cutting off of an ear, which became a mark of disgrace. Criminals were whipped to the town cemetery gates and thence to the cage in the Market Place to await removal to Mont Orgueil by the Hallebardiers.

Mere theft was punishable by death. In early times and probably to the end of the 16th century, capital sentences were carried out in the Market Place. From the beginning of the 17th century the site chosen for executions was Mont Patibulaire or Gallows Hill, as we used to know it, and now more politely designated Westmount.

On the summit of that hill, where a small summer-ouse is now to be seen, were four high pillars. These were fixed there permanently and when an execution was to take place the necessary cross-beams were brought into requisition.

Criminals were compelled to walk from the prison at Charing Cross across the Mielles and to ascend the fatal hill, a long and trying ordeal. The last execution on Mont Patibulaire took place in October 1829. Since that date they have been carried out at the prison in Gloucester Street.

A rather good story is told about the pillars of the gallows at the expense of the gentleman who held the office of Attorney-General in the Royal Court in 1632. These pillars were originally of wood, and having fallen into decay, the Court was called upon to give directions for rebuilding the gallows. The Attorney-General recommended that the uprights should be of stone, as being more durable, and to strengthen his argument concluded by saying:

"They will last for ever and serve for us and for our children."

Nicolle: The Town of St Helier
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