St Lawrence's perquage

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St Lawrence's perquage
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This article by G S Knocker was first published in the 1945-46 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise



Some few years back I had an idea that it might be worthwhile to collect such information as had survived about the ancient perquage paths from the parish churches to the seashore, and was engaged on the task when the commencement of the War in 1939 and the difficulties of movement and communications soon put a stop to all serious and extended enquiry.

The events of the last few months, with the extensive alterations to the natural features of the Island, and the destruction of so many ancient landmarks and objects of antiquarian interest, have however made it painfully obvious that what information as was already in hand should be at once recorded; for it is only a matter of days before much of the track that I traversed on foot this morning (Sunday 13 September 1942) will be lost for ever buried under tons of rubble, railway lines and sleepers.

This is my only excuse for putting into writing, without waiting to complete the investigations into the tracks in the other parishes, what I humbly conceive to be the line of the ancient perquage path from St Lawrence Parish Church to the shore in St Aubin's Bay.

Bearing in mind that the criminal. after taking refuge before the altar of the parish church, had to be escorted to the boat that was to take him away from the Island, by the shortest and most direct route possible, and that this route would, in those early days before the laying out of the roads of later centuries, be compelled to follow the natural features of the land; and also taking into consideration that the old 24 foot wide perquage road would form the easiest path of communication for the local inhabitants long after its original need had passed away, and thus would finally be transformed into the permanent roads which we use today, I started out this morning from the west door of the Church.

Note: The authorities give the width of a perquage road as the Norman perch equal to 24 feet (Norman presumably) but this measurement requires, I think, some further elucidation. A present-day Jersey country road is 9 English feet wide, a secondary road is 16 English feet and a main road, such as St Aubin's Road is only 20 English feet wide (excluding foot path). An English Perch is 16½ English feet. Why then this abnormal width for a roadway only required on special occasion and for use by foot passengers only? Surely the popular idea of a width of 12 feet would be more reasonable?

Narrow opening

Going straight ahead and looking over the churchyard wall and across the road at the back of the church will be seen a narrow opening at the north side of the back wall of the house Abbey Gate. This opening (recently blocked by the German military, although their obstruction can easily be avoided by a slight detour) is the entrance to a footpath leading directly westward between low banks and about six feet wide.

We will, however, leave the pathway in the bottom and turn left in a southerly direction, towards the sea, following the line of the stream which we notice has now divided into two parts and flows in made channels at the foot of a slight escarpment on either side of the meadow.

On closer examination it is easy to see that this formation is due to a slip or fault in the shale rocks which, in earlier days before the fashioning of the channels, would have the effect of turning the meadow into a swamp, quite impassible in winter time and certainly not suitable for the foundations of a perquage road.

Today, however, thanks to the collection of the water into the channels at the foot of each rock wall (the walls are some 8 feet high) the meadow can with care be negociated and we proceed down it some 400 yards and notice that it is parted off into three sections by boundary posts.

Track widens

After some 300 yards, perfectly straight, it commences to wind down the side of the valley and gradually gets wider until it reaches the little stream which flows down the centre from the direction of Avranches. The path crosses this stream on a single granite stone and proceeds up the opposite side of the valley to Badier Farm with its interesting Norman arched gateway bearing the inscription LRM-SGC and the date 1684.

Towards the sea

We will, however, leave the pathway in the bottom and turn left in a southerly direction, towards the sea, following the line of the stream which we notice has now divided into two parts and flows in made channels at the foot of a slight escarpment on either side of the meadow.

On closer examination it is easy to see that this formation is due to a slip or fault in the shale rocks which, in earlier days before the fashioning of the channels, would have the effect of turning the meadow into a swamp, quite impassible in winter time and certainly not suitable for the foundations of a perquage road.

Today, however, thanks to the collection of the water into the channels at the foot of each rock wall (the walls are some 8 feet high) the meadow can with care be negociated and we proceed down it some 400 yards and notice that it is parted off into three sections by boundary posts.

The fault ending, the stream reunites and returns to the centre of the valley and thus the ground becomes dry and solid for the next 100 yards, and then suddenly the end of a made roadway appears, or perhaps considering the direction in which we are facing, it would be more correct to say that the beginning of a roadway appears, on the west side of the valley, well up on the firm ground some ten feet or more above the level of the water.

The striking feature of this road is that it leads nowhere, not even into a field gate, and it appears to have, at first sight, no raison d'etre; but it is a well formed track about four paces wide, grass grown but solid and a real road. Here I feel convinced we have found the remains of the original perquage road which we will later trace right down to the sea, but it will be worthwhile to go back to the footpath from the church and endeavour to trace the connecting link between it and this roadway.

Stone bridge

So starting once more from the little stone bridge over the stream (this I did on 25 September) and ascending the pathway towards Badier Farm, some 50 yards brings us to the top of the escarpment and there, on the left, is a row of young trees marking an obvious entrance to what at one time might have been a made road.

It is some 15 feet wide and clear for a few yards but soon becomes overgrown with brambles and one is faced by a landslide containing the remains of a cart, some broken farm machinery and a fallen tree.

Skirting the hole, and negociating the obstructions with considerable difficulty, a well defined road 12 feet wide is reached, bounded on each side by a row of trees clearly marking it off from the meadow above, and the edge of the fault below, and this extends as far as the first row of posts already noted in the water meadow beneath.

Here another landslide has swallowed up the track and all trace is lost until the side valley leading up to Badier Farm is crossed when the line can be easily picked up once more by a 6-foot path at the old level. This path is soon lost again in jungle but by now we have passed the end of the fault and its swampy meadows and reached the firm ground, across which a few steps will land our feet on the beginning of the roadway discovered on our former essay, and thus we fit in the only missing link necessary to complete a continuous roadway between the church and the sea.

From here our travelling is easy and the line of the perquage road is clearly outlined; before long we come to the ancient house at Cape Verde, with its fine Norman arched doorwav and "volieres" so well illustrated and described in the late E T Nicolle's article on "Les Colombiers de Jersey" in the Societe Jersiaise Bulletin for I928.

Passing between the old house on the right and the modem house of Cape Verde on the left, a solid cart road follows the line of the valley to the cross roads at Meadow Bank, with the stream all the time on our left hand.

Alas, it is no longer the pleasant little country stream running between flowery banks, but a drain running through concrete pipes, and the charming green valley is being filled up with rubble and refuse, debris and dirt, and converted into a level expasse, probably, to form the permanent way of a narrow guage railway.

The old farm cart road, which for centuries has wound its way around the natural obstacles in its path, is, no doubt, also doomed to be replaced by a concrete highway, laid out according to Euclid's definition of the shortest distance between two points. Where it now emerges on to the parish roads one of its gate posts has already been removed, but the magnificent great cedar tree with its roots in the little stream is still there. May it be spared to delight the eyes of future generations, will be the fervent hope of all tree lovers.

Tesson

At Meadow Bank we are on the parish high roads and we follow the one past Le Pre Vallon to Tesson Chapel and Tesson Mill, all of which will be on our right. At Tesson Mill we shall cross the bigger stream issuing from St Peter's Valley, which drives the water wheel, and then passes under the road.

Today we cross this water in comfort but our escaping criminal no doubt had to wade through it, or perhaps, if lucky, hopped across on stepping stones. Although this macadam road is of com¬paratively modern construction, quite a casual inspection shows clearly that it is a direct continuation of the cart track coming out of the gateway of Cape Verde, and I have no doubt that we are still following the track of the original perquage road.

From Tesson we continue on a good modern road, past two quarries, to the side of the house called Brook Vale, with the fine monkey puzzle tree in its front garden, but then we must turn left and walk a few yards till we come to the gateway leading into what is still known as The Perquage, but by doing this we have crossed the brook, bringing the water on to our right hand.

By this time it is a considerable stream, especially after rain, as it drains the two valleys. Going down the Perquage some 100 yards we again cross the stream, bringing it to its original position on our left. One is inclined to speculate that our modem roads and tracks have here departed from the line of the original perquage, which is not likely to have crossed this considerable stream twice in such a short distance, for no apparent reason provided by natural obstacles, but probably followed the more direct line by cutting across what is now the garden at the back of Sandybrook.

Railway line

(Since writing this paragraph, a railway line has been cut through the ground mentioned, and I consider that it marks the exact line taken by the original perquage from the public road to the wall of St Peter's Marsh.)

Today the Perquage from Sandybrook to St Aubin's Road, that monument and reminder of a past age, is practically destroyed: the stone wall separating it from the marsh is broken down, its green bank turned into a latrine, its grassy surface covered with railway lines, sleepers and junction points, reminding one more of a London goods yard than of territory sanctified by holy church as a means of escape for the repentant transgressor from the cruel fate pronounced against him by harsh mediaeval justice.

Our short walk of 2½ miles is nearly at an end, as we have only to traverse what remains of the wide path alongside the Beaumont, or St Peter's, or as the maps have it, Goose Green Marsh, to reach the main St Aubin's Road, cross it and we are on the beach where our criminal gets aboard his boat and is safe from the law, but burdened with the regrets of leaving his home and native Island for ever.

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