The history of the first chapel of ease at St Aubin

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This article by Pamela Le Clercq was first published in the 1984 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

A chapel of ease, as defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary, is for the convenience of remote parishioners.

At the turn of the 18th century the little town of St Aubin was an expanding community engaged in trade, commerce, shipbuilding and all the associated modes of work, which rendered it almost independent of St Helier. However, one serious omission for the Anglicans of the populace was their own place of worship, having instead to face the long, arduous trek over Mont les Vaux to the parish church.

Petition

A group of men of some standing in the town had a petition drawn up in 1716 which was sent to the Bishop of Winchester, and it stated the case for the inhabitants of St Aubin to erect a chapel of their own, making the following points:-

  • The parish church was remote from St Aubin, which contained about 200 families
  • Many foreign merchants and others visited the town
  • The way to the parish church was two miles of difficult ascents and descents, with the church-goers having to cross the beach in all weathers and getting fatigued
  • Due to these inconveniences, the infirm were excluded from worship
  • Dying infants and dying Christians had neither the convenience nor the comfort of baptism, nor the presence of the minister at short notice (the rectory being adjacent to the church)
  • Those who did attend morning service had to remain all day at a public house in order to attend the evening service, as the distance was too great to return home in the interim
  • The inhabitants of St Aubin wished to erect a chapel of ease for divine service to be celebrated each Sunday morning in French, according to the Church of England, with prayers every Wednesday and Friday, and an English sermon to be preached at least once a month.

This application was accepted and Sir Jonathan Trelawny, Bishop of Winchester, issued the licence on 22 May 1716. Regarding the appointment of a minister, the Bishop retained the right to grant his licence 'provided the said person be recommended to us, and our successors by the Rector of St Brelade's parish for the time being'.

The founders

It was not until 4 May 1724 that 41 people assembled to discuss financing the building project, the cost of which was estimated at £1,500 sterling.

Finally, on 14 August 1728, 27 people promised to donate certain sums of money, and they were to become the original founders. The land was generously donated by Jean Seale and was where the present-day church has its car park, on Mont les Vaux. This gift was made under the following conditions:

  • The founders named in the deed should build the chapel at their own expense within six years or the land would revert to Mr Seale or his heirs
  • All the founders should agree that if they did not pay the amount they had previously promised, their goods should be seized
  • When the chapel was complete, the pews should be balloted for and that each founder should occupy for three years the pew bearing the number that he had drawn. Every third year the drawing should be repeated on 25 March
  • In consideration of the fact that Mr Seale had given a contribution, as well as the land for the chapel, he might have a free choice of pew
  • A founder could sell his founder's right (foundation) if he so wished and if the other founders agreed
  • Any difference of opinion between the founders should be settled by a majority vote
  • Every year on 25 March two founders should be elected to collect the £25 sterling due to the Minister and two more were to stand at the door every Sunday and collect alms for the poor
  • Other founders could be added to the existing number of desired

Original founders

The original 27 founders, as spelt and listed in the chapel accounts were:-

  • Jean Le Couteur
  • Ph Le Couteur
  • Thomas Pipon
  • Wm Kastell
  • Pierre Le Bailly
  • Jean Villeneufve, jnr
  • Jean Dauvergne
  • Jean Le Couteur jnr
  • Ph de Carterett
  • Francois Barthelett
  • Elie Nicolle
  • Henri Marett
  • Pierre Seale
  • Villeneufve
  • Ed Marett
  • Moyse La Croix Crouin
  • Ed Touzell
  • Pierre Marett
  • Jean Pipon
  • Tho Pipon jnr
  • Ed Le Breton
  • Jean Dumaresq
  • Ph Dauvergne
  • George Robin
  • Brun Benest
  • Jean Maugier
  • Elizabeth Seale

Building under way

The preparation of the land commenced on 15 March 1734 with the laying of the official Commemorative Stone on 26 May 1735. The last account for materials and work on

the building is dated 31 July 1738, with a very strange delay with no work being undertaken until 1746, for which there is no explanation. The windows and pews were then installed and the chapel was at last fit for worship.

Even so, for yet three more years it was debated whether or not services could be held in an unconsecrated chapel until, on 23 November 1749, the Dioscesan Bishop wrote to the Rector of St Brelade, the Reverend Rodolphe Hue, stating that:

'I do hereby signify to you my full consent that you should immediately after the receipt of this, begin to perform Divine Service in the Chapel of St Aubin, belonging to your Parish, and go to preach, administer the Holy Sacraments and do all the other offices belonging to your profession in the said Chapel at all proper times, either yourself in person or by a sufficient assistant. The said Chapel being of the same nature with the many chapels built in great parishes in London, which are not judged to require or admit the form of a solemn Consecration by a Bishop, and therefore to be used as they are for all Holy and Ecclesiastical office, without such solemnity'.

Christmas Eve of that year marked the first service and sermon held in the Chapel, a very fitting time for a celebration and coming 33½ years after the granting of the licence.

The plan for the chapel

First minister

As no minister had been appointed to serve the Chapel, the Rector of St Brelade took the services, but as he did not understand English, he obviously could not preach the monthly English sermon, as stated in the petition, and this state of affairs continued until December 1763, when Pierre Sohier was chosen as 'Pasteur' for the Chapel at a salary of £25 sterling per annum.

The Reverend Hue died in 1772 and was succeeded by the Reverend Amice Bisson, but his strong opinions regarding the replacement of Sohier in 1773 seem to have caused consternation, not to mention anger, amongst the founders, as can be seen from the following quotes from a letter written at the time to Jean Seale in England by M C Remon (founder and treasurer), stating:

You being the first and principal benefactor to the Chapel of St Aubin, give me leave to lay before you the unexpected difficulties we meet, with our present Rector, who nothwithstanding his Revenues are entirely Distinct and Separate from those of the Chapel will nevertheless incroach on its priviledges, and thereby in some measure annul and deprive us of a right we have so dearly purchased, but taking the absolute power and authority to forbid the preaching therein, but when and by whom he thinks fit, his pretentions are grounded on a Clause in the Lycence for the Chapel in these words (that the Minister of the Chapel shall be recommended by the Rector of St Brelade). He therefore insisteth that the Chapel is under his Direction and that the nomination of the Minister belongs to him .”

Thus were the reasons for the high feelings of injustice amongst the founders, feelings which led them to apply to His Majesty's Privy Council for the right to choose their own minister.

This application was accepted and was dated 2 February 1774. It was to become a

landmark in Jersey Ecclesiastical history, as St Aubin's Chapel of Ease was the first post-Reformation edifice to be erected for the Church of England in Jersey and so any regulations appertaining to the chapel were to be a precedent for its successors.

Andre Migault was the first minister appointed by the founders and he was succeeded by Louis Michel, until his eventual promotion nine years later to become Rector of St Martin. On leaving he requested that the Parish Rector, George Bertram, should take over his duties - a state of affairs that lasted for the next 27 years, so reverting to the previously unsatisfactory time before the granting of the Act of 2 February 1774.

The table at the bottom of this article lists the ministers of the chapel, and 'Assisting Ministers', where it is shown that the rector of the day was 'in charge'. It is worth noting that these men were not locums or casual preachers. They were advertised for and duly elected by the founders to be entirely employed by and for the St Aubinnais but answerable to the rector; whereas at other times, where one sees a minister 'in charge', he was autonomous and answerable only to the founders regarding policy, services, times etc.

Description of the chapel

It will be helpful to note the ground floor plan of the Chapel, drawn after the addition of the gallery and shortly before the demise of the building. From a compilation of sources, including Hill's ‘’Historical Directory of the Channel Islands’’ 1874, the following description has been built up, part of which can be verified by the delightful photograph of the laying of the Foundation Stone of the new Chapel in 1889.

It was a bare, barn-like structure of 'plain, unmeaning granite'. The windows were large and unsightly for a place of worship and of diamond-shaped glass. It was entered through a lobby with two side entrances to the interior leading to two aisles going down each side of the building, as seen in many Wesleyan chapels, and from which was filled the double row of 'sittings' in the centre.

Lines of more wooden, high-backed pews ran along the side walls with a few at the far end, around the raised platform on which stood the communion table, reading desk and the tall pulpit, under which was the desk and chair of the 'lecteur'. The interior walls were all whitewashed with lime.

Seemingly the only light relief in this purely functional building came when the worshipper raised his eyes heavenward, for the ceiling was very delicately painted a pale blue, spangled with gold stars. In the centre was a triangle made up from the word Jehovah and from which radiated rays of glory. Towards this floated angels (possibly cherubim) amongst small clouds, and at the corners of the ceiling they reappeared blowing trumpets.

A paved pathway led up to the doors, one of which later had the addition of a steep, wooden staircase next to it inside, leading up to the gallery. In the centre of this gallery was eventually placed the organ, with pews either side, mainly used for seating the Sunday school and choir.

At the back, hung on the wall, were two large blackboards on which were inscribed in gold lettering the Ten Commandments. These had been a gift to the chapel in 1765 from Thomas Denton and they are described in the chapel accounts on their receipt thus, 'two Tablets or Plaques inscribed with the Ten Commandments and the symbols of the Apostles with the Lord's Prayer'. Originally they had been placed either side of the pulpit.

The lighting inside was by means of oil lamps and candles until the introduction of gas lighting in 1864. Over the years small embellishments were introduced into the building, such as the stove, heavy curtains at the main door and behind 'les chanteurs' in the gallery, mats and runners placed by the doors and down the aisles.

Much of the dampness within the building was due to poor drainage outside, so a paved and cemented channel had to be made for the water to collect and run away. Gravel was laid in the yard and pathway and towards the end of the chapel's reign the founders purchased the iron railings and coping from the hospital (almost opposite) to be placed around the yard and in front of the chapel. It is possibly noteworthy that the accounts state that Ph Poingdextre and Ph Le Geyt were responsible for painting the ceiling before the chapel was ever opened. As no mention is made at all of the creator of the artistic work, one wonders whether these two men may have been responsible, or whether it was added at a later date, as there is no apparent evidence that it was restored or touched up at any time.

Among the many gifts donated to the chapel, probably in 1749 for the first service, were two extremely handsome alms pots. These are still used today on special occasions, and are of such rarity in Jersey that they almost warrant an article to themselves.

In 1829 the gallery was built by benefactors Elias (Elie) Pipon and Jean Le Couteur and this was home for the organ and choir, and provided some free sittings. There were also 40 seats for the Sunday school children, and classes were held there until 1831 when the boys were sent to the hospital across the road to have their lessons, presumably in the room which was set aside for parochial meetings as there was no parish hall at that time.

The photograph of the laying of the foundation stone of the new church shows the original chapel of ease

Subscriptions and pew rental

At the beginning of each 'chapel year' the treasurers had to estimate the likely forthcoming expenses and then levy the pew rental accordingly. This meant that it fluctuated from year to year at each reassessment, mainly depending on just how many of those omnipresent repairs had to be seen to.

The known fixed expenditure, paid at the end of each year, was £25 sterling for the minister's stipend, £20 for that of his assistant (be he rector or vicar) and the wages for the ‘’lecteur’’ and ‘’bedeau’’, who was the beadle, or caretaker.

From time to time special collections were also asked for in order to meet a particular need, for example a collection on the first Sunday of each month went towards lighting costs alone. At other times the poor and needy might benefit. Conversely, in 1819, the committee of founders agreed that it was 'an absolute necessity' to replace the minister's chair covers and the grand sum of £10 sterling was set aside for the purpose - nearly half of the minister's annual salary.

Defaulting on the pew rental payments was not unusual and eventually, if all other methods failed, the defaulters were prosecuted.

New regulations

On 15 December 1825 a committee met and approved new regulations which had been drawn up to update and replace those laid down in 1749.

  • Founders to have as many votes in the assembly as they have foundations.
  • Quorums for the assembly - one quarter of founders for deliberations except extraordinary expenditures or alteration of salary of minister or clerk, for which one half is required. Entitled to vote by proxy
  • Nominations of minister and clerk to be made in assembly with a quorum of one half at least.
  • Assembly shall be held each year on the first Wednesday after 24 March to pass accounts, make decisions and elect a committee with a president to conduct the affairs of the chapel during the year and examine its accounts before the annual meeting
  • Pews will be drawn by lot every three years, as before.
  • The treasurers will be chosen each year, to run for two years but with a change of one each year. (It does appear that treasurers could be re-elected for longer terms of office, as many held the post for ten years or so.)
  • Duty of the treasurers:
    • To ensure that services are orderly
    • To ensure that their articles are carried out
    • To ensure that the minister and others are paid regularly
  • All decisions by the majority of the assembly shall be binding both on absent or present members
  • All matters concerning the chapel to be decided by a majority assembly vote
  • Any addition to their regulations in future can be made by a majority assembly vote

Problems

The state of the roof was giving rise to concern by 1810 and the bank behind the chapel was prone to landslips in winter and after heavy rain. These falls, together with the small but continual subterranean streams making their way down Les Vaux under the chapel, could well have been the cause of the instability of the building and its eventual closure.

In the 19th century the town of St Aubin was increasing in numbers, but less prosperous as a community, and as money was so hard for the founders to acquire they applied in October 1826 to the Governor of Queen Anne's Bounty for a monetary gift, stating:

”In a community so circumstanced - and with equal rights - no stimulus is offered to impose a higher tax on each other, than is prescribed by the original licence, although at the time it was granted (1716) £25 was equal to £75 of the present period; voluntary contributions from strangers and others do occasionally come in aid - but cannot be much depended upon - seldom amounting to more than twenty pounds per annum; the repairs of the Chapel - fees of the clerks are also an addition to the charges on the Founders - amounting generally from 30 to 40 shillings to each annually - comprising therein the fees of the minister”.

Their request met with refusal.

From time to time meetings of the assembly had to be postponed as those who had taken the trouble to attend did not constitute a quorum, and in 1847 it is apparent that apathy reigned. The treasurers were ordered to publish a notification stating that if the pew rent defaulters did not honour their contracts, the chapel would close. Its future was in jeopardy, due to 14 people being in arrears, and the opinion of the Queen's Officers was sought who said that the money had to be claimed forthwith, with no excuses for delay.

Further worries were evident, once the above crisis had abated in the chapel's favour, when the beadle, Edouard Carrel, had to be chastised for inefficiently carrying out his duties. He was threatened that he would be fined 13 sols for each time that he was remiss in ringing the bell for a quarter of an hour prior to each service.

There were still more non-payments, and in 1859 when the founders arrived for the annual meeting, they found the treasurers so discouraged that they suddenly resigned and the meeting came to an abrupt halt. They must have been placated however, but not for long, as 18 months later a special meeting was called to discuss:

  • The refusal of Jean Le Couteur to remain as treasurer
  • The fact that only two people had attended a meeting convened the previous April
  • The 'deplorable affairs' regarding the Chapel

There must have been some remarkable diplomats present as, once again, things were smoothed over.

A less problematical matter was recorded in 1879, when it was agreed that the Minister's stipend would be raised from £25 to £52 sterling per annum - an enormous increase which leaves one wondering how they had previously managed on so little.

Just over half the amount was to be met by the founders, as before, with the remainder to come from a door to door collection. It was obviously in the minister's best interest to be a Good Shepherd to his flock.

Chapel closure

On 5 March 1884 a special general meeting was held at the parish hall in order to discuss the report made by John Laurens, Surveyor, on the state of the chapel roof which, it transpired, would need replacing at the estimated cost of £220 sterling, a very great burden for the impecunious founders to carry.

As a result they came to the reluctant conclusion that, rather than try to effect partial repairs which, after all, would only stave off the inevitable, it would be wiser to pull down their chapel and build a new church.

Even so, discussions and hopes for a remission continued ineffectively for the next few years, until the building became too dangerous for the public to enter, whereupon Miss Harriet Le Couteur (chapel organist and founder) fitted up a wing of St Aubin's School for the services. She even offered a piece of land, as a gift, for the new church to be built upon, but she added the proviso that the founders would have to relinquish their foundations in favour of free sitting throughout, and this they refused to do.

It was eventually agreed to accept the extremely generous gift of land from Girard de Quetteville (founder and treasurer), the site being that which we know today, adjacent to and south of the old Chapel.

In the photograph which shows the laying of the foundation stone of the new church by the Bishop of Guildford, the Right Reverend George Henry Sumner, on 4 June 1889, the old chapel can still be clearly seen alongside.

The concluding sentence of the account books records 'That the Chairman be authorised to write to the committee of the Church giving them over the old Chapel for the purpose of being pulled down and the materials, as far as available, to be used in the construction of the New Church.'

So ended Jersey's first chapel of ease.

Account books

The old chapel account books are in a wonderful state of preservation and form almost the complete source of the preceding information. They were written in French until 1870 and translated by Mrs Lucienne Bisson. Her invaluable help in giving many hours to pondering over handwriting that is at times almost illegible is gratefully acknowledged.

After a long and hitherto fruitless search I was delighted to discover what I believe to be the only photograph in existence of the chapel of ease, in the possession of Advocate Raoul Lernpriere who generously consented to its reproduction in this article. Additional and sincere thanks are extended to Mrs Vivienne Ainsworth, Miss Dorothy Vincent, Mr Ian Monins, Mrs Joan Stevens, Miss Jane Green, the Reverend Terry and Mrs Rosemary Hampton and Mr Cliff Le Clercq.

Officiating ministers

Minister Assistant minister
1749-1763 Rev Rodolphe Hue (R)
1763-1773 Pierre Sohier
1773 Gabriel Francois Guegan
1773-1782 Andre Migault Jean Norman (1776-78)
Mr Washington (1779)
Rev La Cloche
1782-1791 Rev Louis Michel
1791-1818 Rev George Bertram (R)
1818-1826 Rev Philippe Filleul (R) Rev Philippe La Cloche (1825)
1826-1829 Rev Mark de Joux
1829-1832 Rev Gideon Rene de Joux Rev Mark de Joux (1831)
1832-1834 Rev George du Heaume Rev Bailhache (1832)
Rev G E Smith (1834)
1835-1845 Rev Edouard Falle (R) Rev G E Smith (1835)
Rev G E Smith and Rev J Robinson (1838)
Rev G E Smith and Rev Hollingsworth (1839-40)
Rev W C Fenton (1841)
Rev Wm Braithwaite (1843)
Rev W R Blewshir (1844)
1845-1852 Rev J C F Vincent
1852-1856 Rev Dr Samuel King
1857-1873 Rev George I Le Maistre
1873-1875 Rev W B Holland
1875-1893 Rev William Power Cobb

Note: (R) denotes Rector of St Brelade

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