The watermills of Jersey
This article by John Fleury Le Cornu was first published in the 1934 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. Abridged and translated from the original French by Mike Bisson.(Some phrases which it has so far proved impossible to translate have been left in their original language for the time being. Apologies for other poor translations – Jersey’s 16th century legal French has defeated me on a number of points.)
The origin of watermills goes back to very ancient times. They were not unknown to the Romans.
In Normandy, since the introduction of the fiefs, the freedom which everyone had to build his mill was withdrawn. It became a feudal right. The major landowners established them for the use of their tenants, and took the profits.
However, not all owners of fiefs had the right to a mill. It was necessary to own the two banks of the waterway.
Later the seigneurs forced their vassals to grind at their mills the corn destined for their food. The tenants had an obligation to use their seigneur’s mill or pay a fee to be discharged from this obligation.
The local custom was not entirely that of Normandy.
In the first place: “In our islands the right to a mill lay in the gift of the Prince, confirmed by Charter; or in the possession since time immemorial of that right.” – Poingdestre
In the second place (as far as windmills are concerned: see the Order in Council of 1838:”The petition of Clement Jean de Quetteville: By an old Norman Law no mill can be erected for the purpose of grinding corn without Your Majesty’s Royal Licence.”
In 1292, the 20th year of the reign of Edward I, Gallichan, Seigneur of Augres, erected a windmill because the Seigneurial water mill was not sufficient to grind the grain of his tenants, and without thinking that this impinged on the rights of the Crown. The records don’t say what he had to do. The map informs us that there were around 30 water mills, of which nine belonged to the King, and were worth 100 livres profit.
Nine royal mills
These nine mills were Quetivel, Gargatte and Gigoulande in St Peter’s Valley, two mills in the parish of Grouville (Queen’s Valley), Quevitel in the Valley of St Lawrence, Grands Vaux and Mal Assis in Grands Vaux Valley, and Mourier Mill.
The King’s tenants owed suit for the mill as follows:
- St Brelade for Quetivel Mill, St Peter
- St Peter for Gargatte Mill
- St Lawrence for Quetivel Mill, St Lawrence
- St Mary for Gigoulande Mill
- St Martin for Grands Vaux
- St Saviour for Mal Assis
- St Clement ‘owed suit for the King’s Mills in those places which pleased them’.
One has the right to suppose that the King’s tenants in St John and Grouville went to the King’s Mills in their respective parishes. There does not appear to have been a royal mill for the tenants of St Helier, Trinity and St Ouen.
The Extente of 1331: “The tenants of the said localities ‘qui ont des ménages’ were required to go to the great mill of Vaux in the parish of St Saviour to grind their corn. And those who ‘n’y ont pas des ménages’ had to come to grind three times a year, at the feast of Toussaints with two sheaves of wheat, at Christmas with two sheaves, and at Easter with two sheaves. It they defaulted they had to pay for each period a quarter cabot of wheat …”
However, these rules were not absolute for all the royal mills because about 1633 a dispute arose between Elizabeth and Jean Lael, millers at Moulin de Gigoulande, against Jean de Rues and Jean Le Brocq, King’s tenants in the parish of St Mary. The Royal Court had required them to grind at this mill. The Privy Council reversed this judgment. The rules were apparently not the same in all parishes.
In order to ensure the free flow of streams which drive the island’s mills, it has needed the involvement on many occasions of the Royal Court and the States, thus:
- 30 April 1589, (Cour d’Heritage). Order to the proprietors of meadows and fields near the town to clean out the ditches and the authority of the Viscount recognised for water inspections.
- 22 July 1598 (Cour Extraordinaire). Another act on the same subject and prohibition of landowners breaking ditches and stream banks near the town.
See also 28 April 1603, 7 January 1604, 21 September 1615 (all acts of the Cour d’Heritage) and 12 January 1677 (Act of the Cour du Samedi).
The millers themselves were very resistant: For example, the miller of Ponterrin:
- 17 July 1647. Ordered that Jean Laffoley, miller of Ponterrin Mill, does not retain water for more than 24 hours and does not let it flood without warning the millers of the mills below and on Saturday evening closes his millpond between 8 and 9 in the evening. And does not let the water flow on Monday morning until sunrise, under penalty of a fine – at the instance of Ph Le Maistre, miller of Grands Valux; Thomas Giffard, miller of Louis Paul; Helier Bisson, miller of Malassis, and Philippe Bisson, miller of Moulin de la Ville.
18 August 1660. Josué Jennes, miller of Moulin de Ponterrin, in default, at the instance of the Attorney-General and Philippe Le Maistre, miller of Paul, Philbert Le Maistre, miller of Grands Vaux, Francois Le Maistre, miller of Malassis, and Helier Bisson, miller of Prieuré en St Helier, who stated:
- He is charged with having released water at night at an unwarranted hour and on Sunday on several occasions against old orders of justice, having breached the millponds of several of the petitioners …”
And again, 15 September 1660, between the same parties, the said Jennes, and successive millers of Ponterrin, are ordered to observe the order of 17 July 1647, on pain of an annuial fine of 10 livres tournois.
This monopoly of mills and the control of the streams serving the mills gave rise to great abuse. A judgment of the Privy Council of 15 September 1709, prevented all from diverting the waters which were used by the mills from their ancient course.
That was all very good, but the mill owners, rich and very often united by marriage, became very powerful. So we read in the Gazette de Jersey of 24 February 1787 a letter writted from London by Jean Dumaresq in the following terms:
- ”There are a thousand things to reform and which demand an immediate remedy; but there is one in particular to which they (the States) should pay the most serious attention; it is that of the water mills.
- ”One is subject to a fine if one waters ones meadows at certain times when it is most advantageous to do so. Many people have assured me that their crops would double if they could use water freely in all seasons. That would be the case for all the meadows of the island.
- ”What an excess of riches, what infinite number of beasts could be fed every year? The trade which we undertake with England would double in a few years; our animals fed almost uniquely on the produce of the meadows, there would remain a greater number of fields to cultivate; the towns and the country would be provided with the produce of the country; the price of meat and grain would tumble considerable and the abundance would be such that we would see everything reaching the same price as previously. The poor, instead of enduring a miserable life, would be able with a little industry to secure everything they needed for themselves and their family.
- ”But what must be done to have flour? I would desire that the abonimable monopoly of the mills would be abolished, so that it was allowed to each and everyone to build, either in the wind, or by horse, or for their individual use or for that of the public. I don’t doubt that a remonstrance on the part of the States, representing all the evils which would result, would obtain from the Sovereign a suitable regulation in this regard.”
The price of bread was, in effect, the cause of a riot on 22 May 1847. The millers wanted to raise the price to 10 sous a pound. On the other hand, the States had threatened to discontinue the distribution of bread.
The millers assembled their forces at the Harbour, on Route de la Houle (then in course of construction) and at Havre des Pas. Arriving at the Royal Square the gathering consisted of 500-600 and the States, alarmed, appealed to the Lieut-Governor to support them.
The 81st Regiment, garrisoned at Quatre Bras, mobilised. The mob moved on the Town Mill , burst through the gates, looted the mill, loaded two carts with flour and moved off, but were stopped and dispersed near Robin Hood, We refer the reader to the ‘’Constitutionnel’’ of this date for a detailed account of the incident.
The son of a militiaman mobilised on the occasion recounts what his father told him: When the discontented people complained to the miller about the high cost of living he said ‘a herring and potatoes is sufficient for the poor people’. Soon after the riot he found each morning a little packet of potatoes and herring attached to the front door of his house.
Other than the watermills marked on the map there were two others which we should mention. The Vallée des Vaux stream has its source near the land of Stanley H Blampied in the parish of Trinity; that of Grands Vaux, with John de Gruchy, Le Pont, Trinity.
These two watercourses joined at the Town Mill and having powered this mill passed through the meadows of the Gas Company and a little lower, the stream divided, one branch descending to what is now Conway Street and the other crossing Don Street, running alongside the shops and de Gruchy store, crossing Hue Street and Rue des Sablons and so to the sea.
In 1577 Etienne La Cloche built a mill to press and malt in Chemin de la Madelaine (Today, Bond Street) and quite naturally on the banks of the watercourse mentioned above.
It should be noted that the majority of mills in the parish of St Saviour belonged to the La Cloche family.
Acts of Court
Here are the Acts of Court on the subject of this mill:
- 30 March 1577. Pierre de Soulemont, owner of Debenaire Mill, is obliged to release and let flow the water of this mill on the south-west of the town and all owners of houses bordering the stream are ordered to clear the channel.
- 15 September 1548. The Lieutenant and HM Attorney-General relinquished the ownership of Le Moulin à Bree in St Heller to the attorneys of Jean Esnouf to enjoy the perquisites according to the rights which they held from time past by the lease of Guillemine Debenaire and Jean Poingdestre in right of his wife.(We wonder whether this is the La Cloche mill constructed in 1577.)
- 14 November 1579. Order to transfer Debenaire Mill from where it was, that is near Douet Billot, to where it is presently, that is at the Madelaine, for the convenience of the public.
- 22 September 1608. Jean de Soullemont, second son of Pierre de Soullemont, is ‘esconduit du préciput qu’il prétendoit imposer’ on the mill ‘à foulon et à brée’ which his father built on behalf of the Town of St Helier, on the instructions of Hugh de Soullemont, elder son of the said Pierre, ‘et partant ordonné que ledit moulin sera apprécié’.
- 15 March 1676. On the action of Jean Messervy, sued Charles Hilgrove to say by what right and authority Hilgrove insisted upon using a certain mill in which he mills malt and brews beer and cervoise (ale) for the public to the prejudice of his mill, besides lacking the right and valid title, seeing his (Messervy's) mill was erected by Royal authority for the use, convenience and well-being of the Town of St Helier.
The other mill mentioned above was the little Prieur mill situated in rue ès Hemies, that is to say near Dumaresq Street.
Details of mills
We have assembled the following details of particular mills:
Moulin du Roy, of a type of which we have spoken. Belonging to the La Cloche family in 1487; sold by Matthieu La Cloche to Charlesw William Le Geyt in 1776 and by Clement Auguste de Quetteville to James Baxter (father of the actual owner) in 1876 ‘avec tous ses resséants, secquemottans etc’ and every right which it could have to a certain millpond in Trinity on the Fief of Diélament.
There is due to the King 2.4.3 quarters of wheat and 2 écus 10 sols of rente. The owner pointed out that he pays these rentes regularly to the Crown but on the other hand, the King’s tenants in St Martin no longer send their grain to his mill. This mill burnt down shortly after 1876 and was not rebuilt.
1484, the Saturday after the feast of St Aubin
Guille Hardy, Bailiff of this island, produced a letter signed by Richard Harliston, Governor of this island, dated 12 February 1484, by which the said Hareby (sic) Seigneur of St Germain and Grainville, an old mill called Malassis to pay on the receipt of four capons and had undertaken to repair the said mill as well as it had appeared, made in the presence of Louis Jean, Attorney-General and at the same time transfer the same mill, with all its apurtenances to Estienne La Cloche and his wife Jeanne, at a price of 5 quarters of wheat and four capons.
About 1487, Matthew Baker, then Governor of the Island allowed La Cloche to plough a marsh at Grands Vaux Mill ‘so that he is bound to repaire and maintain the said Mill of all things for ever, as it is said and to pay per annum francke and quitte to ye King;s receipt at Michael masse feast, six quarters of wheat and four capons of rent and y said Steephen La Cloche shall have power to make a little pool when at any time ye mill of Grands Vaux should cease to grind by raison of some reparations below the wheel of the said Mill fo Grands Vaux to cause the water to come to ye said mill of Malassis’.
Later, Captain Baker increased the tax to 12 quarters. And when the Royal Commissioners were sent to Jersey to consider the complaints of the inhabitants, this affair was put before them and then referred to the Royal Court, which ruled in favour of La Cloche.
There has always been a scarcity of water at Malassis. The Extente of 1331 records:’The tenants ‘’the bouvées’’ of St Saviour the two parties of Malassis Mill, and the tenants of Guilleaume de Chaeni, the third party ‘’doivent faire savoir, les reeeéants’’ in the same parish, in the same manner as the tenants in the parish of St Martin ‘’excepté l’étang qui est communément appelé écluse car il n’y en a pas…’
This mill still has a very fine road leading to the Parish Church of St Saviour. The mill road had a width of four feet. A bouvée was five acres of land, or 20 vergées.
A very fine mill situated at the top of St Peter’s Valley; possessing two wheels. The King’s tenants of St Mary were responsible for its repair but were not requred to grind their corn at this mill.
Act of the Court - 29 January 1645. Jean Maresq, a married man, for having been found at night shut in Gigoulande Mill with Jeanne Coulomb, who was seized by officers fleeing in a chemise, was condemned to be flogged on two consecutive Saturdays and ordered to behave, on pain of banishment.
The said Jeanne was also flogged and banished because she was an alien.
Moulin de la Ville
It remains to mention this beautiful old mill, formerly Moulin du Prieur, situated below Monts Nérons, at the confluence of two streams, one crossing Vallée des Vaux, the other Grands Vaux.
This mill was given to the Abbey of St Helier by Henry II, King of England in the 12th century. It must not be forgotten that the Abbey, part of which was founded in 1155, was annexed to Cherbourg in 1179 and that the Abbey became a priory, the Priory of Islet, and that this priory reverted to the Crown in the time of Henry VIII.
In 1308 in the reign of Edward II, the Royal Commisisioners demanded of the Abbot of Cherbourg why he was also Abbot of St Helier. He presented to grants signed by Henry II, the first dated at Chester by which the King had given him ownership of Moulin de la Ville, with its rights and privileges.
This proof was not satisfactory and a legal action was started which lasted until 1380, in which one judgment of the Chief Pleas of the Court of Jersey was given in favour of the Abbot against the King.
Charles William Le Geyt sold the mill to Francois Valpy dit Janvrin in 1788. In 1814 the latter sold a third and in 1825 the remaining two-thirds to Francois Jeune, grandfather of Lord St Helier, concerning whom it was written ‘Even as far back as the days of Saint Helier, a mill has been known to exist at Moulin de la Ville, connected then only by a saddle path with the sea shore’.
In 1835 Francois Jeune sold the mill to Nicolas Le Quesne and a member of this family still possessed it when on the night of 216/27 July 1895 a terrbile fire consumed it and reduced it to ashes.In 1898 Adolphus Thomas Le Quesne sold the ruins to the public of the island; the courtyard served for tennis courts.