Thursday, 1 March 2012

St Helier in 1932 - Royal Square and Public Buildings

A few more extracts from the 1932 Guide Book to the Channel Islands...

The book says that "all proceedings are in French" relating to the Court. I suspect that wasn't wholly true. But if any documents were read out, their titles and contents were probably French. Until very recently property deeds, conveyancing and transactions were all done in French (usually with an English translation for the buyer). A knowledge of French was a requirement for anyone involved in conveyancing, and probably still is, as the older documents are is French.

It also states that "In a corner of the Court is the prisoners' iron cage, a barbarous survival.". The history of that cage (which is now just of historical value) is interesting. The Jersey Heritage site tells us that:

When the court was in session the prisoners were escorted to St Helier by a body of men known as les hallabardiers - these were Crown tenants and holders of certain lands in the eastern parishes. As late as 1875 they were summoned to maintain order at an execution. Elsewhere around the island certain properties owed 'service de prisonniers' which included the provision of shackles and the obligation to confine wrongdoers until they were taken to court on the Saturday. Once in St Helier the prisoners were held in an iron cage in the Market Place (Royal Square) until they were called to the Court. This was demolished in 1697 when the prison was built at Charing Cross and a new cage was built inside the courthouse.

The library was a public library, with very good opening times, but it was not a lending library. Reverend Philip Falle wrote (in 1734):

"Nothing is more wanted in this Island than a Public Library, the place being out of all commerce of the Learned World, and the Clergy, through meanness of their income, under a disability of laying out much Money upon Books. And such a Library should not, I think, be solely appropriated to the Clergy, but free and open to the better sort at least of the Laity, and be furnished accordingly. Reading would give our Gentlemen juster Notions of Things, enlarge their minds, and render them more useful and serviceable to their Country."

The library was finally ready for use in 1743, a year after the death of Philip Falle. Later, Daniel Dumaresq gave his collection after his death to the library in 1800; this almost doubled the stock of the Jersey Bibliothèque Publique (to give the library its proper name). This Library was located at what is now Library Place, but in 1886, becoming too large for the site, it moved a site beside the Royal Court buildings. There were 6,000 books to be moved. Within 8 years that number had almost trebled to over 18,000.

The library remained as a reference only library until 1934, two years after the Guide Book, and was one of the last British libraries to change to being a lending library as well. As the volume of books grew, the library moved to a new building in Halkett Place in 1989.


Eastwards of the Town Churchyard is the Royal Square, originally the market place. The site of the market cross is occupied by a gilt statue of George II, erected at the public expense in 1751. His Majesty is represented in the costume of a Roman Emperor, and the head is laurel-crowned. The south side of the Square is occupied by St. Helier's most important buildings. At the east end of the line is the States Chamber or House of Parliament ; at the west end is the Public Library, and in the centre is the Royal Court House.

A very humble thatched building served as the Court House from the twelfth century to the concluding years of the seventeenth. The building then erected was re-constructed in the following century, and repairs and enlargement undertaken in 1886 made the edifice that which we see to-day.

The hall contains several interesting pictures, including a replica of Copley's The Death of Major Peirson, the original of which hangs in the 'National Gallery ; a portrait of General Conway, one of Jersey's governors, by Gainsborough, for which the artist received from the States of Jersey £125 - it is now valued at £2,000; the portrait of Advocate Dupre, by W. W. Ouless, R.A., a Jerseyman of whom the Island is justly proud ; portraits of Bailiff J. Hammond and G. H. Horman, Solicitor-General, by W. M. Hay ; a portrait of George III, by Philippe Jean, a Jerseyman ; portraits of P. Le Sueur and F. Godfray, and the Assize of Heritage, by Lander. The picture shows the advocates taking the oath of allegiance to the King as the modern representative of the ancient Dukes of Normandy, a ceremony which takes place twice a year.

The public may attend the Court while it is sitting, and at other times the building can be inspected. The Court sits in a handsome upper hall. Its constitution is described later. All proceedings are in French. Before the President is a silver-gilt mace presented to Charles II "as a proof of his royal affection towards the Island of Jersey, in which he had been twice received in safety when excluded from the remainder of his dominions." In point of beauty it holds the sixth place among all existing maces. It is carried before the Bailiff.

In a corner of the Court is the prisoners' iron cage, a barbarous survival.

The States Chamber

(Salle des Etats), or House of Parliament, is small, but admirably designed and furnished. The style is Jacobean. The seats are arranged in horseshoe form in three ascending tiers. The Bailiff who presides has a throne-like chair, seven inches higher than that of the Lieutenant-Governor by his side.

Above the dais is a gallery for distinguished visitors. At the opposite end of the chamber is a gallery for the general public, who reach it by a stairway within the entrance lobby.

Since 1900, members have had the option of speaking either in English or in French, but the latter is still the official language.

In 1920 there was placed in the chamber a mural tablet inscribed-- " Messire Walter Ralegh, Governor of Jersey 1600-1603 In Remembrance."

A year later, when His Majesty, King George, accompanied by the Queen and the Princess Mary, visited the Royal Court, there was on duty a guard of halberdiers bearing the halberts used when Ralegh was governor.

The Public Library,

contained in the third of the great buildings here, was founded in 1736 by the Rev. Philip Falle, Rector of St. Saviour's from 1690-1709, and later the holder of a stall in Durham Cathedral. He was also chaplain to William III. While at St. Saviour's he published a History of Jersey. He bequeathed to the public not only his books, but also his house in St. Helier, and there they remained until 1886, when they were transferred to the present building-

The books number about 22,000, and include many valuable volumes. The Library, which is for reference only, is supported by the States, and is free to all corners. It is open from 10 to 1, and from 2 to 9, except on Sundays and public holidays.

In the outer wall here is a tablet, inserted in 1923, to the memory of " Maître Wace, Norman Poet of the 12th century, who was born in Jersey."

No comments: