Tuesday, 7 August 2012

St Helier in 1932 - Harbour and Fort Regent

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

A note on the book "The Battle of the Strong". This was written by Gilbert Parker, in fact Sir Horatio Gilbert George Parker, 1st Baronet PC (1862 - 1932), who was Canadian novelist and British politician, and was born at Camden East, Addington, Ontario. Most of his novels tell of the history and life of the French Canadians; and his literary reputation rests on those Canadian stories.  In the early 1890s he began to gain a growing reputation in London as a writer of romantic fiction. Settling in London, he was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative member for Gravesend. He remained an MP until 1918, and was knighted by King Edward, in 1902 for his service to Canadian literature.

In 1898, he broke new ground with "The Battle of the Strong" which was set in the Channel Islands rather than Canada. It is a Romantic tale in a historical setting, and opens with the battle of Jersey. It is continued into the great war between England and France at the close of the eighteenth century - the "Battle of the Strong". In a newspaper cutting of the time from 1899, it is noted that "Mr Parker is keen to disavow historical accuracy for his narrative or historical foundation either for his narrative or chain of facts". Gilbert Parker was not known for historical accuracy! The 1905 New International Encyclopedia noted that it was the "dramatic quality of his books which won for them their considerable popularity, despite their disregard of truth in local color."

The full review notes that:

This new book of Mr. Gilbert Parker's, is a studiously well-thought-out story of life a century ago, which is alternately mixed up with the concerns of the small German duchies of the day, the struggles between England and France for territory in the Channel Islands- and other portions of Northern Europe, and French disturbances as represented by the army of the Vendee. All this will of course, be intensely interesting to those who favour historical study, although Mr. Parker is careful to disavow historical accuracy for his narrative or historical foundation- for either his characters or chain of facts. He gives, however, a hint, a voluminous hint it might almost be called, of the source whence, at any rate, 'the fundamental idea of his living drama emanated, with a further indication that, if the course of events has not been too slavishly followed, it has been quite carefully enough embellished for purposes of art so as not to remove from it the touch of nature which makes the whole world kin.

The personal subject of the story clings around the island of Jersey, not the Jersey of the nineteenth century,' with its alternation of quiet parochial existence, and the feverish excitement of the cheap tripper, but the Jersey of a century since when the quaint native simplicity of the Jersiaise, which is now so much at a discount, was the prevailing feature of the island life and associations into which the drum and shot of war were so often and so cruelly intruded. The story is, with its substratum of veracity, a powerful and inviting one, albeit it is somewhat unpleasantly illustrative of the " vaulting ambition which overleaps itself," and that the hero, Philip, Prince Philip d'Avranche, carries with him to his ruin some of whom one would rather learn better things.

There are others, however, like Guida, and Detricand, who rise phoenix-like from the ashes of his failures. As a career, Philip's is little short of marvelous, looked at in the light of to-day ; a sovereign dukedom cajoled, to quote Mr. Parker's own phrase, out of an aged and fatuous prince, a wife gained, who is yet no wife, from amongst the highest of a Royal Court, success won from Fate by ' a valour informed with vanity and ambition-all reared upon the insecure basis of a secret marriage of a lowly descendant of another Royal House, only' to end in a lonely untended death, after a duel in which marital wrongs are revenged. All this is told in stern uncompromising fashion, in which there is no dallying with the hero's weaknesses of egotism and ambition, but rather, if there is a fault in the treatment, in the way in which the mitigating features are lost sight of by the chronicler. The lesson is minimised, too, because the majestic self sacrifice of Ranulph, who is neither ambitious nor egotist, but who lays his manhood at the feet of a traitor parent and a scornful mistress, has no brighter end, on the whole, than even the erring Philip himself. The greatest faults of Philip's life are not faults at all, for his absence from his early bride's troublous experiences is at first a matter of compulsion and not of choice, to which she contributes by voluntarily refraining from letting him know of her disaster and plight, while of his son" he knows nothing until its infancy is well passed, and then his willingness to befriend it becomes wildly extravagant. No slight analysis can, however, do justice to a story so full of material as Mr. Parker's.

The personage dealt with will all well repay acquaintance, from those already mentioned to the lesser ones, and the quaint Jèrriais miniature pictures, such as Maîtresse Amiable, Jean Touzel, Dornvy Jamais, and the rest are each perfect in their unaccustomed eccentricity of behaviour.

St Helier in 1932 - Harbour and Fort Regent

For safe landing on this terribly dangerous coast good harbourage is of first importance. Vast sums have been spent by the States to achieve this object, but the arrival and departure of vessels still depend on the tide, except as regard the mail steamers, whose berths are specially dredged.

The area of the harbour is very large: the total length of the quays is nearly six miles. Even so, in 1923 a scheme was mooted to enlarge the harbour, at a cost of some £200,000, to meet the requirements of new steamers about to be built by the railway companies.

More than a century ago a small harbour was constructed, protected by a short jetty and a quay. This proving quite inadequate, two large piers, called respectively the Victoria and the Albert Piers, were begun in 1841. The latter forms a favourite promenade-a continuation of the Esplanade and is nearly always crowded on summer evenings when the boat from England is expected.

Another enlargement was undertaken by the States in 1867. The plans of Sir John Coode were adopted, and for five years (1872-7) the work proceeded. It was intended to enclose with two piers an enormous expanse of water.

One pier, called the Hermitage, was built from Elizabeth Castle. As a mere breakwater, this is of great utility in protecting the Harbour from south-west gales. The other was to extend from the foot of Fort Regent. In 1877 the works were abandoned, after an exhaustive inquiry into the obstacles which continually presented themselves, and the incomplete pier adds another instance to the many to be found in the Islands of time and money expended on harbour work to no purpose. St. Catherine's breakwater, near Gorey, is a white elephant, costly and useless, and Braye Harbour, Alderney, is like unto it.

At the end of the Victoria Pier is a small granite obelisk, the Harvey Memorial, erected "To Noble Heroism," and recording the loss of the Normandy by collision on March 17, 1870. The officers and crew "gave up the boats to passengers, stood by the sinking ship, and sank with her." The Lifeboat House faces this memorial.

Between the old Harbour and Fort Regent is Pier Road, in which, at No. 9, is the Museum of the Societe Jersiaise. It contains many relics of ancient Jersey, all carefully classified and catalogued, and is freely open to the public every Thursday during May, June, July, August and September, from 2.30 to 5 p.m. Admission by the main entrance in Caledonia Place. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, admission is by ticket, 6d" from 1 to 12 and 2 to 4, at the door in Pier Road.

From Pier Road pathways lead up to Fort Regent, which crowns the hill called Mont de la Ville, rising abruptly from the town. For centuries this point of vantage has been fortified, but the present fort dates from the Napoleonic scare, and was commenced in the year 1806. The British Government purchased the site for £11,280, and over a million pounds were expended in making the Fort well nigh impregnable. The well, supplying 6,000 gallons daily, is sunk 232 feet in the solid rock.

At the north, or town, end of Fort Regent is a flagstaff, on which Signals are hoisted indicating:

(a) The approach of storms;
(b) The arrival or departure of mail boats, steamers and other vessels.

For a key to the signals, see the local Royal Almanac. Pennants are hoisted on the steamer's arrival at and departure from Guernsey for Jersey, and flags indicating the Company owning her are run up when she is in sight off Corbiere Lighthouse.

Pier Road continues below South Hill Battery, seated on a huge isolated rock seaward of Fort Regent, and fortified with long-range guns. Then one winds round the stunted tower called La Collette, near which is the Men's Bathing Place. At high tide the bathers enter the water from a wooden pier; at low water from specially prepared diving places among the rocks, to which access is gained by cement paths.

A promenade, substantially built of granite and cement, with seats every few yards, affords access to all parts of the front around Fort Regent.

Continuing along the shore, we soon reach Green Street, the lower half of which and Regent Road form a thoroughfare connecting the Havre des Pas Esplanade here with the town terminus of the Eastern Railway and Queen Street.

A short distance farther is the bathing-pool of the Jersey Swimming Club. A circular wall encloses a sea-water surface of nearly three acres. The dressing-boxes (150) are in the Tower, which at high water is surrounded by the sea and is reached by a light bridge. Spring boards and fixed boards at the international height are provided for divers, and there is a fresh-water douche.

Free open sea-bathing can be had from the neighbouring rocks approached by cemented paths. There is mixed bathing every weekday from 7 a.m. to sunset, and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. A boatman is always in attendance. Refreshments and afternoon teas can be obtained.

Then comes Greve d'Azette, or Samares Beach, a fine stretch of smooth, firm sand, excellent for bathing or walking, and a favourite ground for hockey and other games.

In to the east, the sea is thickly studded with black rocky islets, more or less visible at all states of the tide. This is a terrible coast. Sir
Gilbert Parker, in his Battle of the Strong, says:

"You may range the seas, and you will find no such landing-place for imps or men as the field of rocks on the southeast corner of Jersey, called, with a malicious irony, the Bane des Violettes. The great rocks rise up like volcanic monuments from a floor of lava and trailing vraic, which at half-tide makes the sea a tender mauve and violet. The passages of safety between these reefs are but narrow at high tide, and at half-tide, when the currents are changing most, the violet field becomes the floor of a vast mortuary chapel for unknowing mariners."

Near the townward end of La Greve d'Azette is Greve d'Azette station.

Hard by is the Maison Victor Hugo (now a private hotel), where the great French writer resided for a while during his exile from France, before
settling in Guernsey.

A short distance inland is the Recreation Ground, one mile from Royal Square, where are bowling greens and tennis courts.

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