Street Names of St Helier – Part 1
Has it ever occurred to you to ask how your street got its name? This is quite an interesting study. But, before we embark on it, just a word about the streets themselves.
If we could be transplanted back into the town, of say,1800,our first surprise would be its smallness. It was only a narrow strip of houses from Snow Hill to Charing Cross with a bulge at the Charing Cross end embracing Hue Street and Old Street on one side and Scale Street and Sand Street on the other. And this bulge was comparatively new, for the two oldest houses in Hue Street bear the dates 1756 and 1767.
In breadth the town merely stretched from Hill Street to Hilgrove Street and from Broad Street to King Street. The back windows on the north side of King Street and Hilgrove Street looked out over green fields, the back windows on the south side of Broad Street over sand-dunes to the sea.
Our second surprise would be the extreme narrowness of the streets. King Street, Queen Street, Hill Street and Library Place were Chemins de huit pieds, eight feet across from house to house, while others half that breadth., Chemins de quatre pieds, like Bond Street.
The third surprise would be the number of streams you had to cross on planks. All the valleys and hills that surround the town pour streams down into the plain, and these have to find their way to the sea. Today they flow underground through sewers, but then they flowed on the surface. There was a water-mill in Bond Street and another in Dumaresq Street. Innumerable rivulets ran down the streets, and the planks that crossed them were familiar direction-points.
Advertisements in the early "Gazettes" constantly describe houses as being near the Planque Billot or the Planque Godel. I will not pretend that St Helier was then a northern Venice, but it was certainly a town of running waters.
I have spoken of the streets by their modern English names; but in 1800 all the street names were, of course, French. The Royal Square was le Marche. The old name of Church Street must have begun as a joke; but it became official. A stream ran down the middle of the road, and apparently there was no plank; so ladies wishing to cross to church had to tuck up their skirts and jump. Hence someone named the street Rue Trousse Cotillon (Tuck-up-your-petticoat Street), and the name stuck. It is found in Acts of the Visite des Chemins and in contracts passed by the Court.
A more recent example of a joke-name that nearly became official is Crackankle Lane (a gorgeous inspiration), which, till the College was built, was the name for College Hill.
It is a pity that Bond Street lost its pretty name of la Rue de la Madeleine, which preserved the memory of the mediaeval Chapel of St Mary Magdalen, which was only pulled down in the eighteenth century. The old name of Broad Street was the Rue d Egypte (Egypt Street). I cannot imagine why. Nor can I suggest why La Chasse was for time called the Rue de Madegascar. (La Chasse, by the way, has nothing to do with hunting, but is an old Norman-French word for a small by-way.) Hill Street was at first the Rue des Forges.
In 1674 an Act of the Court forbad the inhabitants of the Rue des Forges to throw their soapsuds into the brook, as this defiled their neighbours' drinking water. But later, from a tavern where the lawyers dined, it became known as the Rue des Trois Pigeons. Queen Street was the Rite as Porcqs. This had nothing to do with pigs. The Le Porcq family owned the land on which the street was built.
King Street was the Rue de Derriere (Backdoor Street), because at first it contained only the backyard gates of the houses in Broad Street and the Square. St Peter Port still has its Back Street; and one of the best known walks in Cambridge is called The Backs. Dumaresq Street and Le Geyt Street were spoken of as es Hemies. Hemie is Jersey-French for a five-barred gate; so these no doubt were private roads shut off by gates.
The country lanes round the town all had their French names, which they retained when they were built upon. St Clement's Road was the Rue es Ronces (Blackberry Bushes Road). Regent Road was the Rue de Froid Vent (Cold Wind Street).
Roseville Street was the Rue de Long Bouet I am not sure what this means, though St Peter Port has two streets called Le Bouet and Le Grand Bouet, and there is a valley in Alderney called Le Bouet. As Roseville Street runs through low-lying land, it may have some connection with boue, mud.
Vauxhall was the Rue de la Dame. At its David Place end there was a field known as the Piece de la Dame with a well in a grove known as the Puit de la Dame. This was haunted ground. A white lady walked here at night. de la Croix wrote: "Concerning the Piece de la Dame there exist a thousand superstitious stories of apparitions; nevertheless the mothers of the town go there (by day, be it understood, for by night they would not dare to approach it) to wash their garments and hang them up on the quickset hedge to dry."
Val Plaisant is a mystery. It may have been pleasant, before the houses were built; but it can never have been a valley. David Place is nowhere more than a.few feet higher than Val Plaisant, and on its other side the ground slopes downward to the sea. Can Val in old Norman French have had some different meaning.? This is the case with Rouge Bouillon, which has nothing to do with either broth or boiling. Bouillon in Norman-French means a marsh. It is found all over the Island. St Brelade's has a marshy field called Le Bouillon. There is a Clos de Bouillon at St Ouen's, and another at St John's, and a Trinity farm called Les Bouillons. Guernsey, too, has a district called Bouillon and a Rue du Bouillon at St Peter Port. The stream which flows down Queen's Road formed a marsh or bouillon at the bottom and the oxide of iron that was carried down from the clay higher up gave the mud a reddish colour.
In Elizabeth's reign this district was known as the contree du Rouge Bouillon, the land of the Red Marsh.