Friday, 30 January 2015

Street Names of St Helier – Part 2

More on street names from the Pilot of 1972. As I stated before, the author of this piece is not named, but I suspect on stylistic grounds, it was probably unpublished writings left by G.R. Balleine who had died some years before.

And for those who missed part one, it is here:

Street Names of St Helier – Part 2: From French to English

Last month we saw that all our streets once bore French names. Some of these still survive, and retain a memory of almost forgotten things.

La Pouquelaye reminds us that a dolmen once covered that hill, for pouquelaye is old Norman-French for a cromlech or dolmen. The learned derive it from petra poculata, stones with cup-markings, which in French would be pierres gouquelees. The popular derivation is Puck stones or fairy-stones. The dolmen was standing, when Morant wrote in 1761, but soon after was broken up for building material.

La Motte Street, too, may have prehistoric memories, for Motte means "mound", and a conspicuous mound was often a Neolithic burial-place. Whether that long-vanished mound was natural or artificial, no one can now say; but it gave its name to one of our medieval manors.

At the bottom of Grosvenor Street is a door marked Old Government House. (It is the house in which Moses Corbet, the Governor, was seized by the French on the eve of the Battle of Jersey.) This is the old Manoir de la Motte, the Manor of the Mound, which in the fifteenth century was one of the chief manors of the Island. In those days there were no houses nearer than Hill Street, and its manor grounds stretched as far as Colomberie, where stood the colombier or pigeon-tower, a highly-prized privilege. The possession of a colombier raised a manor in Jersey to the highest rank; and in this respect La Motte was unique, for, when it was advertised for sale in 1797, it was stated that it had "the right to two colombiers"

Racquet Court is probably the site of the tennis-court of the manor, real tennis played within walls, not lawn tennis.

Georgetown preserves the name of another Manor, on whose fief it stood, the Manoir de Georges, later known as Bagot. In 1442 we read of Jean Bagot, Seigneur of Gorges. It is strange that more of the old Fief names were not given to the streets built on them. La Rondiole Road, La Houguette Street, Meleches Lane, Surville Street, Debennaire Road would be more attractive than meaningless repetition of names of English towns, Brighton Road, Croydon Road, Hastings Road, Oxford Road, Windsor Road, Richmond Road, etc.

Havre des Pas recalls an ancient chapel, which stood at the end of Green Street. Occasionally marks are found on a rock, which took like human footprints. Everywhere these have been attributed to supernatural causes. The most famous pilgrimage centre in the world is Adam's Peak in Ceylon, where one such impression can be seen. Buddhists claim it as a footprint of Buddha. Hindus as a footprint of Siva, Mohammedans as a footprint of Adam, and the native Christians as a footprint of St Thomas. Four great Religions send throngs of pilgrims to worship at that spot. The Buddha's footprints are pointed out all over Burma and Siam, Vishnu's all over India. Every Roman Catholic country shows footmarks of the Virgin. England, I regret to say is more famous for hoofmarks of the Devil. But Havre des Pas boasted two of these footprints of the Virgin, and built a little chapel over them, The Chapelle des Pas, The Chapel of the Footprints.

In the fifteenth century this had a Fraternity attached to it, with its own cemetery under the shadow of its chapel. At the Reformation, like other chapels, it was confiscated by the Crown, and became a dwelling house. In 1814 it was blown up by the military authorities on the ground that it afforded cover to an enemy attacking Fort Regent. It must have been a solid structure, for ten mines were necessary; and with that explosion vanished our hopes of ever inspecting those footprints.

Two names just outside the town remind us of another bit of ecclesiastical history. In 1198 a knight named Hugh de Gornaco founded a monastery in Normandy, and called it Bellozanne Abbey. He must have been a good beggar, for he got a subscription out of that blasphemous little infidel John, who later became King of England. His gift consisted of 20 livrees of land in Jersey, and this remained the property of the Abbey for centuries. Hence that hill was known as Mont a I'Abbe (Abbot's Mount), and the valley behind as Bellozanne Valley.

And, while thinking of ancient things, let us not forget the Dicq. A dicq was an embankment to keep out the sea, like the dykes in Holland; and from early days there must have been one round St Clement's Bay to prevent the spring tides from flooding the low-lying land.

About 1790 the great switch over from French to English began. In many cases the French name was merely translated into English. The Rue des Vignes (so called from its vine-covered houses) became Vine Street; the Vieux Chemin, Old Street; the Rue Verte Green Street; the Rue du Petit Douet Brook Street; the Rue des Sablons Sand Street; the Ruette de la Commune (a memory of days when the land from St Mark's Road to Belmont Road was an open common) became Common. Lane.

But often the new name .had no connection with the old. We can sympathize with residents in the Rue des Helles, if they wanted a new address, though the old name had nothing to do with the Infernal Regions - the Helles were a Jersey family, who held the Fief es Helles at St John's and property in the town -but Ann Street was not an inspiring alternative to have chosen.

The craziest feature in the switch over was the borrowing of names from London, which were generally allotted as inappropriately as possible.

Cheapside, the hub of business London, was given to an outlying street of suburban villas; Drury Lane, the centre of Theatre Lane, to a rural back-lane off Rouge Bouillon; Bond Street, the fashionable shopping-centre, to what was then a four-foot muddy alley; Vauxhall, London's glamorous pleasure-garden, to a road whose most conspicuous ornament was a brick-kiln.. Covent Garden in Jersey was an insignificant street without Convent, Opera House, or Vegetable Market; and St James's Street, London's most aristocratic address, was a cul-de-sac near the Cattle Market. (Later, when St James's Church was built, the name was transferred to the street that passes that church, and the other became Old St James's Street, and then plain James Street.)

Snow Hill at any rate is a hill, though very unlike the one at Holborn down which the Mohocks rolled women in barrels. Of all these London names. only one seems appropriate; Newgate Street does at any rate contain the prison. A chance was missed when they failed to turn into Rotten Row the Ruette Pourriture, where the steps now lead from Snow Hill to Regent Road.

In some cases after a struggle the old French name survived. For a time Colomberie was called Dove Street; Lemprière Street, Sligo Street; and Journeaux Street, John Street. But in each case the older name came back to its own.

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