Friday, 23 December 2016

St Helier in 1953 - Part 1

Today is a brief extract from Stuart Petre Brodie "SPB" Mais's account of a trip to Jersey in 1953. Stuart Petre Brodie "SPB" Mais (1885–1975) was a prolific British author, journalist and broadcaster, and wrote many travel books. Here is a glimpse of Jersey, just post-war, as the tourism industry was starting to take off well, but before the rise of finance.

The stone-mason who is mentioned in connection with carving a V in the Royal Square was Brittany-born Roman Catholic, Joseph Le Guyadier who also was responsible for an anchor in the granite (to celebrate a British victory in a Naval engagement) in the Sacred Heart frontage.

It seems delightfully unspoilt and charming!

SPM Mais – St Helier – Part 1

We Arrive in Jersey-

St. Helier and Elizabeth Castle

At six o'clock the steward brought round tea and I went on deck to find a grey forbidding morning with little visibility and light rain, while the sea had roughened considerably.

At 6.30 precisely we docked at St. Peter Port and the Guernsey passengers in their anxiety to get ashore at the earliest possible moment were already queueing. I must leave any description of St. Peter Port and Guernsey until my visit to those places.

The most important thought for the moment was food. We had a good breakfast at seven o'clock for 4s. each, of cereals, egg and bacon and coffee. As we left St. Peter Port and came out of the shelter of the island the wind had freshened. We soon began rolling among the white horses, but it didn't affect me at all, in spite of the fact that I invariably get into a panic lest I should be seasick when the sea is rough.

We passed the long line of Sark and looked back at the gap between Herm and Guernsey. Soon I descried the low long coastline of Jersey, and within another three-quarters of an hour or so we were passing close to La Corbière Lighthouse-close enough to watch the sea spray dashing over its surrounding rocks.

We sat in the sun in the smoking-room and watched a small child play gleefully with an enormous balloon. At 8.45 we passed very close to the St. Julian churning her way towards England. She was pitching badly.

I was both pleased and surprised by the wide expanse of fine sands that I saw in the bays that lay behind the granite rocks and cliffs of the island. We passed the bell tower of Noirmont Point and then the wide bay of St. Aubin, whose shores and hills are dotted with handsome white houses.

At 9.15 we were in port at St. Helier moored to the Albert Pier. Here we were met by the porter of the Ommaroo Hotel. There must have been fifty different hotel buses from all parts of the island waiting on the quay-side.

I was favourably impressed by this cheerful town at the outset. The bright green of the hotels by the Weighbridge gave us the immediate feeling that we were going to enjoy our stay-though what their impact may have been on any unfortunates who may have been seasick, I hesitate to speculate.

We drove the long detour round Fort Regent to our hotel which was on the Havre des Pas facing the swimming pool and the low reefs of the picturesque rock-strewn bay.

There were crowds of visitors sitting on the veranda in the morning sunshine and wandering vaguely up and down the front steps. They one and all gave us the distant and rather suspicious surveillance reserved for new arrivals, little suspecting indeed the real sinister purpose of our visit.

After unpacking, we walked along to the town about a mile or so away, first of all past a series of newly painted and obviously prosperous cafes, restaurants and boarding-houses, then along the La Cobette Walk skirting the rocks of the headland, amongst which a man with a horse and cart was energetically gathering seaweed, and so back by the road overlooking the harbour, where we could again see the Isle of Guernsey at the distant quay-side. I was impressed by the number and variety of yachts and other small craft in the nearer inner harbour.

So, already vested in holiday mood, I called at the Tourist Information Office at the Weighbridge, where I was told that the States were sitting, so we decided to listen to this Island Parliament in session.

"The States", which acts as the General Council of the Island of Jersey, consists of fifty-four persons-a Bailiff, twelve Senators, twelve Constables and twenty-eight Deputies. The Dean, as head of the Church, is an ex-officio member but is not allowed to vote. The two Crown Officers, Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, may speak on questions of law, but may not vote.

This Parliament, which is a completely independent body, is presided over by the Bailiff. The Bailiff, whose salary is £2,500 a year, is appointed by the Crown. The office is one to which the Attorney-General of the Island usually succeeds and it is held during "Her Majesty's Pleasure".

The Attorney-General and Solicitor-General, whose salaries are £2,200 and £1,500 a year respectively, hold their positions from the Crown and are responsible for the interpretation and carrying out of the law.

The Attorney-General has the unusual office of prescribing the sentence of offenders which has to be received or modified before the Court can pronounce sentence.

The office of Viscount dates from the tenth century and carries with it the duties of Sheriff and Coroner. The Viscount is an ex-officio member of the States, but is not allowed to vote or speak.

The Queen is represented by the Lieutenant-Governor whose chair in the Legislative Chamber is on the right of the Bailiff's chair but several inches below it. He possesses no vote, is entitled to speak, and in certain circumstances has a right of dissent. The office is invariably held by a military officer of high rank and he receives a salary of £2,500 a year and an official residence. He is assisted by a Government Secretary and several A.D.Cs.

When we climbed to the Public Gallery we found it completely packed out with a company of schoolboys who were reading comics and cheap "horrors" instead of listening. We were taken the Usher to a front seat from which we which we looked down upon the Senators and Deputies of whom there were 46 present.

The first debate in motion was on the proposal for a large Concert Hall that Senator Rumfitt, President of the Tourism Committee

He complained that little or nothing was being done to entertain visitors and that tourism was the island's major industry. "That alone keeps our income tax down to 4s when it might easily rise to 6s. 8d.," he said.

There was vigorous opposition to his proposal on the ground that the Concert Hall as proposed would destroy the natural amenities. His motion was, however, carried by 35 votes to 11i.

The second proposal was about the export of potatoes and tomatoes and too involved for me to follow. Those in favour of any motion say "Pour" or "For" and those against say "Contre" or "Against". I was intensely interested in the debates which were conducted with great good humour.

After lunch we went out to see the town. My first impression of St. Helier was of a clean, prosperous seaside town and commercial port of considerable size - its population is one of 28,000 or about half the population of the whole island. It has one of the most spacious Esplanades I have ever seen. The roadway has a width of from fifty to sixty feet and it runs just above the magnificent sweeping shore of St. Aubin's Bay with fine sands on one side and handsome villas with their pleasant brightly flowered gardens on the other.

The shopping centre with its narrow streets is as habitually crowded as ever I have seen Oxford during the recent war, with shops stocked with a range of goods that take one's breath away by reason of their variety as well as their cheapness. I have known worse occupations than peregrinating these bustling and cheerful streets, surrounded on all sides by comely and shapely young women holiday-makers.

As a pleasant backwater just off this is the Royal Square, where the more peaceful atmosphere of past centuries lies on the large rococo block of buildings that house the Legislative Assembly, the Royal Court House and the Public Library on one side of the square, and the professional and commercial buildings on the other, the whole being presided over by the statue of George II in the centre, arrayed in the incongruous costume of a Roman Emperor with a laurel crown on his head.

A further point of interest is illustrated by this story.

Whilst the Germans were in occupation the granite stone slab paving in the Square required renewing and a stonemason was employed. Without attracting any special attention to what he was doing he managed to pattern a very large and quite indestructible "V" sign within the stonework. When the "Vega" arrived, with relief food supplies, additional letters E G A were given to the "V". Then, as victory came in 1945, the figures 1945 were included.

That plain man's memorial is clearly visible in the stonework, and looking at it I could not help an admiring thought for the man who had put his own thoughts on the ground which the German forces were each day treading. The position of this work is close to the Bank at the west end of the Square.

Other important buildings are the Town Hall, the Parish Church of St. Helier and, a little way off, the French Catholic Cathedral with its almost 200 feet high steeple.

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