Friday, 30 December 2016

St Helier in 1953 - Part 2

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.

Above is a picture of St. Helier Harbour between 1951 and 1953, showing BRITTANY berthed alongside ISLE OF SARK taking on fuel. KENTISH COAST is in the Victoria Pier London Boat Berth, and on the New North Quay is a Southern cargo boat in No. 6 Berth and the Weymouth FREDOR in No. 7.

On the South Pier is the newly opened St. Helier Yacht Club clubhouse.

It seems delightfully unspoilt and charming!

SPM Mais – St Helier – Part 2
I discovered that the narrow entrance through which we had steamed this morning lay between the Victoria Pier and Albert Pier which were begun in 1841. Whilst passenger vessels berth at the Albert Pier, cargo steamers always berth alongside the new North and Victoria Piers.

During the five years between 1872 and 1877 two other piers were being built to enclose an enormous expanse of water, one called the Hermitage built from Elizabeth Castle, and the other from behind Elizabeth Castle. The work had to be abandoned owing to the many obstacles that presented themselves.

There are about six miles length of quays, the old Harbour being used almost solely for fishing boats and yachts. The two small basins on the quayside of this Harbour are known as the English and French Harbours respectively. It was here I had seen the yachts this morning.

Above the Harbour on the hill called Mont de la Ville stands Fort Regent which has been fortified for centuries, but the present fort dates from 1806. A vast sum of money was spent on making it impregnable. The well, which supplies 6,000 gallons of water daily, is sunk 232 feet in the solid rock.

The most interesting historical building near St. Helier is Elizabeth Castle which stands on a detached rock some three-quarters of a mile out from the shore and is reached by a causeway which is completely covered at high tide but is available about three hours after high water and remains available for nearly six hours. It takes about twelve minutes to walk across. On the other hand there is an amphibious vehicle (an army DUKW converted to more peaceful uses) that will take you over, whatever the state of the water. The castle is open every day of the week and a charge of sixpence is made for admission.

In the Middle Ages Jersey was continuously ravaged by invaders, and in 1551 was once more attacked by the French under de Bruel who landed a force at Bouley Bay.

As a result of this last raid Elizabeth Castle was constructed for the defence of St. Helier. It was finished in 1594 and in 1600 Sir Walter Raleigh was appointed Governor of the island. During his three years of office he established trading connections between Jersey and Newfoundland and set up the first Public Registry.

In the Civil War Sir Philip de Carteret defended the island for the King, but he was succeeded as Lieutenant-Governor by a Parliamentarian officer called Lydcott who was driven out by de Carteret's nephew, Sir George, who fitted out a number of small armed craft known as the "Jersey Pirates" to harass the Cromwellian ships in the channel.

After Charles I's defeat at Naseby, he sent his son, afterwards Charles II, to Elizabeth Castle in 1646, where he stayed for two months before proceeding to France. He returned after his father's execution and on 17th February, 1649, de Carteret caused the Prince to be declared King.

Meanwhile the "Jersey Pirates" became more and more daring, capturing at least twelve large valuable ships and successfully raiding Dartmouth, Plymouth and other ports.

Admiral Blake appeared with a fleet in 1651 and, after a battle lasting for four hours in St. Ouen's Bay, Sir George Carteret and his Royalist islanders drove them off to try to force a landing elsewhere.

Even when St. Aubin's Castle and Mont Orgueil surrendered, de Carteret held out in Elizabeth Castle which was bombarded from the hill on which Fort Regent now stands.

One shell exploded the powder magazine, as a result of which forty men were killed and the Abbey church was wrecked. As a result of this disaster the garrison surrendered on honourable terms after a siege of eight weeks.

The islanders were less kindly treated and suffered severely at the hands of the Parliamentary forces until the Restoration when Sir George returned to Jersey and another de Carteret was appointed Bailiff and Governor.

During the next hundred years Jersey remained more or less at peace, but in 1781 the Baron de Rullecourt, at the head of a French invasion, made an unexpected landing in St. Clement's Bay, seized St. Helier and forced the Governor, Moses Corbet, surprised in his bed, to sign a document of Capitulation.

The soldiers in Elizabeth Castle, however, refused to surrender, and in reply to de Rullecourt's demands replied: "The English flag flying over our heads reminds us how gallantly their fortress has withstood the attacks of its besiegers, and I have resolved that the honour of its majesty shall never be sullied while I command here."

A young English officer called Major Francis Peirson, who was now in control, said that if the French force did not immediately surrender he would attack it in thirty minutes. At the end of the stipulated period Peirson led his men into the Market Place where he was mortally wounded, but his men continued the struggle and after half an hour completely routed the French forces.

From that day until the German Occupation, Jersey was no longer worried by outside interference.

The Castle was bought by the States of Jersey for £1,500 from the British Government in 1922. After the last war the British Liberation Force restored the Castle to its pre-war state after the Germans evacuated and handed it back to the States.

The lower road of the Castle was built in 1626 and King Charles' Tower added a few years later at the wish of Charles II who had every reason to be interested in the fort which resisted its capture by the Cromwellian forces.

Sir Philip de Carteret, whom I have mentioned, had strengthened the Castle on the outbreak of the Civil War. Lord Clarendon stayed in the Castle from 1646 to 1648 and, while he was there, began to write his famous History of the Rebellion.

The Castle has been modernised from time to time and mainly used as a barracks, the Germans in particular altering it very considerably.

Over the entrance gateway to the Tudor Keep are the arms of Queen Elizabeth flanked by those of the Paulets and the Norreys.

Close to the rock on which the Castle stands is the Hermitage Rock joined on to it by the unfinished break-water. It was here that the hermit Helerius or St. Helier had his cell in the sixth century. He was murdered by the captain of a band of pirates in 559 A.D. who was afraid lest his men should be converted by the Saint's eloquence.

In 1126 a Norman baron, Guillaume de Hamon, built an abbey and a church in his memory on the site of the place where he met his death.

The chapel built over the hermit's cell has three white-washed walls, the fourth or north side being solid rock.

On the other side of the great sweeping bay of St. Aubin is another ancient island fort known as St. Aubin's Castle which lies just off the little harbour of St. Aubin, and which was built in the reign of Henry VIII to protect the town from attacks by sea. These were the days when St. Aubin, now completely overshadowed by its neighbour, St, Helier, was still an important place.

The Fort was rebuilt in 1742 and in the 1920's it was leased to a private tenant, who fitted it up as a house for the summer. Here too the[ Fort is reached by a causeway exposed for two hours after high tide. Visitors are allowed on the island, but not of course inside the walls of the Fort.

I like this idea of living in an island where you can walk ashore at certain times of the day. It must give you a sense; of isolation without feeling that you are completely cut off from your fellow men.

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