Friday, 27 January 2017

St Ouen in 1953

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.

St. Ouen's Bay-North Marine Drive

From this rugged scene at Corbière, we descended to the pleasant bay of Petit Port, and then took the devious route round to the village and hotel of La Pulente.

Here we came on to the straight Five Mile Drive which skirts the shores of the broad St. Ouen's Bay which occupies the whole of the west coast of the island. This is a place of sand dunes covered with marram grass.

To our left was the broad stretch of sand where the motor speedway races are held and where the large breakers coming in from the Atlantic give one of the few opportunities for surf riding which our islands present.

On a collection of projecting rocks just at the low-tide mark is one of the numerous Martello Towers in which he island coast abounds. Built like those on our own Kentish Coast, as a protection against the French, they were apparently all occupied and made use of by the Germans luring their Occupation, who stationed thirty men in each tower throughout the island.

All the shacks which originally disfigured this part of the coast were destroyed by the Germans, and the loneliness is now relieved only by a new growth of cafes, bars and restaurants which blossom on the beaches of this island.

To our right on the landward side were stretches of flat fields interrupted only by the low-lying St. Ouen's Pond, which I am told is the largest stretch of fresh water in the island and which is a sanctuary for bird life.

A prominent feature of these fields were the large stacks of drying seaweed which from time immemorial has been highly prized in Jersey as a fertilizer and is responsible in very large measure for the amazing fertility of the soil.

Every storm washes up large quantities of this valuable stuff on the beaches, and the gathering of this is reputedly still in the right of the Seigneurs, as it has been from earliest times.

At the far end of the bay we climbed to L'Etaquerel where there starts the northern coast of the island with its savage rocky coast line and little bays. 

We then struck inland through narrow lanes and through green valleys reminiscent of our Devonshire combes and past granite farmhouses to join the newly constructed North Marine Drive, or Route du Nord. This was built during the war by the islanders in order to find work for the unemployed during the difficult time of the Occupation.

The States paid workers £2 10s a week, but even so it was difficult to compete with the Germans who paid all islanders who worked for them £7 a week-in addition to which the latter had full opportunity of purloining petrol and stores with clear consciences!

The view from the North Marine Drive across the steep and rugged rocky coast of St. John's Bay is a tremendous one. From a height of some 350 feet of sheer cliff one looks in one direction along at the seas breaking on the rocks below and in the other across the width of blue sea to the Paternoster Rocks and the island of Sark fourteen miles away.

We were back in St. Helier by six o'clock and wandered about looking for a suitable place to drink. We were lucky in finding an excellent bar at the Royal Yacht Hotel which was full of elderly couples from the North of England.

At 7.15 we were back at the hotel sitting down to a dinner of tomato soup, cod, roast beef and vanilla ice. After dinner I worked in a warm lounge full of rather noisy bridge players and elicited some information about the German Occupation.

My informant told me that the Germans behaved better than they expected. When they landed on 1st July, 1940, they immediately tried to convince the natives that their rule was to be that of a benevolent despotism. The despotism, however, was more obvious than the benevolence.

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