Friday, 31 March 2017

All Saints Church – Part 1

From the 1947 edition of  "The Pilot", this historical sketch of All Saints Church in St Helier from G.R. Balleine under the headline "Our Younger Churches". Part 2 to follow next week.

I rather enjoy "mining for gold" in these old magazines! And this explains why the Church has its distinctive name.

All Saints Church – Part 1
By G.R. Balleine

In 1793 the Town Churchyard was full, and no one could be buried in the new Green Street cemetery who had not bought a grave. Yet from time to foreign labourers died in the Town or sailors on ships in the harbour or unknown bodies were washed ashore.

So the Parish proposed to make a Strangers' Cemetery on Les Mielles, the sandhills west of the Town. These formed part of the Fief of Meleches.

The commoners agreed to surrender 50 perches for this purpose, and in 1800 this was confirmed by the Seigneur. For nearly forty- years burials took place here ; but of the many tombstones only one survives, that of Madame Elie, a French lady, and her little daughter Fanny, who were drowned in a wreck off Elizabeth Castle in 1825, a stone known to boys of the neighbourhood as "the pirate’s grave” because it has on it a skull and cross-bones, the emblem of mortality.

But the character of the neighbourhood changed. During the Napoleonic wars General Don levelled the sandhills to be a Parade Ground for the militia, hence its name, “The Parade”. When peace came, houses were built round it, and what had been waste land became a residential suburb. In 1832 there was a cholera epidemic, and an outcry was raised against burying the victim, in front of these prosperous villas, and a new cemetery was opened further afield on West Mount.

Meanwhile the population of the Town had outgrown the church accommodation. The Town Church, though crowded with galleries, could not ,seat its congregation, and St. Paul's and St. James' - the only other churches, were private chapels, which could only he attended by courtesy of the proprietors. So on 25th October 1832, Dean Hue called a Public Meeting, which decided "to establish a Chapel of Ease in the Western Part of the Town in consequence of its increased population and the inadequate accommodation for the poor and middling ranks of life."

Money flowed in freely. The States voted £200. Dean Hue gave £130 Lord Beresford, the Governor, £30 the Bishop of Winchester, £25 : the S.P.C.K., £25 the Queen, £27 the Duchess of Kent and the Duke of Gloucester, £10 each. Every church in the island gave a collection, the largest being the Town Church £37 and St. James £27.

Then came the question of a site : and an offer from the Parish of the old Cemetery was gratefully accepted. The foundation stone was laid by General Thornton, the Lieut.-Governor, on 9th April, 1534.

Then trouble began. The Impartial, a leading paper of the period, published a sarcastic article : “A strong detachment of troops marched to the Parade armed to the teeth as though to repel an invasion. A considerable crowd wished to witness the ceremony ; but no one was allowed to pass, unless he was wearing white gloves, a well-brushed coat, a top hat, and freshly-blacked hoots. They alone were deemed worthy to approach the Temple that was to he dedicated to God.”

This, however, was nothing to the storm that broke, when building began. It was impossible to dig foundations without disturbing graves. The Impartial denounced this ' sacrilege ':-- "Is this a civilized land ? Is this a Christian country? Who would believe that creatures exist barbarous and inhuman enough to scatter the dust of our dead '

It printed columns of sob-stuff, including a letter from a heart-broken Frenchman (probably composed by the Editor), who had come to weep over the tomb of his dear ones, and arrived ,just in time to see his daughter’s skull being flung into a common pit. Other correspondents raised a scare that disturbing the graves would start a new cholera epidemic.

Nevertheless the work went on. The architect, a J T. Parkinson, designed the church to contain 600 seats, half to be free, the other half let to provide stipends for a Chaplain and a Clerk. The first Services were held on 25th June 1835, in English in the morning, in French in the afternoon, by Helier Touzel, the newly appointed Minister. On 9th September the church was consecrated by Bishop Sumner of Winchester, in the name of “All Saints” in memory of the dead who were buried around.

Next day the Bishop confirmed in the church more that 300 candidates. In 1836, Dean Hue endowed the Church with £500 consols [consolidated securities], the interest to accumulate till it could produce and income of £70 per year, “provided always that Divine Service shall be performed in French at least once every Sunday.'

The interest on this Fund grew sufficient to be released in 1870.

Part 2 can be read at:

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