Friday, 23 June 2017

Beautiful Britain - Jersey - Part 1

Beautiful Britain - Jersey - Part 1

My history for the next few weeks will come from “The Channel Islands” by Joseph E Morris, B.A., published by London, Adam and Charles Black, 1911. It is fascinating because, firstly, it is a guidebook from 1911, depicting a Jersey before the Great War erupted across Europe, and secondly because it is very much an outsider looking in, and making very personal observations mingled with the history.

Introduction: Jersey

If on a fine day we take our stand on one of the terraces, or battlements, of Mont Orgueil Castle -and there is hardly a pleasanter spot in Jersey in which to idle away a sunny summer afternoon -we shall realize more completely than geography books can tell us that the Channel Islands really constitute the last remnants of the ancient Norman dukedom that still belong to the English Crown.

For there, across the water, not more than twenty miles away, and stretching from north of Carteret far southwards towards Granville and Mont St. Michel, is the long white line of the Norman coast itself-on a clear day it is even possible to make out the tall, twin spires of Coutances, half a dozen miles inland, crowning, like Lincoln or Ely, their far-seen hill.

No part of France, it is true, approaches so closely to Jersey as Cap de la Hague (the extreme north-west point of the Cotentin) approaches to the north-east corner of Alderney. Still, under certain atmospheric conditions-such, for example, as Wordsworth experienced when he wrote his fine sonnet headed Near Dover, September, 1802 - the " span of waters " - hardly greater than the Straits of Dover themselves--really seems almost to shrink to the dimensions of " a lake or river bright and fair."

Contrast with this proximity the long stretches of open sea that separate these islands from Weymouth or Southampton, and we begin to realize how, physically at any rate, Jersey is more properly France than England:

Elle est pour nous la France, et, dans son lit des fleurs,
Elle en a le sourire et quelquefois les pleurs.

The impression thus gained is hardly diminished when we quit our lofty watch-tower and descend to the plain. The Channel Islands are doubtless destined in the end to be wholly anglicized, but the process is one of imperceptible transition.

The “Clameur de Haro”

A curious French patois, that is really the last relics of the ancient Norman speech, is still the common language of the people. " It is probably," says Mr. Bicknell, in his charming Little Guide, " the nearest approach now extant to the French spoken at the time of the Norman Conquest by the Normans in England."

French is also the language used commonly in the country churches ; and it is strange to follow the familiar English liturgy rendered thus in a foreign tongue. The Channel Islands, though jealously retaining their ancient independence, and as separate in many respects from England as are Canada and Australia, are yet integrally part of the established English Church. The Reformation freed them from the yoke of Coutances only to subject them to the yoke of Winchester.

French, too, or rather Norman, is the curious " Clameur de Haro " that plays so strange a part in the ancient island law. This is the regular machinery, in actions connected with real estate, to maintain the existing status in quo till the action can be fought out at length ; and in Jersey is set in motion by the plaintiff himself, whereas in England it is necessary to invoke the Courts of Law.

"At the disputed place the aggrieved person, in the presence of two witnesses, orders the aggressor or his agent to desist by exclaiming: I Haro ! Haro ! Haro ! A 1'aide, mon Prince, on me fait tort.' After this he denounces the aggressor by exclaiming: ' Je vous ordonne de quitter cet ouvrage '; upon which, unless he desist instantly, he is liable to be punished for breach of the King's authority, the property being supposed to be under the King's special protection from the moment the ` cry ' is made."

Afterwards the action is tried ; and, of course, if it prove that the complainant has invoked the “haro" wrongly (the word is said by some to be derived from the Frankish haran," to cry out, or shout ; but by others to be a corrupted form of Ah Rollo "- the first Norman Duke-or Ah Rou "-Oh my King), he is liable to be fined by the court.

It is sometimes said that this strange process was in constant use in Normandy long before the arrival of Rollo and his fierce followers from the North.

French, again, is the architecture of the churches, that in some ways has no parallel in England. French, in many particulars, is the aspect of the towns, whose long rows of white- washed houses, with their never-ending sun-blinds, testify to a warmth and sunlight too conspicuously rare in England.

Actually French are many of the faces that one encounters in the streets or on the quays. The Channel Islands of late years have become a favourite touring-ground for summer visitors from France, who so seldom venture to cross the Channel to explore the beauties of England itself. The admirable little “Guides Joanne” now include a volume on the “Iles Anglaises de la Manche”. It is amusing, however, to read in this work that in one respect at least Jersey is still definitely English.

“L'observation stricte du dimanche regne a Saint-Helier comme en Angleterre. La ville deserte, avec ses boutiques fermees, offre un silence sepulchral."

But the closed shops, if not the sepulchral silence, are now becoming common in France itself.

No comments: