Friday, 4 August 2017

Beautiful Britain - Guernsey - Part 2

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 Guernsey 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.

Beautiful Britain - Guernsey - Part 2

Bailiff Gaultier de la Salle

The tale of Bailiff Gaultier de la Salle, though wholly misconceived, will not quickly be displaced from its niche in island tradition. He is said to have resided in the Ville au Roi, though it is hardly likely that the house now pointed out as his is really as old as the fourteenth, century.

A neighbour called Massey had an easement to draw water which took him in front of the Bailiff's windows. Annoyed at this invasion of his treasured privacy, Gaultier laid a trap to get rid of the intruder. Doubtless he had read the old history of Joseph, and of the silver cup that was hidden in the corn-sack of Benjamin. But Gaultier's intention was far less kindly, and he concealed the two silver cups in Massey's wheat-rick in order that Massey might be accused of their theft.

Here is some deep confusion in the story, for we should naturally have expected that the discovery of the wine-cups would be made the machinery for fixing the crime on the victim. Why else should the cups be hidden in Massey's wheat-rick, when they might easily have been hidden in some much surer place ? Anyhow, the Bailiff, suborning perjured evidence, fixed so black a case on Massey that the judge pronounced sentence of death.

Then, at the last moment, there burst into the court-house a witness who had found the cups that very morning in taking down the rick. Whatever evidence had procured the condemnation of Massey might well have seemed quadrupled by this new and damning fact. But the inconsistent story makes the Bailiff exclaim in anger: " Thou wretch, did I not tell thee not to touch that rick ?" Convicted thus by the words of his own mouth, the Bailiff was sent to the self-same death as he had schemed for a fellow-citizen. The place of his execution- an oblong recess in the wall, not unlike those in which road-makers break stones-is still pointed out at the " Friquet-au-Gibet "; and a rudely-scratched cross on the pavement near at hand indicates the spot where the criminal received his last Communion on the way to the gallows.

Miss Edith Carey styles this story " pure invention," and thinks that it is probably derived from a confused recollection of the doings and motives of the rival `wicked Bailiff' of Jersey, Hoste Nicolle."

There was really, however, as Miss Carey establishes, a Gaultier (Walter) de la Salle, who was condemned to death in 1320 for having assisted in imprisoning a certain Ranulph Gaultier in Castle Cornet, and there wickedly killing him by various tortures."

Another dark picture, and unhappily more authentic, is the burning, with attendant circumstances of extraordinary brutality, of three poor heretic women, by order of Dean Amy and Bailiff Helier Gosselin, on July 18, 1556. The mother, Katherine Cauches, was tied to a stake in the middle, with a married daughter on either hand - Guillemine Gilbert and Perotine Massey. An attempt was made to strangle them before the faggots were lighted - a merciful privilege that was also extended to women in executions for petty treason "-but one of them, at least, fell alive into the fire. This poor wretch, Perotine Massey, the wife of a Protestant pastor, was delivered of a baby in the middle of the flames.

The child was rescued from the burning by a man called House, but cast back again by order of the Bailiff. This repulsive incident is preserved by Foxe, and is interwoven by Tennyson in Queen Mary :

Sir, in Guernsey,
I watch'd a woman burn ; and in her agony,
The mother came upon her-a child was born-
And, sir, they hurl'd it back into the fire.

St. Sampson's and Vale Castle

St. Peter Port is an admirable centre from which to visit every quarter of the compact little island; but, indeed, as already adumbrated, there is but little in Guernsey (except for the antiquarian) that is really worth seeing outside its capital, except the south coast.

St. Sampson's may be visited for its picturesque church, which is one of the oldest and most interesting on the island. The road by which we gain it is so ugly-one continued line of houses-that no one need hesitate to use the electric tram, which was one of the earliest of its kind in the British dominions.

It is hardly worth while to get out on the way to visit the poor remains of Ivy Castle : the situation of the ruins is unusually unpicturesque, and the ruins themselves are uninteresting. Opposite St. Sampson's itself, across the busy little harbour, is the rather better ruin of Vale Castle. This would be exceedingly pleasant to look on, were it not for the mammoth granite-quarries that pave the streets of Westminster, but effectually disfigure what were once the charms of Guernsey. The Castle itself, like Ivy Castle, is little more than a shell ; in fact, the latter has the additional credit of what is possibly a chapel, with a rudely vaulted stone roof.

Ivy Castle, moreover, boasts at least authentic pedigree, having first been built- if the date be really right-by Robert, Duke of Normandy, before the Norman Conquest ; whereas of the origin of Vale Castle practically nothing is known. Its ancient title, Le Chateau de St. Michel 1'Archange, is perhaps responsible for the tradition that it was built by monks from Mont St. Michel as a place of protection for the neighbouring priory in case of a sudden invasion. From Vale Castle, if we like, we may cross the island-here less than a couple of miles broad-to Vale Church, built on the edge of what was once a sea-creek, but has long since silted up, or been reclaimed.

Guernsey Cromlechs

It is pleasanter, however, to follow round the coast, past Bordeaux Harbour, and across breezy L'Ancresse Common, especially as this takes us past the L'Autel de De'hus, and the L'Autel des Vardes, the two finest remaining dolmens in the Channel Islands.

The finest of all is supposed to have been that which was discovered behind St. Helier in 1785, and which was " unanimously voted " to the then Governor, Marshal Conway, -in a moment of enthusiasm."

The Marshal, unfortunately, in another moment of enthusiasm, carried it off and re-erected it at his country seat in Berkshire. These Channel Island dolmens are of wholly different type from the familiar cromlechs of the mushroom pattern of Kits Coty House, near Aylesford, or of Pentre Evan, in Pembrokeshire.

They are, in fact, considerable, stone-built, subterranean burial-chambers, with traces in some instances of a long succession of interments. The islanders call them " pouquelayes " ; which is derived by Miss Carey from either the Celtic pwca, a fairy, and lies, a place, or from pouq, an excavation, and lekh, a stone.

In this connection it is interesting that they are supposed to be haunted by fairies-one is called the Creux des Fees, and another the Roche a la Fee-who are supposed to " bring ill-luck on those who interfere with them, a fact which has saved many of them from the spoiler."

" The restorer, how- ever," adds Mr. Bicknell dryly, " has unfortunately not been idle, and the Little People do The Channel Islands not appear to have found a punishment to 'fit the crime' in this case."

Unhappily the same must be admitted in the case of the navvies employed on the harbour works in Alderney, who amused themselves by smashing up all the megaliths that they could lay their hands on." Many of the relics from these cist-vaens-bones and pottery- have found their way into the Lukis Museum at St. Peter Port.

Vale church itself, not far from the Grand Havre, and in a flat, unlovely neighbourhood, is possibly the most interesting, architecturally, in the island. The chancel arch should be noticed, with its chevron ornament ; the chancel, vaulted in two compartments (in contrast with the rude, pointed vaults of most of the other churches) ; the piscina in the aisle ; and the wall arcade. Another striking feature is the brackets for images on the columns of the arcade, between the nave and its aisle.

A series like this is uncommon ; though there is a group of churches in West Yorkshire-sometimes supposed to have been built by the Tempest family - Kirkby Malham is the finest-which has traces of canopied niches in the same position. The finest single niche that the writer knows of this kind is on the south side of the nave in the fine, fifteenth-century church of Lechlade, in Gloucestershire.

Towards the west end of the churchyard is another tumble-down dolmen. Thus Christians of the twentieth century are buried in the same soil that received the bones of their neolithic ancestors no one knows how many thousands of years ago.

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