Friday, 13 October 2017

Jersey Our Island: Methodists, Mermaids and Music – Part 2

Published in 1950, this is an interesting snapshot of the Island and its customs as it was in the immediate post-war period, and not without humour. Most guide books of the time give the tourist information, or give the impressions of an outsider to the Island, but this is in "inside view", which is rarer.

Jersey Our Island: Methodists, Mermaids and Music – Part 2
By Sidney Bisson

What interests us more nowadays is that there seems to be no provision for disinheriting an unfaithful wife unless the marriage has actually been dissolved, which is rare in Jersey seeing that divorce does not exist

Godfrey tells a story of a retired English manufacturer who acquired a considerable amount of property in the island and finally settled down here to enjoy the autumn of his life free from the worries of the Income Tax Commissioners. His young and attractive wife, finding Jersey dull after London, thereupon beguiled herself with a young and handsome dancing partner. Apart from acquiring a new secretary, the old man took no counter measures. There was no divorce law in Jersey, and anyway he had never seen much of his wife in England and had left her precious little in his will. So why worry?

Until one day a well meaning English resident who had dropped in for a drink asked him if he'd thought of making a new will.

He hadn't. Why should he?

`Well, for one thing,' his friend pointed out, `a will disposing of real property in Jersey must be witnessed by a barrister or a solicitor or a member of the States. Then according to their confounded laws you can't just leave everything to whom you like.'

`Oh, can't I? We'll soon see about that.'

And the old man rang for his car and drove straight to a local solicitor.

'A divorce bill is now in course of preparation.'

He told Godfrey after the interview that he couldn't have been more flabbergasted if the solicitor had told him he was going to have a baby. Not only was his English will quite useless, but when he started giving directions for a new one he found that the law compelled him to leave half his personal property to his unfaithful wife. (If he had had children, she and they would each have had a third, leaving him free to dispose of the other third as he wished.) As if that were not enough, she would also automatically enjoy the income from a third of his real property during her lifetime, whether she married again or not.

Try as he would, there was no way out. If he stayed in Jersey his remaining years would be embittered by the thought of his wife and her dancing partner battening on the proceeds of his life's work after his death. If he went back to England he could perhaps get a divorce and leave his money to whom he liked. But there was that dratted income tax .. .

Godfrey got so tired of hearing his moans about Jersey legislation that he was eventually tempted to tell him to go to Hell. `But as I had no idea of the arrangements they have down there for disposing of property,' he told me, `I thought I'd better not recommend it. Eventually I think the old boy went to Spain.'

At St. Mary's the remaining passengers got out, and I continued my journey alone, promising myself to come back and look at the old church another day. A little further on is St. Peter's mill with its weighbridge, long unused, one of the few stone windmills that still stand. A few cider orchards with cows peacefully chewing the cud under the gnarled apple trees form the end picture for another closed chapter in the island's industry.

A hundred and fifty years ago cider was the staple drink of the Jerseyman, and every farm of importance had its own big granite cider press. An earlier edict of the States had forbidden the planting of orchards for fear that not enough wheat would be grown to supply the needs of the population. Now it was found more profitable to import wheat and export cider.

For a time Jersey was said to produce more cider per acre than any apple- growing district in England or France. But tastes change. The growing popularity of beer hit the cider industry badly. Worn out orchards were no longer replaced. For a time the export of apples continued, but that too gradually declined as more land was taken over for the profitable early potato.

I am grieved at the passing of the old Jersey `sweet' apple. I have never met it outside the island, and have often wondered why it isn't grown in England. To my mind, there is nothing quite like it for eating raw. I'd give a pound of Cox's for an old-fashioned sweet apple any day. And for baked apple dump- lings it is indispensable.

In the early days of my exile, when I innocently thought that sweet apples were as widely known as sour, I went into a green- grocer s shop in Leeds and asked for some.

`Aye,' said the shopkeeper. `There's some luvly Blenheims. Or would you rather these Cox's Orange e' I raised an eyebrow. Was he deaf, or did he think I was an innocent who didn't know one kind of apple from another? `But,' I protested, `I asked for sweet apples. Those are sour.'

I shall never forget the look on the poor man's face when I said that. In twenty years of greengrocering, as he told me later, he'd never heard anyone describe a Cox or a Blenheim as sour. He would probably have called the nearest policeman if I had not hurriedly explained that in Jersey all apples of the type normally eaten in England are known as sour apples, and that another quite distinct type is grown there which is called sweet. But he had never heard of them. Neither has anyone else in England, apparently.

And now they are difficult to get even in Jersey. In fact all the old local varieties are dying out. People nowadays will plant James Grieve, Charles Ross, and Newton Wonder. Never Gros Freschien, Romeril, Douce Dame, Nier Binet, Gros Tetard, Mauger, Pepin Billot . . . What a lovely symphony of names !

Now the bus has reached the cluster of houses called Leoville which is its terminus. There are a number of these villes in Jersey- Ville Emphrie, Ville a 1'Eveque, Ville au Neveu none of them large enough to be rated even as a village. They are not remains of mediaeval towns, as a bright historian once suggested; only a reminder that the word ville meant a country house long before it was applied to towns.

Just beyond the hamlet stands a Methodist Chapel which is remarkable for its size rather than architectural beauty. It can seat eight hundred people ! Behind it a little granite building stands as a monument to the zeal and enthusiasm of the early Methodists in Jersey. It was the first chapel they erected, the forerunner of some thirty more, which between them can comfortably seat a third of the island's population.

The history of Methodism in Jersey makes grim reading. Started about 1770 by Pierre Le Sueur, a young islander who had been converted in Newfoundland, the movement had by 1774 gathered about a dozen supporters.

When one thinks of the underground movements that honeycombed the countries of Western Europe during the German occupation, it seems surprising that such a small body of people could not meet for worship without having the windows of their houses broken and mud thrown at them as they walked in the streets. But they were too proud of their faith to keep it to themselves. Fired by a higher example, they preferred to preach it abroad.

When Wesley heard of their struggles he ordained Robert Carr Brackenbury and sent him as the first Nonconformist minister to the island. Brackenbury seems to have been a real live wire. Though his French was far from fluent, he preached in that language as well as in English, translated Methodist literature, and organised services in different parts of the island. Most of these were held in barns or private houses, but in 1784 an attempt was made to start a regular Methodist chapel on the outskirts of the town. Le Sueur bought the old disused Chapel of Notre Dame des Pas, and here Brackenbury, his servant, and several local preachers tried for a while to conduct their services on Sunday afternoons.

The results were more like rowdy election meetings than religious services. The local hooligans found Methodist-baiting a pleasant Sunday pastime. Throwing stones through the chapel windows was more exciting than tossing pebbles into the sea. They fired shot guns and beat drums to drown the voice of the preacher. Sometimes they dragged him bodily from the chapel and threatened to throw him into the sea.

It is not surprising that the experiment was a failure. But Brackenbury continued his efforts in other parts of the island, and in six years the membership of the Methodist Society had grown to two hundred and fifty. Persecutions continued. Wherever Methodists preached, windows were broken and roofs torn down. Worshippers were pelted with filth and rotten eggs whilst the police looked on complacently. Once when Adam Clarke was preaching an intruder tried to shoot him with a pistol, which fortunately failed to go off. A few weeks later he was almost beaten to death.

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