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Jersey, Channel Islands

Historical Description

Jersey is the largest and most southerly of the Channel Islands. It lies in the bay of St Michael, 15 miles W of the nearest part of the French coast, 17 1/2 SE of Guernsey, and 99 SSW of Portsmouth. Its form is irregularly quadrangular; its length from E to W is about 12 miles; its greatest breadth is about 6 miles, and its area is 39,580 acres. Steamers ply regularly to it from Southampton, Weymouth, Plymouth, St Malo, and Granville; a submarine telegraph connects it and Guernsey with England. The steamboat route from it at St Helier is about 40 miles to St Malo, 90 to Weymouth, and 132 to Southampton.

Jersey is the Cæsarea of the Romans, the Augie of the Normans, and the Gearsey of the French. It has had political connection with all public events, and been the theatre of most, affecting the Channel Islands. These islands seem to have been a military station of the Romans. They were early occupied by the Gauls. They received many refugees from the Roman domination in England. They accepted Christianity early in the 6th century, from Wales. They were ravaged, from 850 to 900, by the Northmen. They were ceded by Charles IV. of France, in 912, to Rollo, first duke of Normandy. They continued to be held by William, the seventh duke, at his conquest of England. They were given by Richard I. to John, who eventually retained them alone of all Normandy. They were invaded by the French in the times of Edward I., Edward III., and Henry IV. They were again invaded by the French, and actually taken through treachery, in the time of Henry VI.; but were recovered in that of Edward IV. They were once more partly retaken, and again recovered, in the time of Edward VI. They were an asylum of many refugee Protestants, fleeing from England in the time of Mary. They were governed, and greatly benefited, by Sir Walter Raleigh, in the time of Elizabeth. They took part with Charles I., and were a scene of operations in the Civil Wars, but surrendered to the Parliament, and were placed under the government of commissioners. They were attacked in 1779 by a French fleet with 5000 men, but were triumphantly defended. They were again attacked in 1781, by a French force of 1200, with night surprise of the lieutenant-governor and capture of St Helier, but were defended and recovered by the militia. They seem really, from their position, to belong to France as truly as the Isle of Wight belongs to England; nor do they possess any such natural fastnesses as could resist a vigorous attempt to seize them, and they owe their continued connection with the British crown to various causes. They were visited by Queen Victoria in 1846 and 1859.

There are considerable remains of antiquity in Jersey. Upwards of fifty cromlechs, here called poquelayes, are recorded by Poingdestre, who wrote in the early part of the 18th century, to have been seen by him on the island; but only eight are now known to exist. One, near Mont Orgueil, consists of nine stones supporting a flat one 3 feet thick, 10 feet broad, and 15 feet long. Excavations, were made some time ago at this cromlech, and resulted in the discovery of druidical implements, earthen vases, two stone coffins, and three human skeletons. A druidical circle of eighteen stones, and having in its centre a great altar, is on a cliff at Rozel Bay. A very large rocking-stone, delicately poised, was near St Saviour's Church, but has been destroyed. Numerous Roman coins have been found in many parts of the island. Traces of a Roman camp are at Diélament, and continue in the form of an enormous earthen rampart near Rozel. Mont Orgueil, at Gorey, is a splendid mediæval fortress rich in historical associations, and Elizabeth Castle has also played a part in the past, while the ruins of Grosnez Castle are not without interest to the student. A large artificial mound, supposed to mark the grave of a valiant Norman knight in the time of Robert, Duke of Normandy, is at La Hougue Bie or Prince's Tower, about the centre of the eastern half of the island; was crowned by an ancient chapel, now enlarged and surmounted by a modern tower; is a subject of romantic legend; and, owing to the splendid view which it commands, is a great attraction to strangers. Several of the churches, particularly those of St Brelade and St Saviour, are old and interesting; and ruined chapels are at Rozel (St Anne) and the Hermitage. The historian Falle, the lexicographer Lempriere, Dean Durell, Dr R. Valpy, the Carterets, and Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy, were natives; also Robert Walden, D.D., Archbishop of Canterbury in 1398. Jersey gives the title of Earl to the Villierses of Osterley. Sir J. E. Millais, R.A., was the son of a Jersey man; while Mr W. W. Ouless, R.A., hails from St Helier; and Sir Francis Jeune (Judge of the Probate and Divorce Courts) was born while his father, who subsequently became Bishop of Peterborough, was Dean of Jersey.

The islanders were, in years gone by, mainly farmers with a few fishermen, and still fewer traders; and, living under laws of their own, speaking a dialect of their own, and having no affairs to think of but their own, they knew and cared very little about any other worlds than the worlds of Jersey and Guernsey. But the French Revolution, and the war or rather series of wars, ending with the Battle of Waterloo, effected a considerable change. The first event sent a large number of French refugees into Jersey, who brought money with them. Then, during the busy and important period that followed the French Revolution, more troops were in the islands, old fortifications were strengthened, new were built, martello towers were set up not only on the shores but on rocks lying off the shores, and British money began to flow freely. Then did the little shopkeepers and traders of Jersey flourish. The close of the war was regarded with apprehension, as likely to cut off the means by which the trade was sustained. But among the many military and naval officers who, when peace came, found their half-pay too limited for their support in expensive England, and who therefore looked abroad, not a few selected Jersey as a residence, the cheapness of living being their attraction. This sustained the rising consequence of Jersey, and facility of communication—that wonder-working influence of our age—came in to carry forward the increase and improvement of the island. Upwards of one-third of the present population of Jersey are British residents and strangers.

The surface of Jersey slopes from N to S, has for the most part an undulating contour, is intersected by picturesque ravines widening into beautiful vales, and exhibits rich ornature of wood, orchard, and meadow. The N coast rises abruptly from the sea to elevations of 240 to 485 feet; the coast all round is a maze of rocks, cliffs, headlands, bays, coves, and inlets, and the S coast, in a general view, is so low as to glide into foreshore. The chief outlying rocks are the two groups Paternosters and Dirouilles, both situated off the N. The chief headlands are Cape Grosnez, on the NW; Plemont, Gronez, and Belle-Hougue Points, in the N; Rozel Point, on the NE; La Rocque Point, on the SE; and Corbière Point, on the SW. The chief bays are Bouley and Rozel Bays, on the NE; St Catherine's Bay and Grouville Bay, on the E; St Aubin's Bay, on the S; and St Ouen's Bay, on the W. The tides, all round, rise to a height of almost 40 feet. The rocks are all non-fossiliferous; they include some masses of amygdaloid. and porphyry, which are quarried for paving and for building; they include also, in the NE, a considerable mass of hornblende and conglomerate ; they include likewise, toward the SW, some schistose and argillaceous masses; but elsewhere or prevailingly they are granitic or syenitic, of a warm reddish hue, and at Mont Mado and La Moie are extensively quarried for piers and for building. The climate is very mild and genial; has, from the southern exposure of the island, a decided advantage over Guernsey, with its northern exposure; and Jersey is indeed, by official records, the "sunniest spot in the United Kingdom." Snow seldom falls, and frosts are transient. Shrubs, such as myrtles, &c., which require protection in Devon during the winter months, require none here, and are luxuriant without it; while many sub-tropical plants, flowers, and fruit, are raised without aid from artificial heat.

The soils are such as usually result from the disintegration of granites and schists, and, in general, possess such fertility that a tract equivalent to somewhat less than 4 1/2 acres is sufficient for the maintenance of a large family. But though Jersey formerly produced more corn than sufficed for its inhabitants, it does not now yield more than about two-thirds of what they consume. Farms average 15 to 20 acres, and they often show as great a variety of crops on a field as is elsewhere to be seen on a large farm. Wheat, barley, parsnips, and potatoes are the principal crops—the latter is chiefly cultivated for exportation, and this year (1894) over 60,605 tons, valued at £462,895, were sent to England. About one-fourth of all the arable land was formerly occupied by apple and pear trees, but these have very much decreased, owing to the farmers cultivating potatoes, which has caused the felling of many of the orchards to make way for this vegetable. Cider is the universal beverage of the country people, and is generally excellent in quality. The cows, sometimes known in England as Alderneys but larger than those usually seen in England, are so numerous, in their dotting of the pastures, as to lend much beauty to the landscape. Oxen, for beef, are imported from Ireland and from Spain. Few sheep are bred. Horses are small, and not remarkable for beauty, but are strong, capable of bearing fatigue, and well adapted for the uses of the farmer. Hogs are numerous, and attain a great size, and the pork is good. Game is not plentiful, and the weasel and the mole are almost the only noxious animals. Fishing is extensive. Wood bounds most of the country roads, and is elsewhere so diffused as to give the island a park-like appearance; while ivy is everywhere so profuse as to climb tree-trunks, wayside banks, and cottage walls, and even to creep over the rocks by the shore. Roads intersect the island in all directions, and the new ones are wide and well formed; old roads ramify everywhere, and are extremely narrow and excessively irregular. There are two lines of railway from St Helier, viz. to St Aubin's and the Corbière, and to Gorey. The principal port in Jersey, for general purposes, is St Helier, which is a modern, well-lit town, with fine parks, public buildings, and trading establishments.

Jersey also contains the old town of St Aubin, the village of Gorey, and many hamlets. It is divided into twelve parishes, and subdivided into fifty-two vingtaines or "scores," supposed to be so designated from each having originally had twenty houses. It has a legal constitution of its own, and power to pass loans, subject only to the sanction of the Queen in council, has a resident lieutenant-governor, and has a judicial body called the Royal Court and a legislature called the States. The Royal Court consists of the bailiff or president, twelve jurats or judges, two crown officers, the viscount or sheriff, &c., and it takes cognizance of all suits above £10 for personal property, and tries criminal cases by jury. The States consist of lieutenant-governor, the bailiff, the twelve jurats, the rectors of the parishes, the constables of the parishes, three deputies from St Helier parish, and eleven deputies from the other parishes. The jurats are elected for life by the ratepayers, and the constables and the deputies are elected for three years, also by the ratepayers. Rates, as compared with England, are merely nominal, there being no taxation for the benefit of the mother country. An act of the Imperial Parliament which does not specially name Jersey, Guernsey, or the Channel Islands, is a dead letter there; but every act which does specially name them, when transmitted by the clerk of the Privy Council for registry, has the force of law. The island is in the diocese of Winchester.

The language of the local legislature and of proceedings in court is French; that commonly spoken by the country people is the interesting old Norman dialect of Froissart and Wace. English is, however, now understood by all classes. The pound weight is equal to 17 1/4 English ounces, and the currency of the island is the same as that of England. There is special copper coinage as in Guernsey.

Excepting in wines, spirits, and other excisable articles, Jersey, as compared with England, really now presents to strangers few advantages of cheap living. The population in. 1891 was 54,518, as compared with 52,445 in 1881, or an increase of 2073 since 1881. In 1821 the population was 28,600, which shows that there has been an increase of 25,918, or 90.6 per cent., during the last 70 years. According to the census returns issued in 1893 there were on the island 1557 farmers and 1896 agricultural labourers, while the principal occupations of the females were, domestic servants, 2801, and milliners and dressmakers, 2081. The revenue of Jersey, largely derived from the tax on wines and spirits, is now £38,000 annually; while the harbour dues amount to about £12,000. The public debt is about £327,000, of which one-third is called the harbour debt.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Chapman code

The Chapman code for Jersey is JSY.
Chapman codes are used in genealogy as a short data code for administrative areas, such as county and country names.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Jersey from the following:


Old map of Jersey circa 1848 (Samuel Lewis)

Parishes & places

Bonne Nuit Bay
Bouley Bay
Bourg, Le
Elizabeth Castle
Grosnez Point
Laurens or St Laurence
St Aubin
St Brelade
St Clement
St Helier
St John
St Martin
St Ouen or Owen
St Peter
St Saviour


Ancestry UK