DISCLOSURE: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning when you click the links and make a purchase, we may receive a commission.
UK Genealogy Archives logo


ALDERNEY, an island, dependent on, and under the jurisdiction of, the states of Guernsey; situated 6 leagues (N. E.) from that island, and 7 miles (W.) from Cape La Hogue, in Normandy (from which it is separated by a strait, called by the French Raz Blanchard, and by the English the Race of Alderney); and containing 1030 inhabitants. This island, named in old English records Aurney, Aureney, and Aurigny, by which last name it is still designated by the French geographers, is supposed to have been the Riduna of Antoninus; but little of its history is known prior to the time of Henry III., in the fourth year of whose reign an act of parliament was passed, by which it appears that one moiety of the island belonged to that monarch, and the other moiety to the Bishop of Coutances. From an extent of the crown, made in the fourth year of the reign of James I., the whole of the island seems to have been the property of the king, who was entitled to the amends, or fines, and the perquisites of the court; to the treizièmes, or thirteenths, upon the sale of lands; and to the wrecks, and other princely rights and royalties; but it was subsequently granted in fee-farm to successive tenants. George III., by letters-patent under the great seal, bearing date Dec. 14th, 1763, in consideration of the surrender of the former lease or patent, and for other considerations therein specified, granted the island to John Le Mesurier, Esq., for 99 years, with a proviso for resuming the lease at any time, upon payment to the lessee of such amount of money as should have been disbursed in improving the mansion called the Governor's house, and the other premises. In this grant was included the advowson of the church and chapel, with power to levy duties upon all vessels coming into the port of the island, in the same proportion as they are levied in the harbour of St. Peter's Port, in Guernsey. The rights and property of the island were, however, purchased by government from J. Le Mesurier, Esq., of Poole, who was the last governor.

The approach to the island, particularly in stormy weather, is dangerous, from the rapidity and diversity of the currents, which at spring tides rush in contrary directions, with a velocity of six miles an hour; and from the numerous rocks by which it is surrounded. These rocks were fatal to Prince Henry, son of Henry I., who was wrecked on his return from Normandy, in 1119; and, in 1744, to the Victory man-of-war, which was lost with the whole crew, consisting of 1100 men: the French fleet, notwithstanding, escaped through the passage here after its defeat at La Hogue, in 1692. About seven miles to the west are the Caskets, a cluster of rocks rising to a height of twenty-five or thirty fathoms from the water, and about one mile in circumference. On the south-west side of the cluster is a naturally-formed harbour, in which a frigate may shelter as in a dock; steps are cut in the rock, and conveniences are provided for hauling up boats: there is a smaller and less compact harbour on the north-east side. On these rocks three light-houses have been erected, furnished with revolving reflectors.

The island, which is four miles in length, one mile and a half in breadth, and nearly ten miles in circumference, shelves considerably to the north-east, and is intersected by deep valleys. The whole of the southern and eastern parts, from La Pendante to La Clanque, is bounded by cliffs varying in elevation from 100 to 200 feet, and presenting picturesque and striking scenery; the northern and eastern sides have lower cliffs, alternating with small bays and flat shores. The bay of Bray is remarkably fine, affording good anchorage to vessels, and at low water the sands are very extensive: Longy bay is also commodious; and Craby harbour, in which at spring tides the water rises to the height of twenty-five feet, affords every facility for a wet-dock. A harbour of refuge was commenced in the early part of the year 1847. The east side of the island consists chiefly of reddish sandstone, and the west side principally of porphyry, neither of which rocks is found in large masses in any of the other islands of the group. About onehalf of the land is in cultivation; the remainder consists of common and furze land, affording good pasturage for sheep, but insufficient for cattle. The soil, though light and sandy, is in general productive, and the system of agriculture similar to that of Guernsey; but the general appearance of the land is bare, as few trees and no thorn hedges are to be seen, the inclosures being formed by walls of loose stones, and furze banks. Of the Alderney breed of cows, which has taken its name from this island, Jersey and Guernsey furnish by far the greater number for exportation, this island but very few. The town is situated nearly in the centre of the isle, and, with the exception of the Governor's house, contains few buildings worthy of notice; it is partially paved, and well supplied with water: there is a good road to Bray harbour, and another to Longy bay, where was an ancient nunnery, subsequently used as barracks during the war, and, since the peace, converted into an hospital, and a depôt for military stores. The pier, near which are several houses, is of rude construction, with but one projecting arm, and affording shelter to vessels only from the north-east.

The civil jurisdiction is exercised by a judge and six jurats, the former of whom is nominated by the governor, and the latter elected by the commonalty; they hold their several appointments for life, unless removed for misbehaviour, or malversation in office. The judge and jurats, with the queen's officers, viz., the procureur, or attorney-general; the comptroller, or solicitor-general; and the greffier, or registrar, who is also nominated by the governor, compose the court, the decision of which, however, is not necessarily definitive, being subject to an appeal to the royal court at Guernsey, and from that to the queen in council. In all criminal cases the court of Alderney has only the power of receiving evidence, which is transmitted to the superior court of Guernsey, where judgment is pronounced, and the sentence of the law executed. The entire jurisprudence is similar to that of Guernsey, as appears by the order of the royal commissioners sent to the island by Queen Elizabeth, in 1585. The judge and jurats, together with the douzainiers, the latter being twelve men chosen by the commonalty for their representatives, compose the assembly of the states of the island, wherein all ordinances for its government are proposed. But the douzainiers have only a deliberate voice, and no vote, the judge and jurats alone deciding upon the expediency of any proposed measure. The governor, or his lieutenant, must be present at each assembly, but has no vote in it. The public acts were first registered at Alderney in 1617, and the first contract was enrolled in the year 1666. The privileges of the charter are inherited by birth, or obtained by servitude.

It is not known at what time the church was built: it is an ancient edifice, not entitled to architectural notice; the tower was added to it in 1767, and a chapel near it was erected in 1763. The net income of the incumbent is £120. From the year 1591 to 1607 Alderney was without an officiating minister; baptisms and marriages were solemnized at Guernsey, and registered in the parish of St. Saviour. There is a place of worship for Wesleyans. A school for boys, and another for girls, were founded by J. Le Mesurier, Esq., the last governor; the building was erected in 1790. A general hospital was erected in 1789, and is supported by subscription. There still exists part of a castle begun by the Earl of Essex, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, but never finished; the ruinous foundations yet bear that favourite's name. The islet of Burhou, lying to the westward, is used as a rabbit-warren.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.