A history of Bonne Nuit

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Bonne Nuit


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A view of the harbour and bay in the early 20th century


This article is based on a 2017 presentation by archivist Stuart Nicolle in Jersey Archive's What's your street's story? series


The history of Bonne Nuit Bay has been influenced by a number of different factors. Defence was a primary early concern, followed by fishing and then, into the 20th century, tourism.

Disputed name origin

The origin of the name Bonne Nuit is disputed. Some claim that it was where King Charles II said farewell to his loyal supporters when leaving the island, although that is now thought to be unlikely.

It is also said that Dark Age pirates attacked the bay in the sixth century and it was thereafter named Bay of the Bad Night. After a priory was built in the area in the 12th century is it thought that this name did not sit well, so it was changed to Bay of the Good Night, or Bonne Nuit. [1]

The was first heavily fortified in the 18th century with the States ordering platforms, cannon positions and batteries to be built. On 19 September 1782 the States ordered the construction of a guardhouse and magazine. By 1794 it was already reported to be in a ruinous condition and the States decided the next year that it should be sold and the guardhouse moved to the centre of the bay.

The ruined property was bought by Philippe Dumaresq for 432 livres, but this ownership was to prove short-lived as the Seigneur of the Fief de Chesnel, Charles Lempriere, was unhappy that property in his fief was purchased without his permission. He brought a court case against the States, who had to reimburse Dumaresq for his loss.

The new barracks in the middle of the bay were considered important during the French wars but fell out of use by the mid-19th century. The census reveals that they were manned by various soldiers, with their families, in order to keep them in good condition.

An illustration from an 1856 guidebook

Smallpox

When an epidemic of smallpox hit the island in 1887 the Sanitary Committee considered where the victims could be isolated and, with the Lieut-Governor, Major-General Henry Wray's agreement, the patients were moved to the barracks with Dr Hardwick Le Cronier to look after them.

The Honorary Police and salaried policemen were involved in isolating the victims, and one of them, Mr Manoury, fell victim to the illness. Moving the sufferers to this remote part of St John did help slow down the spread of the sickness, and the Lieut-Governor wrote to the Secretary of State for War to ask if he would consider selling the barracks to the States for use as an isolation hospital.

The reply was that the sale of the barracks would not be considered and the building should be vacated as quickly as possible because it might be needed for troops.

Those who contracted the disease from then on were housed in temporary huts on People's Park before being accommodated at Overdale.

Hotels

The barracks were later sold into private hands and were incorporated into the Cheval Roc Hotel.

Other hotels in the area in the mid-20th century included the Bonne Nuit Chalet Hotel, which was built by Hillyard Stuart in the 1930s, and the Idlerocks Hotel, which existed from the late 1950s.

Tourists came to stay in a quiet area of the island with an idyllic harbour, which was only built in the 1870s after considerable controversy. The fishermen of Bonne Nuit had petitioned the States for many years to do something about the condition of the harbour, complaining about the rocky landscape and people undermining the bay by taking sand and shingle.

Idlerocks and Bonne Nuit Chalet Hotels in the 1960s

Harbour

On 16 August 1866 the States voted money for the development of Bonne Nuit and Greve de Lecq harbours. The following year David de Quetteville and other shipowners and merchants petitioned against this development. Their fleets were generally based in St Helier Harbour and they were frustrated that, despite repeated promises,it had not been updated, whereas the less important harbours in the north of the island were going to be developed. The Lieut-Governor, Sir Burke Douglas Cuppage, was also less than convinced that the work was necessary.

The committees responsible for the improvement of the harbours informed him that the works were important and the cost of £13,000 was relatively minor compared with the major works at St Helier which would cost closer to £250,000.

Objections were finally overcome and plans were drawn up in 1871 by Philippe Le Sueur, with John Le Gros winning the contract to build the pier. A ceremony was held on 7 May 1872 for the construction to begin.

The interested parties gathered to buy a time capsule containing an almanac, money and a parchment with the names of the committee. Jurat Durell Lerrier, the president of the committee, made a lengthy speech about the importance of the building works that were about to be undertaken.

The contractor did not take the work as seriously as Jurat Lerrier and by 1881 there were reports that serious cracks had been found in the pierhead.

Architects H G Hammond Spencer and Adolphus Curry were charged with examining the original works and delivered a damning report stating that 'some of the materials employed were improper for the purpose, the workmanship was of the worst possible description, that this latter fault, combined in a lesser degree with bad materials, has undoubtedly been the cause of the damage to the pierhead'.

The committee asked the States to vote money towards repairs and by May 1882, Philippe Amy had been employed to carry out the restoration for £1,250. The reconstruction went well and Spencer recommended that Amy could be paid in full for his work.

In more recent times the harbour has been the finish line for the Sark to Jersey rowing race, which was inspired by Chay Blyth and John Ridgeway rowing the Atlantic in 92 days. The first race took place in 1967 and for the past 50 years Bonne Nuit has seen the arrival of various exhausted crews who have rowed the rough seas and currents from our neighbouring island.


Notes and references

  1. Dumaresq's 1755 map names the area Bonnuit, as do some other 18th century charts. A map prepared for the French Navy in 1757 calls in Bonut, as does as 1779 map drawn by Clement Lempriere. An earlier map drawn by Hermann Moll in the 1730s calls it Bay Bonvite. It was only in the 19th century that Bonne Nuit came into common usage, but even then the bay was known as St John's Bay and the harbour was simply Bonne Nuit, terminology which was continued on 20th century Ordnance Survey maps
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