A history of Gorey Pier

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What's your street's story? - Gorey Pier


GoreyPierEdwinDale.jpg
An early photograph by Edwin Dale


This article is based on a presentation in the Jersey Heritage What’s your street’s story? series


Le Quai du Havre du Mont Orgueil, more commonly known as Gorey Pier, is perhaps the most iconic image of Jersey; renowned worldwide for its picturesque harbour nestled at the base of the magnificent Mont Orgueil castle.

An early photograph by Ernest Baudoux

Early pier disappears

However, the harbour at Gorey was not always protected by a fine pier such as exists today. In 1685 Dumaresq wrote ‘At the foot of the castle is the most ancient harbour in the island. There is an old decaying pier, where such small boats as use the neighbouring coast of Normandy resort’. By 1800 the pier had deteriorated even further and paintings of the castle at this time show almost no trace of it.

The subsequent history of the pier, its properties and inhabitants were all heavily influenced by one significant event; the establishment of the oyster industry in Gorey.

Jersey men had always known of the oyster beds in Grouville Bay and oyster shells had been found in the prehistoric tomb at La Hougue Bie. In 1606 the Governor tried to claim the oyster banks as Crown property but the Royal Court decided that every islander had a right to dredge there. For many years the trade was confined to local fisherman and by 1797 there was a limited export of oysters to England with the discovery of further beds. However, by 1810 a regular oyster fishery had been established in Gorey to supply merchants of chartered oyster companies - predominantly from Kent and Sussex.

As a direct result of this the pier was rebuilt by the States between 1816 and 1817, at a cost of £16,000. The rebuilding project was primarily to provide shelter for the fishing fleets involved in this trade. At the height of the first boom of the industry between 1820 and 1830 there were an average of 100,000 tubs of oysters being sent to England each year. The oysters were dredged by 300 vessels which were manned by up to 1,500 British seamen.


One can only imagine the chaotic scenes on the pier with so many vessels and fisherman in one very small area of the island. The fishermen had the reputation of being reckless and unruly and this was evident when the oyster beds became exhausted and they began to encroach upon French territory. There were a number of skirmishes and this resulted in British naval ships having to patrol the local waters to curb further hostilities.

To assist the declining industry the States spent £4,000 laying down new beds and asked the fisherman to show restraint until the oysters were ripe for dredging. This was not heeded and in April 1838, the Battle of the Oyster Shells occurred where 120 boats put to sea with the intent to raid the oyster beds. On the second raid the Lieutenant Governor was notified and he sent out the garrison and the town militia. The fleet of fisherman were brought back to port and 96 captains arrested and fined. Ironically the only casualty was the Lieutenant Governor, Major General Campbell, who caught a cold and died a few days later!

Despite a second boom in production in the 1850s, the trade had collapsed again by 1863 as a result of the natural decline in production, over fishing and the chocking of the oysters by seaweed through the introduction of a closed season. This downturn marked the end to an industry, which had undoubtedly helped to shape Gorey Pier and the surrounding area.

Shipbuilding

A number of ship building yards, such as Aubin, Bellot, Picot and Cantell, had developed between the pier and the village at the time of the original oyster boom, supplying vessels for the fishing fleet. A memorial in the gardens adjacent to the pier, resembling the keel of a ship was erected in commemoration of the industry and lists the names of some of the larger vessels built in the Gorey shipyards between 1820 and 1885.

The huge influx of people involved in all areas of the oyster trade led to the rapid expansion of Gorey Village and Gorey Pier.

Many of the buildings along the pier, such as the Moorings, the Seascale and the Dolphin were built at the time of the original boom and provided services to the fishing fleet. Services available in the area included hotels, inns, lodging houses, chandlers, grocers and bakeries.

Gorey Pier in the 1920s

The Moorings was originally called the British Hotel, which is first mentioned by name in the 1851 census, when it was owned and operated by Philip Payn. In his will of 1875 he left the hotel to his niece, Anne Messervy and her husband, Francis John Cantell. Francis John Cantell was a master mariner who had spent a number of profitable years fishing in the Gaspé. When he returned to Jersey to run the British Hotel with his wife he purchased six further properties on the pier between 1882 and 1892, some of which were adjacent to the hotel. This enabled him to increase the size of his business which was well known as ‘Cantell’s British Hotel’. There are many photographs in existence from this period where the name is clearly displayed. George Lestang purchased the Hotel in 1905 and it then became ‘Lestang’s British Hotel’. It changed hands a number of times after this until it became the Moorings Hotel in the 1950s.

The other prominent hotel of the time on the pier was the Elfine Hotel which was located on the site of the current restaurant Feast. It is first mentioned as the Elfine in the 1881 census, where it was being run by Auguste La Mare, a French sailor and innkeeper. Auguste also owned shares in a 24 tonne cutter, named the Elfine, which in 1881 was recorded regularly bringing sheep in to Gorey Pier from France, and which presumably gave the hotel it’s name.

In a remarkably similar story to that of the British Hotel, Auguste had a daughter Emilie, who married an Englishman by the name of Reuben Main, who bought the Elfine Hotel in 1892. Reuben Main then purchased 4 further properties between 1894 and 1898 rapidly increasing the size of the hotel. Not to be out done by his close neighbour and entrepreneur, Francis Cantell, the hotel became known as ‘Main’s Elfine Hotel’. It would seem that these two rival hoteliers would have been in direct competition with each other!

Reuben Main sold the 4 houses under the name of the Elfine Hotel to the Jersey Investment Company in 1919, but the name of the hotel was in existence until very recent times.

A Lestang's Hotel postcard

Railway

Another major development that changed the face of Gorey Pier forever was the extension of the Jersey Eastern Railway line linking St Helier to the pier. This was completed using reclaimed land and opened on 25 May 1891. The station platform was 300ft long, with a single track and run around loop.

The time taken for the trip from Snow Hill Station to the pier was 24 minutes and the return fare cost 1s 3d for first class - approximately £2.86 in today’s money. Second class fares cost 1s or £2.29. The summer timetable showed 15 trains in each direction on weekdays and nine on Sundays.

This meant that the pier was now accessible for a very pleasant day out from St Helier. It also helped to open up travel possibilities and in 1899 a ticket could be purchased from St Helier right through to Paris, returning via London and Weymouth. The paddle steamer ‘Cygne’ connected Gorey to Carteret and linked up with the train Chemins de L’Ouest to take the passengers to Paris. The price for such a ticket was 104s 11d first class or £299.33 in today’s money and 83s 5d second class or £237.39, expensive even in today’s prices and therefore presumably used by only the very wealthy.

The railway was forced to close on 21 June 1929 and Jersey Eastern Railway was placed in voluntary liquidation. The legacy of the railway is without doubt the wonderful walkway replacing the train line from Gorey slipway to the pier.

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