Known to most Jersey folk as Beaumont Cannon, the ancient weapon which is on display at the bottom of Beaumont Hill, at its junction with Old Beaumont Hill, should more properly be known as St Peter’s Parish Field Piece.
It is known as a falcone and its history was well documented in an article in the 1947 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise, written by Wybert Godfray, who strongly criticised its location, suggesting that it deserved a place inside a museum “where the weather and the mischievous hands of children cannot injure or insult it”.
This comment was probably thought to be somewhat extreme at the time and the cannon remains in the same location to this day, standing on a granite plinth and protected by a substantial canopy, although open to the elements on all four sides. Having survived relatively undamaged since it was constructed in 1551, it can probably be expected that it will continue to do so, and public opinion would almost certainly support its remaining in its present position rather than being hidden away in a museum.
It has now been there for over 100 years, partly betrayed by the fact that the carriage on which the 16th century weapon is mounted is of Victorian style, a total anathema to enthusiasts like Wybert Godfray, who was severely critical of the state of repair of the carriage and its protective housing. This has been put right, however, in more recent times.
The gun bears the inscription: “IHON*OWEN*MADE*THIS*PESE*ANNO*DNI*1551*FOR*THE*PARYSHE*OF*SAYNT*PETER*IN*JERSSE”
It was commissioned following an Act of the States of Jersey in 1542 calling on the parishes to make provision for the defence of the island. Each parish assembled a company of men, the forerunners of the Militia. A surviving Muster Roll for St Saviour in 1617 shows that a company consisted of the following:
3 officers, 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, a clerk and a drummer. Fourteen gunners and drivers were responsible for two field-pieces and there were 215 men who had 73 firearms and 142 halberds and bills between them. The total of 238 men of all ranks and two field guns, if repeated throughout the island, would have given a force of nearly 3000 men at a time when the population of the island was in the region of 15,000. Based on calculations of the number of homes in the island at the time, this also represents an average of one man per household.
Jurat Philip Dumaresq’s 1685 Survey of the Island of Jersey records:
- ”To the 12 parishes there belongs 24 field pieces; over wch Sr Thomas Morgan after he had modeld the Regiments, constituted an Officer, by ye name of Controller of ye Artillery; they being heretofore under ye Command of ye Captains of each parish.
- ”When they were first bought is not certain, but they were not bought altogether, some having been bought or changed at least within these 60 years, and others about 150, which are the most ancient I can find: there is among them a dozen falcons, of about eight hundred weight one with another, most of them able to do good service, but ye rest being small robinets of between 2 and 3 hundred weight a piece; which by ye smallness of their bores, being but half pounders, would do but Little service: they are all of brass except one; and if those small ones, whereof there is already 2 or 3 disabled, were exchanged for half a dozen good ones, of the same metal, they might prove more serviceable and less troublesome to some parishes to maintain.
- ”There is also belonging to the sd. Train in every parish, a Wagon that with ye sd. Artilery, is maintained out of ye Publicq stock or revenue of the parishes...
- ”There is appointed to attend the said Artilery a convenient number of men, with horses, also smiths, and carpenters, that are exempt from all other duty in ye Train-bands; and being commonly of the poorest sort, are unable to maintain Armes.”
The organisation and strength of the early Militia is confirmed by a statement attributed to Sir Philip de Carteret, Bailiff and Lieut-Governor in 1642, and published by Dr E S Hoskins in his Charles II in the Channel Islands in 1842:
- ”The island is divided into twelve parishes, and yields about 3,000 able men to bear arms, whereof some 1,200 are trained and divided into 12 companies, each parish making a company. Twelve Captains are appointed over them, reduced to three regiments of four companies in one regiment. Each Pairsh hath a public magazine of powder, match and bullets for their ordnance, there belonging to them three Demi-culverins (about 9 ½ pounders), iron pieces in several bayes, and 24 small brasse, mounted and kept in their charge to be drawn when need requires. There is at this time little powder or anything else in our magazines, and concerning the arming of the people, one third part have no arms at all, one third part are armed with some few bare pikes, most with halberds and bills of little or no service, the last third part are sufficiently armed with muskets.”
Returned from England
St Peter’s gun was among the old parish guns which were withdrawn from service in 1757 and it was to spend some time in England before being returned to the island in 1839, as reported in the Chronique de Jersey at the time.
- ”Colonel Le Couteur, Aide-de-Camp to her Majesty, had occasion during one of his last journeys to London, to discover a bronze cannon on which could be seen an inscription stating that it had been made for the use of the Parish of St Peter in the year 1551. The Bureau de l’Athénée, considering this relic of special value well worth preserving, decided at the suggestion of Col Le Couteur, to send a request with the support of the Lieut-Governor to the Master General of the Ordnance, asking permission for this antique piece to be put at the disposal of the Athénée.
- ”We have learnt with pleasure that this demand has been immediately agreed to and that this cannon has been dispatched to Jersey, and that the Committee of the Athénée has asked Mr Parkinson to submit a edesign of a gun carriage suitable for the period in which this cannon was cast.”
Wybert Godfray writes that the l’Athénée de Jersey was a body on similar lines to La Société Jersiaise.
Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise 1947, article by Wybert Godfray