Commercial Buildings in the first years of the 20th century
Le Quai des Marchands, now known as Commercial Buildings, was financed and constructed between 1814 and 1818 by a group of merchants who lost patience with the States delays in constructing working piers within reasonable reach of the St Helier seafront and decided to do the work themselves.
This involved the reclamation of a wide stretch of land outwards from the foot of Mont de La Ville, on top of which Fort Regent had not long been constructed. On this land the merchants built their warehouses and grand houses, facing a long quay, from what would come to be known as the Weighbridge to the English Harbour, and then turned the corner to create an L-shaped terrace of considerable length.
A restriction imposed on the original buildings was that their height should not surpass the level of Pier Road, behind, so as not to obstruct the line of fire for the Fort Regent guns out to sea. In the event these guns were never fired in anger, but the consistent roof level can be clearly seen today in the Street View above.
However, as can be seen in the older photographs on this page, this degree of consistency of roofline is a comparatively recent feature, and although many object to the strident yellow paintwork on the Normans buildings at the landward end of the row, it is undeniably still a striking gateway to the town of St Helier from this direction.
In his 1977 assessment of Commercial Buildings in his Buildings in the Town and Parish of St Helier, architect C E B Brett wrote:
- "These wholly admirable stone-fronted terraces of three-storey warehouses must, when built, have been magnificent; the commercial equivalents of long terraces of stately late-Georgian dwelling houses. The pink granite stonework is of the highest quality, with long-and-short blocks of ashlar around the openings, random stone for the rest of the walls. It is a shame that the unity of the group has been spoiled by various ill-considered alterations and demolitions. It would be a great shame to allow any further deterioration in those facades which remain relatively unspoiled."
Given what had gone before, that was probably a somewhat unfair appraisal of the buildings, but Brett's wish has largely been met, and aside from the occasional contemporary shopfront, the terrace remains largely as it was 35 years ago, and the southern dog-leg facing the English Harbour (below) has largely been restored to its original glory.
This photograph started us off on an investigation which at first left more questions than it provided answers. The first questions to be answered were where it was taken, and when. The initial suspicion that it was taken outside a store on the Esplanade was disproved by a check of almanacs either side of the turn of the 19th century to the 20th. We were soon able to establish that this was 19 Commercial Buildings, where H and T Proctor were listed as occupants in the 1910 Evening Post Almanac. They were presumably not trading there five years earlier because the 1905 Jersey Times Almanac shows P Le Miere as the occupant of No 19. The 1920 Evening Post Almanac also shows P Le Miere as the occupant of the premises, so perhaps he owned it and leased it to H & T Proctor as a store for their guano. Census returns do not help, because there is no obvious record of a P Le Miere in either the 1901 or 1911 censuses, although the weird and wonderful surname transcriptions for other Le Mieres suggest that he could well be there, but not found by the Ancestry search engine. Neither is there any record in either our birth/baptism database or the 1901 and 1911 censuses for H or T Proctor, or any other Proctor other than a Lance-Corporal in the Garrison regiment in 1911. Further research uncovered the history of H & T Proctor. It was not a Jersey company at all, but a Bristol based fertiliser manufacturer founded in 1812 by Henry and Thomas Proctor. Although the company’s speciality was bone marrow fertiliser, it was also heavily involved in the importation from South America of guano, a valuable fertiliser made from bird droppings found in large quantities on islands off Peru’s coast. Clearly H & T Proctor was a name sufficiently famous as far as quano was concerned for David Dumosch Ltd, who are clearly shown in the photograph to have been the sole agents for it in Jersey, to have given greater prominence to the Proctor name over their Commercial Buildings store. It would appear that the Special Jersey Guano was simply an advertising gimmick, because the fertiliser which brought so much prosperity to Jersey’s potato growing industry from its introduction in 1844 well into the 20th century, clearly came from much further afield. Incidentally, both H & T Proctor and David Dumosch are still in business today. A search of the Public Registry shows that the property was inherited in 1912 by the Findlay family from their late father Alexander. The heirs then split up the realty in a partage, with the eldest son, the exotically named William Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne Findlay, acquiring 19 Commercial Buildings on 30 November 1912. William let the property to Norman Limited on 11 October 1919, so perhaps the guano business was on the wane by then. Normans continued to lease the property until William’s daughter, Joan d’Auvergne Crawford, sold it to the company in 1957. She was an absentee landlady, living in Harrow, Middlesex. The entries in the Almanacs refer to David Dumosch, Proctors and P Le Miere as occupiers, suggest that they may have had short leases or lodging arrangements. William was also evidently an absentee landlord as both the 1912 and 1919 transactions show him being represented by a Power of Attorney he signed in Vernon, British Columbia.
Looking out over the roofs of Commercial Buildings towards the Harbour
A 20th century coat of paint
A F Gallichan, Renault dealer in the 1960s
Commercial Buildings in the 1960s
Commercial Buildings viewed from the New North Quay across the Old Harbour with Fort Regent above
A view from a Victorian Slide taken at the end of the 19th century. Added here in 2019, this is a much clearer picture than the copy at the top of the page which has been in the site since 2011. The premises of iron founders and merchants F J Grandin and Co, who were at 27 Commercial Buildings for many decades, can be clearly seen. On the building to the right is a sign for 'Dior's Manures'. This would have been an advert for their products rather than an indication that the company traded there. But it is nevertheless of interest because this was the same family which rose to greater fame in the world of fashion and cosmetics. The family lived in Granville, just across the water from Jersey on the Normandy
coast, and Louis Maurice Dior made, and then lost, a fortune in the chemical fertiliser business. Coming from a family of farmers on the border of Manche and Calvados departments, Maurice Dior was in partnership with his cousin Lucien, having taken over a business founded in 1832 by Louis-Jean Dior. During the Second World War Maurice Dior's daughter Catherine was one of the most prominent and revered members of the French Resistance, surviving imprisonment in Ravensbruck. She outlived her even more famous brother Christian, who founded the fashion and perfume business which still bears his name, and opened a museum in his honour in Granville
Receipt for coal supplied by W A Nicholls and Sons