Datestones

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This article by Joan Stevens, one of the acknowledged 20th century experts on Jersey houses, was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966'

The prevalent initialled stones on private houses cause a great deal of curiosity and speculation to newcomers, and all sorts of explanations are offered.

Not marriage stones

The truth is that to those who put them up, they meant something definite, but we cannot always guess what it was. It is often thought that they record the date of a marriage, but research has shown that this is seldom the case, and that they may date from as much as 30 years after the marriage of the people concerned.

What is certain, with a very few exceptions, is that they represent a couple already married at that date, the man’s initials being on the left and the wife’s on the right.

The local custom was to indicate the name by the syllables, so if there are three letters, the middle one, not the last, is the initial of the surname. This fashion was not always followed, but it was in the great majority of cases.

It is a boon to the researcher, and often makes identification well nigh certain. There is an infinity of variation in the details, and the date may record when they built, inherited, bought or altered the house.

Most often, particularly as the 18th century advanced, the initials are separated by two hearts interlocking, and the carving may be incised or raised. The lintel over a front door or the keystone of an arch is the most usual place to find this record, but it can be found on a fireplace lintel, a gable stone, a window lintel, or just a stone plaque inserted in a wall.

It is by no means always possible to decipher these initials, but when it can be done the stone becomes something human, for which one can feel affection, when one knows the naes of the people concerned.

The more one can learn about them and their lives, the closer one approaches to them as human beings like ourselves, who lived in our houses and had the same problems, joys and sorrows as we.

Examples

Let us look at a few examples.

At Green Farm, St Martin, the older section of the house has on a carved lintel, FLC SDN 1677. This represents the Rev Francois Le Couteur, Rector of St Martin, and his wife, Sara Dumaresq, who had been married in 1657, and moved to this house where the youngest of their 13 children, Elizabeth, was born in 1679.

On the keystone of the large round arch which used to be at The Hollies, St Clement, and which has now been moved, is a curious and somewhat rough inscription which records the marriage of Helier Godfray and Rachel Millais, and Philippe, the eldest of their eight children.

He was born in 1664 but they did not put up the initialled arch until 1686. Helier was a Centenier of the parish, and Rachel, the daughter of Jean Millais, of Tapon, Longueville, the family of the painter Sir John Everett Millais.

Sometimes more cetent information can identify initials, such as a cottage near Six Rues, which is known to have belonged to a P Remon about 100 years ago, so that two stones on the house, saying PRM 1660 and PRM 1774 must also represent Remons, although no wife is shown.

Missing initials

Occasionally a space has been left for the wife’s initials, which have never been filled in, either because the man made his carved stone before he was married, and remained a bachelor, or perhaps a wife or fiancee died before copletion of the house. Two such examples are at La Valeuse, St Brelade, where Edouard Le Brocq left a raised blank space in 1776, which was never used, and La Porte, St John, where Pierre Esnouf left a blank.

At La Maletiere, Grouville, Jean and Marie Payn, nee Le Feuvre, put up a more complex stone with their names and the date 1635, the Payn arms of three trefoils, and the initials of their three sons, Jean, Philippe and Francois, but not their daughters.

At Hamptonne there is only one case recorded of initials standing for a father and son, Laurens Hamptonne and his son Edouard, dated 1637, with the Hamptonne arms of a shield with three six-patalled flowers. Laurens’ father and son were both named Edouard, but as the former died in 1601, the initials must represent the son, who would have been nine ears olda t the time, just about when Laurens bought the property.

At La Guerdainerie is an unuausl stone recording two children who died young. They were Philippe Rondel, who died in 1795 at the age of eight, and Jean Rondel, his half brother, who died the next year at the age of 19.

In some rare cases a double marriage was recorded, as at La Chesnaie in St Lawrence, where Jean Luce and Suzanne Le Brocq carved their initials with those of their son Francois and his wife Esther Le Couteur, daughter of the Rev Francois already mentioned. The younger couple were married in 1688, which is probably the date of the stone, and also in this case, of the house.

Some inscriptions defy interpretation, as one at La Chasse, St John, which says KLS 1699 ECSA, has done so far, but great is the feeling of satisfaction when the initials can be identified.

Notee: The Jersey Datestone Project gives the La Chasse stone inscription as KLS 1699 FCSA, but offers no suggestions for the names represented. A search of the Jerripedia database reveals no possible names with these initials.


Jersey Datestones Project

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