Eperquerie

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Eperquerie or esperquerie – by Nicolas Jouault

Drying and salting of fish

By the 1190s there is evidence for the production of dried fish on an industrial scale. This activity was a ducal monopoly in the Channel Islands. The duke, or other seigneur to whom the duke had granted or farmed out this privilege, supplied land near the seashore where the fishing boats landed their catch.

In pre-reformation days the demand for fish was enormous, and this was the only commodity that Jersey could export on a large scale. The trade in conger and mackerel was profitable to the Islands and it also produced revenue for the Crown.

Ésperqueries (Esperkeria) were sites where conger alone might be dried and salted. The name esperquerie is preserved in Guernsey and Sark, and is thought to be derived from the method of drying conger by erecting stakes or poles measuring one perch in length (perques or poles) on which a net was slung to hold the fish while it dried. Salt was needed for the preservation of the fish and would have been obtained from Gascony, and possibly from salt pans that may have existed at La Saline, St Ouen, in Jersey. Salt might also have been extracted from vessels used for boiling seawater. Remains of such vessels have been found at Les Ecrehous. Guernsey also has La Salerie, where conger was salted, and La Saline, St John, in Jersey is also a possible site. Other occurrences of the name are Camp de la Saline in Grouville (1634) and Saline de Guillaume Coquerel in St Saviour (1235).

By 1199 the farm of the duke’s esperkeria for Guernsey and Jersey totalled 50 livres angevins, which means the annual revenue was expected to equal or exceed this amount.

13th century

King John ordered that all small boats carrying fish from the islands to Normandy should be be charged 3 solidi. The salting of congers was limited to the period between Michaelmas and Easter and the revenues put out to farm by the royal officials, the same as for fish drying. After 1204 the King claimed a right to buy conger in preference to anyone else, at a special rate.

In 1247 strict regulations were enforced relating to the fisheries. Absolute freedom of trade was granted to islanders to sell their goods, alive or dead, in Normandy or elsewhere, except congers during the time of éperqueries. At other times fishermen pleased themselves as to the disposal of their fish. They were allowed to sell their fresh and salted fish three times a week in all the lands of the King, provided they paid the custom due to him and his heirs. Their chief markets were in Normandy and Gascony, not in England, although in 1294 a mandate was issued to the barons of the Cinque Ports, sailors, mariners, bailiffs and others “not to molest the king’s men of the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney or Serk in their persons or goods”.

In 1274 Regnaud de Carteret was required to show by what right (quo warranto) he had established an esperquerie in port du Stako (L’Etacq, St Ouen).

1288 In Guernsey Edward I insisted on a cash payment in respect of catches other than conger.

14th century

At the start of the the 14th century the men of the Islands visited the southern ports of England with their wares, for the collectors of the new custom at Southampton, Weymouth, Dartmouth and Lyme were ordered not to distrain the men of the Islands.

  • 1332 report to justices: total annual revenue of the Islands - £1,130 8s 1d: Eperqueries de congres, custom on mackerel and other fish - £266 13s 4d

From the 13th to 16th centuries conger dried and smoked was a valuable export to France and England and it continued during time of war. Fishermen were accused of trading with the King's enemies during the 100 years war.

Decline in demand for salted conger from both England and France in the 15th century saw those involved turn to knitting and starting overseas trade.

Guernsey

In Guernsey in 1248, out of a total revenue of £725, £140 was the rent paid to the Crown by the holders of the fish-salting monopoly. In 1331 the sum paid to the Crown from the saleries was £266, out of a total revenue of £1,064. The industry declined when faced with competition from the Newfoundland fisheries, but even in the 17th century the monopoly was valuable enough to be zealously guarded.

On 8 July 1626 Thomas Careye is noted as fermier de la Sallerie du Roy, in which capacity, on 12 July 1628 he prosecuted Collas Hallouvris for having sold fish in the market, instead of to the Sallerie, thus infringing the monopoly held by Thomas from the Crown. He was sworn in as Jurat on 15 September 1632, and seems to have held at the same time the post of Receiver, for on 4 June 1636, as Receiver, he prosecuted Pierre Gallienne for having sold salting fish during the past year, and demanded a fine of £10.

Samares

In Jersey we have Samarès (a salt marsh) with the surname of the family living there c1180 spelt de Salineles.

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