What's your street's story? - F B Fields
Jersey is passionate about its sport and has had representatives in most levels of competition, including the Olympics.
It takes years of training, commitment and perseverance to achieve such levels, and this would not be poissble without the sporting facilities to which athletes in Jersey have access, including the FB Fields.
Sports played at the FB Fields today include athletics, football, cricket, netball, judo and table tennis. Over the years they have also included hockey, rugby, cycling, croquet and tug-of-war.
The area of land which now encompasses the FB Fields was originally uncultivated and uninhabited marshland, as is evident on the Richmond Map of 1795. It was not until the Jersey Eastern Railway line was opened to the public in 1873, running from St Helier to Gorey, that the land can be seen in use.
The railway line divided the land from Plat Douet Road to Samares Lane, running along the boundary where the FB Cottages now back on to the playing fields.
Originally the trains did not stop in this area, as there were existing stations at Georgetown and Samares. However, in 1896 a station at Greve d’Azette was opened to replace Georgetown Station. The new platform was 225 feet long and the station buildings included a single-storey booking office and waiting room, alongside a two-storey stationmaster’s house.
Census records from 1891, 1901 and 1911 reveal that Augustus Frederick Mauveil was the stationmaster at Greve d’Azette for more than 30 years.
The station was opened to serve the popular Greve d’Azette beach and the adjacent playing fields and cycle track, which are now part of FB Fields. Special trains had already been stopping at the sports grounds before 1896, transporting large numbers of spectators to rugby matches, cycling and athletics meetings.
It was not uncommon for meetings organised by the Jersey Cycling Club to attract up to 3,000 people to the grounds to see handicapped cycle and running races.
At the meeting in 1893 more than 140 athletes competed, many from England and Guernsey. Events included a five-mile bicycle race, a two-mile novice roadster race, a 120-yard hurdles race and 220-yard handicap.
In the 220-yard flat handicap of 1895 the first prize was an electroplated sugar vase and scoop, second prize was a pair of serviette rings in a case and third prize was electroplated spoons and sugar tongs in a case.
A rugby match at the ground was reported on 1 December 1893. The island team played the Town FC. Rugby games were fairly sporadic over the next few years as football became the more popular sport and rugby struggled to field full teams.
The station at Greve d’Azette closed in 1929 when the Jersey Eastern Railway closed because of dwindling profits. The station buildings were demolished, but it is still possible to see the edge of the raiway platform along the southern boundary of FB Cottages.
Jesse and Florence Boot
The railway was still in operation when businessman Jesse Boot began to buy land in the area surrounding the cycle grounds. He was born in Nottingham in 1850, the son of John Boot, who owned a herbalist shop. He died when Jesse was only a child, so he had to leave school at 13 to help his monther to run the business.
In his spare time he studied pharmacy and in 1877 he opened his first chemist shop. By 1896 he owned 60 shoips in 28 towns in the UK under the name of Boots the Chemist.
In 1886 he met Florence Anne Rowe while he was convalescing in Jersey from the strains of overwork. Florence was born in Jersey on 29 July 1863, the daughter of William Henry Rowe and Margaret Agnes Campbell. Her father was a bookseller and stationer at 27 Queen Street and Florence grew up living above the shop and assisted her father with his business.
After a very short courtship she and Jesse Boot were married at the Town Church on 30 August 1886. Florence played a very active role in her husband’s company. She used the business acumen she had learned working with her father to help further develop the Boots empire.
The Boots retired in 1920 and moved to live in Jersey, becoming involved in projects to benefit islanders, particularly those in poorer circumstances. One project was the building of FB Cottages. While viewing land in the area Jesse saqw the opportunity to build 22 tradesmen’s cottages on land owned by the States, who agreed to lease it to him for 75 years.
In his correspondence regarding the building of the cottages, he expressed his contempt for the housing situation in St Helier at the time, insisting that he would not build ‘anything that would be reminiscent of the existing slums in St Helier’. The houses were named the Florence Boot Cottages and were ready to be rented to tenants in 1923.
Gift of land
Jesse Boot made a further gift to the island of 25 vergees of land. This was gifted to a number of prominent citizens on 28 April 1928 to be held by them as trustees, in these terms:
- ”That the land be consecrated for ever thereafter for use as playing fields for the recreation of children and adult persons of both sexes residing in the island of Jersey, those playing fields to be known as the F B Fields”.
At a meeting at the Town Hall on 22 October 1927 he had asked for the grounds to be so named in honour of both his wife, and the Lieut-Governor of the time, Sir Francis Bingham, who had been the driving force behind the project.
Jesse Boot had an area prepared as playing fields, providing all the necessary equipment and dressing rooms. He also gave £1,800 to be held in trust to ensure the upkeep of the land for sproting purposes. The official opening of the FB Fields was on 21 June 1928.
Originally the playing fields consisted of the area where the current football and cricket pitches are located. With the money they held the trustees were later able to purchase the land where the current athletics track and netball courts are located, and the land adjacent to the railway station.
The grounds were busy with sporting fixtures until the German Occupation. The occupying forces proposed to build a sports stadium on the site, demanding that the island provide materials and labour. The stadium was never built, but the Germans did hold regular sports days at the FB Fields, with the winners receiving certificates, pictures of Hitler or even a copy of ‘’Mein Kampf’’.
With food beginning to become scarce, the area which is now the athletics track was used as vegetable allotments in 1942. The Jersey Allotments Council provided 100 allotments at a charge of 10s per season. They can be clearly seen on an aerial photograph from 1944.
States take over
At the end of the Occupation the playing fields were in such a poor state that more than £3,000 was required to restore them to their proper condition. With rising costs of materials, equipment and wages, the trustees felt they could no longer fulfil their obligation to the trust. They felt they had no other option than to lodge a petition with the States and to cede the land and equipment to the public of the island, subject to the condition that the land be mainteined as playing fields under the name of FB Fields. The Act was passed on 6 July 1951.
The venue is now very different from the one taken over by the States and there have been significant developments.
In 1983 the Education Committee received a report which concluded:’If the athletics potential of Jersey’s youngsters is to be reached, the number one priority is a decent track and facilities with it’. As a result, a six-lane all-weather 400 metre track was built in 1987 and a cluhouse was added in 1999.
Before this all-weather netball courts had been constructed and the Normandy Pavilion was built to accommodate players’ needs. The Geoff reed Table Tennis Centre was opened in 1999 following a donation from Mr Reed and a grant from the Sports and Leisure Committee.
These facilities have enabled the island to stage some major sporting competitions, the most notable being the Island Games in 1997 and Division V of the World Cricket League in 2008.
They have also enabled many of Jersey’s most celebrated sportsmen and women to further their sporting achievements. Colin Campbell, who represented Great Britain in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games at athletics, and in 1976 in the men’s bobsleigh four, trained regularly at the FB Fields when in Jersey.
Graeme Le Saux, the first Jersey footballer to play for England, would no doubt have played many games at the fields for his school and club, St Paul’s, during his early career.
Jesse Boot voiced his concerns when he made the gift of the fields that his vision for them would perhaps not be perpetuated.
However, the developments since show that he would be more than satisfied with the way in which the States have used his legacy to enhance the careers of many of Jersey’s young sportsmen and women.