French workers and the Jersey population

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Breton workers newly arrived in Jersey

By Mark Boleat

Strong and ancient links

The links between Jersey and France are strong and many. Geographically Jersey is closer to France than it is to the UK; until the 13th Century Jersey was more part of France than of Britain; trade links between Jersey and France have always been strong, and Jersey has experienced several waves of immigration from France.

From the 16th century to the early 19th century Jersey became the home for French religious refugees. There is no way of knowing how many French refugees there were in Jersey at any one time. One estimate spoke of between 3,000 and 4,000, which would be a significant number when compared with a population of around 20,000.

From the early 19th Century to the middle of the 20th Century there was a different type of migration, agricultural workers from Brittany and Normandy. Most probably intended to be short term migrants, planning to return to France. But some decided to settle in Jersey, with many of today Jersey’s population being descended from them.

This article analyses the available information on the nature of that migration - who were the migrants, where did they come from and why did they come. In doing so the article draws heavily on a recent and important study of Jersey by a French academic Michel Monteil (‘’L'émigration française vers Jersey, 1850-1950’’, l'Université de Provence, 2005).

Between 1851 and 1921 the population of Jersey fell by nearly 13%, the decrease being particularly marked in the 1870s, and between 1911 and 1921; in this latter period largely a consequence of the Great War.

Immigration from France occurred largely during this time of falling population. Between 1851 and 1891 the population of Jersey fell by 2,500 while the number of people recorded in the Census who were born in France increased by over 3,000.



Table 1 French-born population of Jersey

Year Population Born in France % French
1841 47,544 2,800 5.9
1851 57,020 2,017 3.5
1961 55,613 2,790 5.0
1871 56,627 4,092 7.2
1881 52,445 3,972 7.6
1891 54,518 5,576 10.2
1901 52,576 6,011 11.4
1911 51,898 5,610 10.8
1921 49,701 4,373 8.8
1931 50,462 3,209 6.4
1939 51,080
1951 57,310 2,811 4.9
1961 59,489 2,459 4.1
1971 69,329
1981 76,050 1,233 1.6
1991 84,082 1,061 1.3
2001 87,186 1,093 1.3

Source: Census Reports and author’s estimate for 1841



Unfortunately the 1841 Census does not give a figure for the French-born population. However, it does give a figure for total “non-British” of 3,032. In 1851 just 204 people non-British people were recorded as having a place of birth other than France, suggesting that most of 3,032 “non-British” in 1841 were French born. In turn this suggests that the French-born population may have declined between 1841 and 1851.

The earliest French economic migrants probably worked in constructing the harbour in St Helier and in the quarry at Ronez. However, they were heavily outnumbered, particularly in the construction industry, by the Scots and Irish, and most of them probably returned to France when construction work was completed in the 1840s.

The migration of agricultural workers began in the 1840s and accelerated throughout the remainder of the Century. There was a fairly steady increase in the French-born population of almost 4,000 between 1851 and 1901, a period when the total population fell by 4,500.

As a consequence the proportion of the population born in France rose from 3.5% to 11.4%. In addition, as the 1891 and 1901 Censuses show, many of the French immigrants settled in Jersey and had children who, although Jersey-born, were part of the French community. (In 1901 30% of all children born in Jersey had French-born fathers.)

The experience of the second half of the 19th Century in Jersey is that a high level of immigration to serve a sector of the economy is compatible with net emigration. In the second half of the 19th Century the number of Irish-born people recorded in the Censuses fell from a peak of 2,704 to just 623, while in the same period the number of people born in Scotland and England and Wales more than halved. There was also significant emigration of young Jersey-born people.

Monteil reviews the available evidence on the number of French workers in Jersey. Censuses are not reliable, particularly in capturing foreign workers, so the Census figures probably understate the true numbers quite considerably.

This is even more significant in respect of French agricultural workers, many of whom were seasonal and therefore would not have been recorded on Census night which generally was in April just as the potato season was beginning. Monteil quotes the French Consul in 1871 that there were 5,000 French people in Jersey. His successor in 1873 suggested the figure was 8,000. In 1882 the Consul said that there were not less than 10,000 French people in Jersey of whom 2,000 had become naturalised Jersey people.

The following year the Consul quoted a figure of 8,000 French citizens. Monteil notes that these figures are some two to three times the Census estimates. He suggests that the Consul’s estimates may well be exaggerated, perhaps to emphasis the importance of their own positions. Having said this, it is probably the case that the Census figures understand the number of French workers and certainly do not capture the full extent of short term seasonal workers.

A Breton lady on a Jersey farm

Why there were French migrant workers in Jersey?

Monteil analyses both the economy of Jersey and its need for migrant labour, and the economic situation in Brittany and Normandy which led to emigration in search of work. He notes Jersey’s fiscal advantages which contributed significantly to its economic prosperity in the 19th Century, also the key decision in 1786 to ban the import of cows which proved to be the stimulus for the cattle industry. French migrant workers are closely tied the growth of the new potato industry. Jersey established a market niche through the breeding of the Jersey Royal and the favourable climate meant that Jersey new potatoes were first into the market each year, and could command a premium price. Exports increased from 1,400 tonnes in 1810 to 17,670 tonnes in 1840.

However, the new potato season lasted just six weeks and required substantial labour. Monteil commented – “Jersey ne possédant pas de reserve de mains-d’ouvre suffiscante pour l’arracharg des pommes det terres primeurs, la seule regulation de la population existant depuis toujours sure l’ile étant l’émigration il etait donc necessaire de faire appel ‘a une force temporaire de travail venue de l’éxterieur. Ce que firnt en effet les agriculteurs de Jersey en faisant venir des travailleurs agricoles francais’’.

In short Jersey did not have a supply of workers able to harvest the new potato crop so French agricultural workers had to be imported.

Monteil analyses why workers were sought from France rather than England. The answer was that French workers were cheaper and also the new potato season coincided with the time of year in Brittany and Normandy of least agricultural activity. Migration depends on conditions in both the host and the home country. Monteil explains the severe economic conditions in Brittany in particular in the second half of the 19th century.

Between 1866 and 1946 more than 115,000 people left the Department of Côtes du Nord (now called the Côtes d’Armor), emigration being particularly strong in 1872 and between 1911 and 1921. Economic migrants from the Côtes du Nord went either to Jersey, the French colonies, Canada or Paris. Monteil notes that agriculture was backward in the Côtes du Nord and he mentions the famine in 1847 when 20,000 people died. Pay rates in the Côtes du Nord on average were half those in France generally. By working for just a few months in Jersey French workers could earn far more than would in a year in Brittany.

The department of Manche, including the Cotentin peninsular, was in a similar position. Manche lost 155,000 inhabitants through emigration between the middle of the 19th Century and the middle of the 20th Century.

Monteil describes what happened in the 1930s when Jersey responded to a request from the British Government to employ workers from England rather than France. In short, the English workers were found to be unsatisfactory compared with the traditional workers from France.

Monteil’s important study deals in detail with how workers were recruited, their living conditions and their impact on society in Jersey.

The origin of the French agricultural workers

This section seeks to provide a more accurate analysis of the origin of the French immigrants. It is based on an analysis of alien registration cards of people born in France. Under the Alien Restrictions Act 1920 all aliens over the age of 16, no matter how old they were or how long they had been living in Jersey, were required to register with the Immigration Officer. Around 2,000 individual records of aliens born prior to 1908 are available.

The registration documents are held in the Jersey Archive and can be accessed from http://www.jerseyheritagetrust.jeron.je.

Some words of caution are necessary. Interpreting the wording of the records is not always easy. The place of birth is recorded, but this not necessarily where the migrants were when they decided to move to Jersey. There is also a risk of some double counting.


Table 2 Birthplace of French-born people registered as alien in Jersey by Department

Department No of communes Number of people
Côtes du Nord 305 1,067
Manche 155 403
Ille et Vilaine 32 93
Morbihan 36 59
Finistère 19 30
Others (estimated) 180 350
Total (estimated) 727 2,000

The table shows that just over half the migrants were from the Côtes du Nord, 20% from Manche and the remainder from other departments. But perhaps what is most striking about the table is the very large number of communes recorded. 169 communes in the Côtes du Nord and 94 in Manche appear just once in the records.

Most of the migrants from Brittany travelled to Jersey from the port of St Brieuc.

Table 3 shows the communes most often recorded as places of birth in the Côtes du Nord. Again, this must be qualified, as there some communes may be little more than suburbs of larger towns. This is particularly true of Langueux, which is a suburb of St Brieuc.

The approach has been to analyse the place of birth as named on the alien registration certificate and not to seek to make any corrections.


Table 3 Birthplace of French-born people from the Côtes du Nord registered as alien in Jersey by commune

Commune Births recorded Distance from St Brieuc km
Ploeuc 218 19
Plaintel 56 13
St Brieuc 55
Plouec 49 37
Pommerit Le Vicomte 38 17
Plehedel 34 27
Plouagat 30 18
St Carreuc 26 13
Langueux 25 4
Quintin 18 26
Begard 17 42
Guincamp 17 29
Lantic 16 13
Loaurgat 15 45
Uzel 13 26
Ivias 13 32
Lannion 12 58
Corlay 11 30
Henon 11 15
Plouha 11 22
Gommenec’h 10 26
Le Foeil 10 14
Merzer 10 24
Plourivo 10 35
Pedernec 10 40

One commune stands out – Ploeuc, or more fully Ploeuc-sur-Lie. This is a commune now with a little under 3,000 inhabitants. It is about 20km south of St Brieuc. Its neighbouring communes - Plaintel, St Carreuc, Henon and Plemy - are also in the table.

Ploeuc can be easily confused with Plouec, which was renamed Plouec-de-Trieux in 1980, which is nearly 40km north west of St Brieuc, and which also features in the table.

With the exception of the large town of Lannion, all the communes listed are within 45km of St Brieuc. With a few exceptions they are also all inland. Generally, the agricultural workers did not come from the coastal towns such as St Quay Portrieux and Etables.

St Brieuc, including its suburb of Langueux, is the exception to this. However, it owes in place in the table to the fact that it was by far the largest town in the area, and much of the town is in fact inland.

The communes in Manche are, for the most part, in a 15km strip between Carteret and Lessay, Carteret probably being the port of embarkation. There are a few exceptions – Granville and Muneville-sur-Mer, 60 km to the south, and Bricquebec which is north east of Carteret, some distance away from the other communes listed. As in the Côtes du Nord most of the communes are inland. Table 4 shows the position.



Table 4 Birthplace of French-born people from Manche registered as alien in Jersey by commune

Commune Births recorded Distance from Carteret km
St-Remy-des-Landes 33 13
Haye du Puits 29 20
St Lo d’Ourville 22 9
Barneville 18
Dennevile 11 11
Granville 11 62
Bricquebec 10 14
Creances 10 25
Surville 10 15
St Nicolas de Pierrepoint 8 15
Glatigny 7 16
Besneville 6 11
Bretteville 6 18

Today, Jersey’s links with France are predominantly through St Malo. However, the registration cards record just 19 people born in St Malo and 17 in neighbouring St Servan. Other communes with more than a few records are Cleguerec (7), Berne, Guern and Silfiac (4 each) in Morbihan and Quimperlé (5) and Brest (4) in Finistère.

Comparison with Monteil’s analysis

Monteil analysed passport applications by Bretons wishing to travel to Jersey in the 1920s and observed that the following communes were most frequently mentioned (in alphabetical order): Gomenech, Langeaux, Plaintel, Pledran, Plerin, Ploeuc-sur- Lie, Plouha, Quintin, Saint Brieuc, Trimerven, Vieux-Bourg and Yffiniac. There is a reasonable correspondence between this list and Table 2.

Monteil also analysed the geographical origin of French people married in the Parish Church of St Martin between 1850 and 1940. 25% were recorded as coming from Brittany, 37% from Manche, 1% from Paris and for 38% the region was not stated. The communes most frequently mentioned were St Brieuc (11 times), Portbail (9) and Saint Lo (5).

Longer term issues

The size of the French-born population fell steadily during the 20th Century from 6,011 (11.4% of the population) in 1901 to 1,093 (1.3% of the population) in 2001.

This reflects the gradual decline in the importance of the new potato industry and its replacement by tourism, and then finance, and more importantly by the growing prosperity of Brittany and Normandy, such that working for a season in Jersey became increasingly less attractive.

Jersey’s need for manual workers was gradually met by the Portuguese, mainly from Madeira, and more recently by the Poles. However, the French migrants have left their mark in the island – thousands of people who would describe themselves as being “true Jerseymen” being descended from an army of Breton and Norman agricultural labours whose wish to increase their earnings coincided with Jersey’s need for migrant labour to sustain its economy.

French nationals born in Ploeuc, registered in Jersey as aliens, under the Alien Restrictions Act 1920

Under the Alien Restrictions Act 1920, all aliens over the age of 16 had to register with the Immigration Officer no matter how long they had been living in Jersey. The largest commune recorded as a place of birth for those who registered was Ploeuc, 20km south of St Brieuc, which was the port of embarkation for Bretagne workers travelling to Jersey.

Following is a list of all those who registered together with their dates of birth. The information is taken from the Registration Records in the Jersey Archive, which only record those born prior to 1908.

Jean Francois Marie Allo 04/06/1894 Jean Marie Allo 12/09/1863 Pierre Francois Marie Allo 19/07/1876
Pierre Marie Allo 26/07/1883 Rosalie Allo 28/05/1870 Leon Busson ?/07/1862
Perene Cabaret 22/05/1874 Anne Marie Ballay 01/05/1889 Louis Marie Bannier 10/02/1879
Marie Baudet 06/06/1844 Josephine Belloeil 13/10/1852 Jeanne Bainard née Besnard 20/07/1872
Auguste Francoise Marie Bichard 17/08/1888 Victoire Francoise Bienvenu 04/02/1881 Victorine Francois Bienvenu 09/07/1851
Rosalie Le Blanc 06/06/1852 Louis Francois Blanchet 03/07/1870 Marie Rose Blanchet 22/03/1869
Yves Marie Francois Blanchet 20/07/1867 Anne Marie Boqueho née Nourry 20/11/1877 Anne Marie Buard 10/09/1897
Auguste Rene Buard 27/09/1867 Jeanne Marie Caurel née Blevet 28/03/1877 Jeanne Champion née Dominique 09/05/1897
Marguerite Chaperon née Lemeur ?/04/1921 Marie Louise Le Claire née Poisson 07/04/1867 Rosalie Le Cocq née Plevin 22/06/1872
Rosalie Collegny 16/12/1857 Rose Françoise Connan née Guillaume 26/06/1874 Anne Marie Cotard née Le Pape 19/11/1886
Victorine Coyen 07/08/1859 Melanie Marie David née Rault 07/07/1878 Pierre Marie David 08/05/1871
Anne Marie Davy 03/10/1853 Cecile Marie Rose Deffin 22/11/1878 Françoise Le Druillenec 11/05/1842
Jean Baptiste Marie Ecobichon 10/05/1875 Jean Marie Ecobichon 09/08/1870 Mathurin François Marie Ecobichon 30/06/1874
Victorine Ecobichon née Allo 23/07/1881 Josephine Françoise Etienne 01/01/1856 Jean Marie Eveilard 20/09/1860
Jean Marie Eveilard 20/09/1869 Rose Marie Eveilard 20/01/1861 Euphrosine Marie Le Feuvre 01/04/1864
Pierre Victor Marie Le Feuvre 20/01/1873 Yves Marie Le Gall 26/10/1842 Marie Francoise Gallais 08/09/1857
Honore Garnier 14/07/1861 Jean Baptiste Marie Garnier 13/11/1875 Honore Marie Georgelin 31/08/1869
Jean Baptiste Georgelin 09/03/1870 Jean Marie Georgelin 01/03/1894 Jean Marie Georgelin 23/02/1862
Joseph Marie Georgelin 25/04/1861 Rosalie Georgelin nèe Rimeur 09/05/1854 Jean Baptiste Gicquel 27/11/1883
Jeanne Gicquel 01/11/1848 Jeanne Marie Gorin 10/05/1874 Marie Anne Gorin 20/05/1837
Felix Marie Francois Gorvel 12/06/1879 Joseph Marie Gorvel 29/03/1871 Noel Francois Marie Gorvel 28/11/1859
Jeanne Marie Gouedard 03/10/1857 Pelagie Francoise Gouyet 18/07/1872 Anne Marie Guedard 19/05/1853
Victorine Guegon 24/06/1861 Jean Marie Guigo 19/10/1870 Pelagie Francoise Guivarch, née Le Pavoux 01/04/1872
Anne Marie Hamon 31/08/1855 Francois Marie Hamon 17/05/1873 Pierre Louis Marie Hamon 19/01/1854
Pierre Marie Hamon 10/06/1861 Yves Marie Hamon 15/05/1895 Yves Marie Guillaume Hamon 18/07/1885
Francois Marie Pierre Harzo 02/01/1871 Jean Baptiste Harzo 05/08/1889 Mathurin Victor Harzo born 14/08/1859
Emillie Marie Le Hegaret 22/02/1851 Francine Hennequin, née Gullierm 16/09/1878 Jeanne Marie Herve born 15/02/1851
Julien Herve born 01/07/1865 Marie Louise Herve 23/01/1850 Pierre Herve 03/03/1850
Josephine Marie Hidrio, née Bouvries 18/10/1883 Cecile Hillard, widow Quesnel, née Hello born 26/04/1895 Victor Hirel 05/07/1879
Marie Francoise Houssin born 18/04/1864 Louise Huet, née Darcel born on 12/06/1857 Marie Jacob, née Hamon born on 18/07/1885
Marie Louise de la Lande, née Le Borgne 06/07/1895 Marie Francois Marsoin 20/02/1860 Marie Francoise Martin 16/06/1851
Anne Marie Mauger, née Melette 04/07/1900 Victoire Marie Meheux, née Ruellan 02/09/1874 Jean Marie Mercier 10/05/1872
Joseph Marie Stanislast Mercier 07/05/1867 Josephine Marie Mercier 12/05/1866 Louis Marie Mercier 27/11/1867
Yves Marie Mirabel 23/06/1878 Marie Francoise Moisan, née Therin 31/07/1874 Victor Moisan 16/04/1858
Victor Marie Moisan 19/07/1872 Francois Marie Morel 11/09/1873 Pierre Marie Morel 19/09/1875
Aimée Marie Morin, née Gorvel 19/09/1876 Louis Marie Francois Morin 03/01/1985 Pierre Marie Morin 02/06/1862
Rose Morin 14/02/1855 Jean Baptiste Francois Moulin 11/07/1861 Marie Rose Pasturel 01/11/1875
Julien Marie Mathurine Le Pavoux 16/12/1869 Jeanne Marie Periot 06/07/1860 Joseph Marie Periot 14/03/1856
Marie Francoise Perrio née Allo 28/06/1880 Jeanne Marie Petra née Cadin 15/12/1881 Pelagie Pettiquin 01/04/1849
Jean Baptiste Peuch 26/11/1864 Jeanne Marie Peutequain 08/09/1855 Jean Marie Pleven/Plevin [?] 22/04/1864
Josephine Marie Plevin née Rault 15/02/1870 Mathurine Francoise Plevin 08/08/1874 Sainte Marie Francoise Plevin née Bienvenue 28/09/1868 /1920
Anne Marie Poisson née Riou or Heriot 11/02/1870 Rosalie Francoise Poisson 17/04/1857 Pierre Francois Marie Quemard 15/12/1868
Yves Marie Quentric 29/11/1869 Francois Marie Rabet 17/12/1852 Guillaume Rabet 04/1855
Jeanne Marie Rabet 04/09/1864 Marie Francoise Rabet 07/01/1867 Yves Marie Rabet 04/08/1854
James Roe alias Jacques Rault 1864 Louis Joseph Marie Rault 20/12/1863 Louis Marie Rault 31/10/1868
Louis Marie Francois Rault 10/12/1894 Mathurine Rault 14/06/1859 Sainte Rault née Rault 09/01/1870
Victoire Marie Francoise Rault née Hesry 08/01/1847 Yves Marie Augustin Rault 27/08/1883 Francois Mathurin Rebindaine 07/04/1859
Jean Marie Rebindaine 05/02/1859 Jeanne Marie Rebindaine 01/10/1867 Marie Louise Rebindaine née Plevin 27/03/1868
Marie Rose Rebindaine 24/03/1873 Pierre Marie Rebindaine 03/03/1863 Cecile Rebours née Beloeil 26/07/1856
Jean Francois Rebours 10/12/1859 Marie Louise Rebours 05/05/1857 Auguste Renault 12/05/1879
Euphrasie Marie Renouf née Jegoux 16/05/1897 Victorine Francoise Le Ribault 07/07/1867 Pelagie Francoise Richomme 03/09/1854
Jeanne Marie Rigoleur 13/10/1864 Francois Joseph Marie Rimeur 25/10/1866 Francois Marie Rimeur 29/05/1885
Marie Françoise Rimeur 30/05/1878 Jacques Marie Rimeur 18/03/1876 Jean Marie Rimeur 23/11/1864
Marie Francoise Rimeur 11/07/1867 Mathurin Rimeur 19/03/1872 Pierre Marie Casimir Rimeur 04/03/1864
Rose Francoise Rimeur née Ecobichon 06/03/1865 Rosalie Marie Francoise Rio née Therin 09/05/1887 Jean Joseph Riou 18/11/1881
Jeanne Marie Robert 20/05/1852 Yves Marie Rogon 23/05/1858 Euphrasia Marie Rolland née Rogon 06/06/1882
Julien Marie Rolland 01/03/1866 Victor Marie Rolland 16/03/1868 Rose Marie Rondel née Allo 10/09/1881
Jeanne Marie Ropert née Sangan 03/10/1866 Anne Marie Roscouet 28/07/1869 Victorine Marie Rouault 15/05/1880
Victoire Francoise Ruelland 01/06/1853 Anne Marie Saintilan née Milon widow Giard 25/08/1876 Isidore Marie Sangan 08/10/1875
A Marie Louise Sangan 25/04/1856 Marie Renne Sangan 09/10/1879 Pierre Marie Francois Sangan 01/02/1864
Anne Marie Soudet 13/11/1849 Euphrasie Tadier née Le Breton 29/09/1884 Pierre Francois Marie Talibard 04/04/1859
Jean Pierre Tanguy 03/02/1874 Jeanne Marie Tanguy 12/04/1874 Jeanne Marie Louise Teren 27/08/1849
Cyprien Francois Therin 20/09/1849 Eleonore Catherine Therin 06/06/1852 Jeanne Marie Therin 13/06/1870
Louise Marie Therin 11/07/1864 Pierre Therin 20/07/1887 Pierre Marie Francois Therin 04/06/1870
Jeanne Marie Thomas 02/05/1874 Anne Marie Jeanne Tirel née Herve 23/09/1859 Jeanne Marie Touzel 04/06/1851
Marie Treussard 18/05/1850 Anne Marie Francoise Turmel née Clairet 03/04/1872 Francois Marie Turmel 16/07/1865
Victor Marie Turmel 06/01/1885 Marie Therese Urvoy 16/10/1866 Catherine Francoise Le Vannais 18/09/1873
Pierre Marie Le Vannais 05/06/1875 Isabelle Francoise Vasselin 26/03/1855 Mathurine Marie Vauvert 24/12/1872
Pierre Francois Marie Visdeloup 15/03/1864
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