Herm

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Herm is the smallest of the Channel Islands that is open to the public and is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Cars are banned from the small island just like its neighbour, Sark. Unlike Sark, bicycles are also banned. However, Herm does allow quad bikes and tractors for the locals.

Herm won the 2002 and 2008 Britain in Bloom competition in the 'Small Coastal Resort' category.

Contents

History

Ancient history

Herm was occupied in prehistoric times; the remains of Neolithic chamber tombs have been found on the island.

Middle Ages

The first records of Herm's inhabitants in historic times are from the 6th century, when the island became a centre of monastic activity; the name 'Herm' supposedly derives from hermits who settled there (although an alternative interpretation derives Herm from Norse erm referring to an arm-like appearance of the island). However, the monks suffered from the inclement Atlantic; in 709, a storm washed away the strip of land which connected the island with the small uninhabited island of Jethou.

The most important moment in Herm's political history was 933, when the Channel Islands were annexed to the Duchy of Normandy (they remain a British Crown Dependency since the division of Normandy in 1204). After the annexation, Herm gradually lost its monastic inhabitants, and between 1570 and 1737 it was used as a hunting ground by the governors of Guernsey.

19th century to 1940

In the 19th century, industry arrived in Herm with the establishment of granite quarries to serve the large scale military fortifications undertaken in the islands. The island was let to tenants by the Crown and was generally off-limits to visitors. When Prince Blücher leased the island from the British government during the First World War, he introduced a colony of wallabies to the island.[1] None now survive.

Between 1920 and 1923, the noted Scottish writer and founder of the Scottish National Party Compton Mackenzie was tenant of the island; among his best known works are The Monarch of the Glen and Whisky Galore.

World War II

On 25 July 1940, a few weeks after the arrival of German troops in Guernsey and Jersey, nine German soldiers landed on the island in a commandeered motor boat to shoot a propaganda film. They went back to Guernsey the same day. Herm's sandy beaches were soon used for practising landings from barges, in preparation for the invasion of England, but otherwise the island saw little of the Germans beyond officers making trips to shoot rabbits. Herm was spared the huge concrete blockhouses, anti-tank walls and observation towers that were built on the larger islands.

During the occupation, Guernseyman Francis Martin Dickson lived on Herm with his wife, acting as caretaker, and was nicknamed ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by the Germans, who were presumably impressed by his enormous beard.

In the final tense few weeks of the war, Herm was host to one of the top Germans in the islands, who had fallen from grace. On 28 April 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Hans von Helldorf was banished to Herm by Vice Admiral Friedrich Hüffmeier for fear of plots against him. Von Helldorf had been under surveillance ever since his removal as Chief of Staff at the time that the ardent Nazi Hüffmeier had edged aside Lieutenant General von Schmettow as commander of the Channel Islands at the end of February 1945.

Operation Huckaback

This British military operation was originally planned for the night of 9/10 February 1943 as a simultaneous raid on Herm, Jethou and Brecqhou to take prisoners and gain general information about the situation in the occupied Channel Islands. It was to be carried out by 42 men from the Small Scale Raiding Force and No. 4 Commando, but was cancelled because of bad weather.

Huckaback was reinvented as a raid on Herm alone on the night of 27/28 February 1943. Ten men of the Small Scale Raiding Force under Captain P. A. Porteous VC landed 200 yards to the north-west of Selle Rocque on a shingle beach and made three unsuccessful attempts to climb the cliff in front of them. Porteous finally managed to climb up the bed of a stream and pulled the others up with a rope.

On reaching Belvoir House, they found it broken into and abandoned. The Old Tower of Herm and the Chateau were also deserted. They later reported that they had found no sign of any Islanders or Germans (who were supposed to be billeted near the harbour).

1945 to the present day

After the war, the States of Guernsey decided to buy Herm from the Crown in order that its pleasant atmosphere could be enjoyed by Guernsey residents. The States now rent the island to a tenant, who is expected to maintain the island for the benefit of its visitors.

The most influential tenant has been Major Peter Wood, who looked after the island from 1949 to 1980, after which Adrian and Pennie Wood Heyworth took over. Major Wood died in 1998.

It was reported by BBC News and Channel Television on 17 May 2008 that the tenants had put the remaining 40 years of their lease up for sale, with an asking price of £15,000,000. In September 2008 it was announced that Starboard Settlement, a trust, had acquired the remainder of the lease for considerably less than the asking price.[2] The trust formed a Guernsey company, Herm Island Ltd, to manage the island for the trustees.

Language

Like the rest of the Channel Islands, Herm was formerly officially administered solely in the French language. It is presumed that, as in neighbouring islands, the population would have spoken a variety of Norman French, but no documentary evidence exists as to any distinctive dialectal features particular to the vernacular of Herm. The Norman language is extinct in Herm now. It was eroded mainly by neglect, and also settlers from England. However, a number of French/Norman placenames remain.

Placenames

The Herm Island map, published by the tenant of Herm says -

"The origins of many of the place names in the island are obscure, as indeed is the name 'Herm' itself"

Over the years, there has been a steady anglicisation of the island's nomenclature, and this erosion still occurs to a minor extent, in the replacement of authentic names, with new ones e.g. the northern tip of the island is properly called "La Pointe du gentilhomme" but is often referred to as "Alderney Point".

Fieldnames are generally in English, with the following exceptions - "Monku", "Belvoir", and "Bon Jour".

Remnants of Old Norse are scanty, but examples would be the second element of Pointe Sauzebourge on the south west tip of the island, while the rock of "Le Plat Houmet" contains the Houmet (holmr) with a Norman diminutive.

"Hermetier", a tidal islet just offshore, may be a corruption of the Norman for "Land of Herm".

Politics

Herm is a dependency of Guernsey, and is in fact owned by the States of Guernsey, being rented out to various tenants (see List of tenants of Herm). Unlike the largely autonomous islands of Sark and Alderney within the Bailiwick, Herm is administered entirely by the States of Guernsey,[3] and elects members to the States of Deliberation as part of the St Peter Port South electoral district.[4]

Geography and geology

Herm is only 1½ miles long and less than half a mile wide. It is oriented so that its greatest length runs north-south. The northern half of the coastline is surrounded by sandy beaches, the southern half is rocky.

Shell Beach and Belvoir Bay are two of the major tourist attractions.

The isle of Jethou is just to the south. It is said that in 709 AD a storm washed away the strip of land which connected the island with Herm.[5]

To the west is the channel Little Roussel (Petit Ruau) between it and Guernsey, and the Big Roussel (Grand Ruau) to the east, between it and Sark.

Much of Herm's bedrock is granite.

Economy and buildings

Tourism is Herm's main source of income, with the majority of tourists arriving on one of the Trident catamaran ferries (Herm Trident V and Herm Trident VI) operated by the Trident Charter Company. On some busy days, the Herm Clipper is also called into service. Herm contains the historic White House Hotel.

Money is also made from vegetable growing, livestock and occasionally issuing its own stamps.[6]

Demographics

The local demography tends towards the elderly, with few 18-30 olds living in the island at any given time. However during the summer months, workers come over to be employed in the beach kiosks or the White House Hotel or the Mermaid Tavern.

References

  1. Blücher, Evelyn. An English Wife in Berlin. E. P. Dutton & Company, 1920, p. vii.
  2. New Herm tenants vow to keep it open to all >> Herm >> News >> This Is Guernsey
  3. http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/docs/ICESCR-report-part1.pdf
  4. http://www.gov.gg/ccm/navigation/government/general-election---23-4-2008/
  5. Herm Home Page
  6. Modern British Locals CD Catalogue, 2009 edition

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