La Tourelle

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This article by Joan Stevens, author of Old Jersey Houses, was first published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1966

Restoration

An old photograph of La Tourelle before alterations were made

Many of our oldest and most beautiful houses have of recent years undergone drastic restoration, which in many cases was urgently needed. Granted it is a costly business, but what is not? And one could hardly hope to create or acquire a perfect ancient house, converted to luxurious modern living, without considerable cost.

La Tourelle, at Faldouet, St Martin, has recently been restored, and so well done that it might serve as an example to all would he restorers. In addition, it has been in the present owner's famly for several generations, The area is quite an ancient settlement, for opposite, at La Hauteur, there is a window lintel dated 1662, and just to the south there is another fine old farmhouse, Houguemont, whose round arch probably dates before 1600; and at Grasfort, an early round arched entrance has been altered in 1725, for the convenience of carts laden with loads of hay or corn who found the arch too low.

There was a house here as early as 1331, and there was a chapel, dedicated to St Barbe, nearby, which was sold by the King's Commissioners in 1550.

La Tourelle after restoration. Note the crenellations added to the top of the tourelle

La Tourelle is perhaps deceptive, for you might think that it is very big; in fact, it is basically the traditional four rooms on two storeys.

Local houses do give this false impression, largely because of the granite walls, which can be anything from 3 feet to 8 feet thick at the gable ends.

The builders of the period designed their walls to last, but they needed great strength to compensate for the lack of foundations and of lime mortar.

Double arch

The farmyard is entered through a double round arch, with the initials IAB and AG, his wife, and the date 1745, an unusually late date for this type of entrance. The unidentified owner at the time was probably Jean Aubin.

From whatever angle this house is seen, the most striking thing about it is the tourelle which gives it its name. It is the most remarkable example to have survived, and is circular with its small window surrounds chiselled to conform with the curve.

The doorways leading to the bedrooms are of finely cut granite, and the landing is composed of gigantic stone slabs.

Pigeon keeping

The upper portion has four rows of pigeon nests. The right to keep pigeons (droit de colombier ), which were no respecters of property, and fed on the neighbour's corn, was jealously guarded, and usually only accorded to Seigneurs of Fiefs, or their eldest sons.

It has not been possible, as yet, to discover who lived here and gained this coveted permission, but the tower could easily be 400 years old.

Keeping pigeons was important at a time when the Island was self-supporting for food, and when meat was scarce during the winter, as much stock was slaughtered in the autumn because of lack of winter fodder. The introduction of turnips for this purpose caused a revolution in farming.

A door in the wall of the tower, now blocked, doubtless would have been served by an outer flight of steps, to enable those collecting the pigeons or their eggs to get there without going through the main house.

The front of the house, later than the tower, but of a venerable age, has one of the round arches which are the very epitome of our local architecture. In this case, like the other stone doorways in the house, it is very low, under 6 feet which must be most inconvenient for the present, very tall, owner.

If you look carefully, you will see that the upstairs window on the right has a carefully moulded projecting window sill, indicating the master's bedrooms.


La Tourelle
La Tourelle in 1841 by George Bandinel
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