From the Jersey Tourism website
The mediaeval town of St Helier grew up on the seashore long before there was a harbour, with its back to the heights of Mont de la Ville, which overlooked it, and provided grazing for sheep as well as a ‘lookout platform’ long before it was fortified. The Parish Church of St Helier grew over the years to serve the occupants of the small town, with narrow roads and houses clustered around an open space which was roughly triangular in shape - today’s Broad Street and Royal Square.
The first shops were stalls set up in this area, which was part of the Fief du Prieur du L’Islet, possibly at the behest of the Prior who would have been an important figure, and one to benefit from granting such a privilege. In time, the market was probably licenced by the King, and in the days of Edward I, II and III, represented by Justices who regularly visited the Islands replenishing the Royal Exchequer as they confirmed ancient privileges, liberties and franchises, including markets and fairs, and licence to trade, as well as fulfiling their judicial rôle.
Gradually, trade was focussed around the Corn Market - La Halle au Blé - which was rebuilt near the church at the end of the market place, replacing an old wooden shed, at the end of the 17th century. This was done at the expense of Suzanne Dumaresq, Dame de la Haule, in exchange for permission to build a house above it. The fine granite vaulted arches remain, and the building is now used as the Registrar’s Office. The Corn Market ceased when imported wheat became the norm, rather than home-grown.
Le Vièr Marchi
At the eastern end of the market place (now the Royal Square) lived Jean Chevalier, who kept a diary of events during the English Civil War when the future King Charles II twice visited Jersey during his exile, and when the market place would have thronged with Royalists and courtiers. Known as ‘Lé Vièr Marchi’ in the vernacular, the old market continued for a long time in the space which today is known as the Royal Square.
The Butter Market - the Marché au Lard - was opposite the Corn Market, and nearby were the butcher’s stalls, the Halle au Viande, or ‘shambles’. In 1668 the market was paved for the first time. Saturday was the busy market day, with goods being brought into the town from outlying areas. The church bell rang to announce the opening of the market. The market opened at 6am in summer, 8am in winter.
The opening of the Corn market was indicated by the ringing of a bell by the Market Inspector. Strict regulations were enforced concerning the price of wheat, which was linked to an official rate. Measures of capacity were specified for grain, apples, coal and liquids - the cabot, demycabot and sixtonnier, and pots, quarts, pints and noggins. Farmers had always weighed their produce on a balance using real stone weights. La verge, the yard, was standardised at three feet, rather than four - but in those days there were only eleven inches to a Jerseyman’s foot.
Bakers were obliged to make loaves of regulation size and the price was fixed. Butchers had to obey the terms of their licence, and were forbidden to smoke in the Meat Market. A system of fines to be levied for infractions was laid down in Law. Taverners were charged to keep at least two beds for strangers, and not to permit drunkenness or fighting, not to serve the poor, vagabonds or idlers, but to inform the police of any rowdy behaviour. The Bailiff or his Lieutenant had the onerous duty of tasting all wine before it was offered for sale!
In the market place
The fine houses facing the Royal Court, Les Maisons du Marché, were built at the end of the 17th century by two generations of the Patriache family. The two public houses and other buildings in the area are of a similar age. Some householders provided an area for the market stalls along the front of their property.
Prisoners, marched to the Court from the old castle at Gorey, guarded by halbardiers, would await trial in a wooden cage nearby. Punishment - for offences including adultery – included flogging, from the Court House to the Church door. There was a pillory in the market, and stocks in the churchyard awaited any beggars who came from another parish. More serious criminals would be hanged on the hill to the west of the town, known as Mont Patibulaire - ‘Sinister Hill’. In 1648 two ‘witches’ were strangled and burnt in the market place, such were the superstitions of the age. A prison was eventually built, and gradually conditions improved.
Battle in the market place
On 6 January 1781, the French were routed in the Battle of Jersey, the action taking place all around the statue of the King in the market place.
Near the Royal Square, old names of streets such as Coin-ès-Anes recall the places where donkeys were kept, or pigs in another corner. Church Street, sloping between the buildings, acquired the name Rue Trousse Cotillon, suggesting that it was necessary “to tuck up petticoats” rather than trail in the mire. Crossing the road to the market place from the church must have been unpleasant, with an open watercourse adding to the stickiness created underfoot in those days of horse transport. It was filthy.
The market place grew too large and busy, causing disruption - such as pigs careering around the cemetery - and there was a lack of dignity and decorum outside the Court House and Church. A new site had to be found as the population continued to increase and the town grew in size. In the days when produce came live to the market, it would have been noisy too, with poultry and other livestock competing with the cries of the vendors.
The new market
The States decided to transfer public markets from the Royal Square to the present sites on 10 May 1800. The Comité du Marché eventually found a spacious site on what was to become Halkett Place and the first formal market was built in 1803-06, funded by seven lotteries.
In those days the market was an open-air affair, with shed roofs on hefty pillars of local granite forming an arcade surrounding the gated compound. It was modelled on the market in the City of Bath. According to John Stead’s Picture of Jersey written in 1809, “It forms an extensive oblong, the front is an elegant entrance of three gates, four massy stone columns with an iron palisade running the whole length of the area... the whole paved with Swanage stone... order and cleanliness prevail throughout”. Thomas Lyle described it as “one of the finest markets in Europe”. There were 40 stalls which were let according to a law of 1808, for a rental of 6d per day - in old Jersey money. The market was open daily.
The market, other properties in the area and the roads known as Halkett Place and Halkett Street were all constructed on land acquired by the public from François Le Maistre on 28 September 1799 and from Sarah Fiott on 20 June 1800.
This market was replaced in 1881-82 by the new Central Market, which is still in use today.
The present building was constructed in 1881 as part of the Battle of Jersey centenary celebrations. The design was chosen in an architectural competition and the building took more than two years to complete. Designed by Thomas W Helliwell, of Helliwell & Bellamy, of Brighouse in Yorkshire, the Market buildings as they are now were opened on 9 September 1882.
The market covers an area of 33,600 square feet, is enclosed within railings set in gabled granite arches. There are seven gated entrances. The ironwork was supplied by J Dyson of Elland, another Yorkshire firm. Thirty-seven cast iron pillars topped with coats-of-arms set in ornamental struts support the octagonal glazed roof. Modern, lightweight panels now replace the original 80 tons of glass, but still admit the light, creating a bright and airy space. Goods are shaded from hot sun by slates which cover the south-facing pitches of the roof.
Local craftsmen played their part, with Jersey granite being used for the fine exterior of arched stone gables, topped with fancy iron finials, providing attractive façades on two streets. Beresford Street, named in honour of the 19th century Lord Beresford, who was the last Governor of Jersey, and Halkett Place, named in honour of Sir Colin Halkett, hero of the Peninsular War and Waterloo, and a long-serving Lieut-Governor of the island in the years of peace that followed.
Two original pairs of gates were placed in the south entrance to the old Pork Market, in Hilgrove Street, and in the east, Market Street, entrance. These gates are works of art, decorated with colourful birds, animals and bunches of grapes dividing the iron bars. These are the work of local iron-founder George Le Feuvre, (the name means ‘the smith’) to the design of Philippe Le Sueur, the States Architect, and were made for the earlier market on this site.
Everyone who had a market stall had to pay sixpence a day to the Inspector. There were about 40 stalls selling fruit and vegetables, flowers, poultry and meat.
There are units in the Central Market numbered from 1-124, but there are no longer units numbered 45, 46, 98, 99, 100 or 108 as they have been incorporated into the refuge store and other adjacent retail units. 15 of the units have cellars beneath them.
There are 9 Market Traders in the Fish Market and 38 Market Traders in the Central Market (including Trading Standards and Hub Europe (formerly Jersey Post's Post Office)).
Located outside the Post Office, close to the central fountain, is a Victorian pillar-box, first designed in 1866 by John Wornham Penfold. For a small fee the Weights and Measures Office next door offers a personal weighing service. The Post Box was moved from Fort Regent in around 1972 when the Post Office was first established in the Central Market.
The central fountain is 15 feet high, constructed in three tiers with water cascading into a deep pool below. The surrounding pool was designed by a local man, Abraham Viel, and the fountain itself is one of possibly six identical fountains built by John Dyson in Yorkshire, and cast at the Glasgow Sun Works foundry of George Smith. The pump for the fountain is located in the far corner of the basement beneath the Weighing Room.
The fountain, originally placed to provide a water source, (thought to be on the site of an old vivier or fish pond on private land), creates a colourful focal point which delights visitors of all ages. A black and white photograph taken on glass plates shows the market in its early days, with the fountain gushing, or clad like a wedding cake in winter ice. The fountain is emptied of coins every two to three weeks, and raises approximately £5,000 for a host of charities each year.
Some histories of the fountain refer to there having been three constructed to the same design, one for Jersey's market, one for Ironbridge, Shropshire, and one lost at sea. This information is incorrect, however. There is no similar fountain in Ironbridge. There are four others and a fifth was lost at sea.
One of the fountains can be found in People's Park, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, Ireland; a second can be found in The Square, Fochabers, Moray, Scotland; a third can be found in Kandy, Sri Lanka; a fourth is just the lower half of a similar fountain at The Mall, Victoria Jubilee Hall, Lahore, Pakistan; and the other is documented as having been lost at sea on its way to Australia.
The cattle market, which had long been conducted on the seashore below the Town Church, now moved into the town, and was held nearby, first in the open, an area which is now Cattle Street, and later, in a closed yard.
A separate market was held at Saint Aubin, the first record being in 1583. Monday is recorded as being the market day there. A market was built there in 1771, and reconstructed in 1826 with the proceeds of lotteries. There was also accommodation for the St Brelade Fire Engine and lock-up cells for prisoners. Part of the premises were later demolished to allow the railway track to be extended. The remainder, much rebuilt, is now a bank.
During the Governorship of Sir Walter Raleigh a ‘soldiers market’ had been established at Gorey, at the gate of Mont Orgueil Castle. There was also a market for Elizabeth Castle. From the 17th century, knitted goods were also sold in the market - thousands of pairs of stockings being bought by merchants for export to France and Spain, and waistcoats for the English market.
Another local man, Abraham Viel, installed the fountain, cast at the Glasgow Sun Works foundry of Geo Smith. It is unique and extraordinary: fifteen feet high, three tiers cascading into a deep pool below, with delightful cherubic figures leaning on water-jars, ready to disturb the goldfish with their paddles. Some like to toss a coin into the fountain’s pool - perhaps with a wish - and the money is gathered up in aid of local charities.
The fountain, originally placed to provide a water source, (thought to be on the site of an old vivier or fish pond on private land), creates a colourful focal point which delights visitors of all ages. A black and white photograph taken on glass plates shows the market in its early days, with the fountain gushing, or clad like a wedding cake in winter ice.
Across Beresford Street is the walk-through Beresford Market, better known as the fish market. Built in 1841, restored in 1873, 1936 and again in 1972, this market is much smaller now than in past decades, reduced to 10,000 square feet, but it still provides a feast for the eyes as well as the table with fresh local fish, and other imported varieties.
Picture of the past
An old photograph on the wall pictures demure ladies in long skirts and straw boaters - remember, however, that these were the fish-wives, with sharp knives - and sharp tongues, no doubt! They are surrounded by conger eels, a much prized catch, once the prerogative of medieval kings who taxed the poor fishermen. The firm, oily meat was regarded as a delicacy. Ancient skills, perhaps introduced by the Viking invaders or their descendant Normans, meant it could be salted and dried, and preserved throughout the winter when fishing was difficult. In the 17th century, the Island was described as the ‘Kingdom of Congers’.
Fishermen, having sold the best cut of meat - the entire tail - were left with just the bony conger’s head - and a jaw full of teeth that could still snap when severed from its body! But the conger’s head is the chief ingredient for the fish soup, rich and full-flavoured, which local tradition decrees you must decorate with a scattering of marigold petals.
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