Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 11
The Court House
Where the Court House now stands was the site of the old "Cohue”. No record of its construction exists, but that it was a very ancient building may be gathered from what the old Jersey Chronicler, Jean Chevalier, has to say about it in his interesting diary.
- C'etait un pauvre battiment, bati on ne sait quand, a chaux et a sable, avec fort peu d'apparence, resemblant une grange par dehors. It was a square building, devoid of ornament, covered with thatch, and having only a ground floor. In 1647, when Chevalier wrote, it was in a state of absolute decay and it was due to the enterprise of Sir George Carteret that in that year on 12 July, workmen were set to work to pull it down and to erect a more commodious building on its site.
It may be interesting to see how our forefathers proceeded to carry out a public work of this nature. In the first place the inhabitants were called upon to work gratuitously to bring up all the necessary building materials, while only the skilled workmen were paid. The Viscount had to look after the building material and to pay these workmen, and Thomas Durell had to keep a tally of the work done each day.
The States directed that two Jurats or Constables should act in turn each day as Clerks of the Works, to keep an eye on the masons, pour avoir sur les masons, says Chevalier ce qui fut continue tout le temps que les masons y furent.
The stone required for the new building was brought from Mont Mado and from the Town Hill, the rafters and wood from Normandy, the paving stones from Swanage. (Acte des Etats, 8 April 1647).
Here is Chevalier's description of the new Court House or Cohue:
- On fit faire le devant à pierre de taille et le haut levé en pavilion etant à doubler avec deux foyers par le cote de derriere, et y avait deux rangées de fenestres et trois lucernes aux hault et une petite piramide aux hault en facon de clocher pour y pandre une cloche pour advertir le monde lorsque on asseroit la Court.
- Aussi Sire George fit faire une couronne de fer pour mettre aux hault du clocher, laquelle fit paindre en feuille d'or; lorsque le soleil donnoit de sus, cela donnoit un grand rayon qui esblouissoit les yeus des seppectateurs; laquelle couronne fut enlevé en l’an 1651 a la venue de l'armée, puis portée en Guernesey, et en l'an 1661 rapportée de Guernesey par Sire Philippe de Carteret auquel les Guernesiez la rendirent apprés que le Roy fut restabli sur son trone, laquelle fut replacez sur ladite Cohue et y est maintenant comme elle estoit auparavant.
The bells of the Court House were obtained from Granville by Sir George Carteret, who took the opportunity of also obtaining two other bells, one for Fort Charles at Elizabeth Castle and the other for St Aubin's Tower.
The cost of the building was defrayed out of the fines inflicted on delinquents brought before the Court and also from the proceeds of the sale of the property belonging to Parliamentarians confiscated by the Royal Commissioners.
Chevalier tells us that Sir George Carteret held the sittings of the Royal Court, while the work of reconstruction was proceeding, in a room over the Market:
- Sire George tint la Cour sur les Halles à la chambre du bout de l'Est.
Whether this was the "Halle à viande " or the " Halle à Blé" is not quite clear, but probably the former. The room must have been of small dimensions for we are informed by Chevalier that the suitors had to wait outside in the Market Place until the Greffier called their names, as the cases came on, from the window.
On 27 April 1648 the New Court House was opened with great ceremony by Sir George and on 11 November the Royal Arms and those of Lord Jermyn, the Governor and of Sir George himself were placed over the main entrance.
This building lasted until 1760 when it was replaced by the Court House which stood there until 1864. The building erected in 1761 had two stories also surmounted by a belfry, the bell used to ring before the sitting of the Court and being apparently cracked, was deemed by contemporaries to echo the word chicane in allusion to the intolerable delays in judicial proceedings which were characteristic of the first half of the 19th century.
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