Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 12

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The parish church and town houses

The Parish Church of St Helier, with its fine square tower, which served in those days as a beacon to mariners, stood in the centre of what was then a spacious cemetery. In the church the Parish Assembly met; the church was also used as the parish arsenal and at the church door after divine service on a Sunday it was the custom to take the votes of the electors in a public election.

Multi-purpose

There was but one common faith. The Holy Day of the Church was the holiday of the people. The fabric served in many respects the purposes of the present day club room or institute. It was often used for entertainments, such as the mystery plays.

Dancing took place in the nave at festival seasons, and the children danced round a maypole. But it must be quite understood that if the church served for these uses, it was without any thought of irreverence. The rood-screen shut off the high altar. Civic buildings did not exist and in the parish church was found a substitute. When considering the secular uses to which our parish churches were applied, we must clearly understand that the standard of reverence for holy places was of a different nature in days of yore from what it has been for several generations.

We should be quite false to history if we imagined that customs within consecrated walls which could now be regarded as acts of impiety, were proofs of our ancestors' lack of devotion. They would have been amazed at our notion of locking up from week's end to week's end the parish church of the people. That is a modern idea of decorum, happily not obtaining on the Continent.

Near the church and adjoining Chapelle de la Madelaine, in the rear of the building in Church Street which was formerly the Public Library, and is now occupied by the office of the States Treasurer, stood the Rectory in the midst of a large fruit and flower garden. There the Rectors of St Helier resided until 1842, when the new Rectory in David Place was built.

Granite dwellings

The dwellings of the principal inhabitants of the Town were massive granite structures, none more than two storeys high and covered with thatch. The solid masonry of the walls was seldom less than three feet thick, the doorways were of hewn stone arches, such as we may still see in the country. The windows were not much larger than loop-holes and the casements were latticed. The access to the upper storey was usually gained by a flight of stone steps built against the exterior of the back of the house.

Examples of this mode of construction are still to be seen. A very interesting one disappeared some years ago in the Parish of St Saviour. I refer to the home and birthplace of the Rev Philippe Falle, the Historian of Jersey.

The interior arrangements of the dwellings of our forefathers seem to have been as rude as those of the exterior. Huge beams of oak supported the low dingy appartments, the ceilings of which were bare; the ground floors were generally neither paved nor boarded. The dwellings of the poorer classes were little better than mud hovels, covered with thatch. The people to a grteat extent lived in the open and their houses were merely places of shelter, the comforts of which were very meagre.

Every cottage and farmhhouse had its lit de fouaille or jonquere, a sort of fixed bench, sofa or divan, generally placed in a recess between the hearth and a window. It was raised from the ground about 18 inches and thickly strewed with dried fern.

After the labours of the day were over the men and women here reposed and sat during the long winter nights when engaged in knitting or sewing, with the enjoyment of a good fire of wood or dried seaweed.

Manoir de la Motte

Unfortunately very few old buildings now remain in St Helier, they have nearly all disappeared before the march of civilisation, but adjoining the shop which now forms the corner of Grosvenor and St James Streets, and bordering on the former, you may still see an ancient building of considerable interest and antiquity. In the 15th century it was called the Manor of St Helier, and in later times Le Manoir de La Motte and sometimes Maison la Motte.

In 1476 it belonged with its pigeon house and other manorial appurtenances to Raulin Lempriere, who in June of that year sold it to Perrotin Tehy. An authenticated copy of the deed of sale is to be found in the Public Registry and has been published by the Societe Jersiaise.

The fine granite front has, in recent years, sad to relate, been cemented over, while the interior has undergone modern embellishments, which have obliterated the distinctive features of this remarkable old house; but a mere examination of the gables which are no less than six feet thick, the square tower with its stone staircase (now covered over with boards) and its small square windows, shows clearly that the building is of early construction. It would certainly appear to date from the commencement of the 15th century.

The deed of sale is dated 1476, so that we cannot err in asserting that the house is five centuries old. While it remained in the Tehy family it came to be known as the liaison de Tehy. It was reacquired by the Lempriere family, and on 23 April 1612, under the division of the estate of Nicolas Lempriere, it became the property of Jeanne Lempriere, wife of Thomas de Soullemont, who was Constable of St Helier from 1590 to 1597. It is designated in the contract as Le Manoir maison et menage de Tehy a la Motte.

In the 17th century it passed into the family of Solomon Journeaux and then into that of Jean Dumaresq. On 18 October 1799 it was sold by William Dumaresq to Charles Chevalier as Maison de la Motte. At the time of the Battle of Jersey it was Government House and it was here that Major Corbet the Lieut-Governor, was made a prisoner of war by the French.


Nicolle: The Town of St Helier
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