Nicolle history of St Helier - Chapter 13
The streets of the town
Let us resume the story of the town. Some of the old names of the streets are peculiar and were generally distinctive of the peculiarities of the locality.
Old and new names
Church Street was known to our forefathers as Rue Trousse Cotillon, so called because its dirty state necessitated the ladies tucking up their skirts in passing through it. Hill Street was known as Rue de Haut and Rue des Trois Pigeons. The latter was probably derived from some tavern, formerly existing in that street, which bore that sign.
Rue de Haut would seem to have been the more ancient name, being found in a deed of 1481. Regent Road was Rue Froid Vent, because it is exposed to the east wind. Broad Street was first known as Rue d'Egypte, probably because of the residence therein of Jews. It afterwards came to be called Grande Rue. Brook Street was Rue du Petit Douet.
The corner of the Westminster Bank, New Cut, then a cul-de-sac, was called Coin-es-Anes and almost opposite in Library Place was Coin-es-Cochons, so designated because donkeys and pigs respectively were herded in these spots, while their owners were transacting their business in the Market Place.
The extremities of the town, that is La Motte Street (Rue de la Motte) and Charing Cross were called Les issues de la ville - the outlets of the town. York Street was known as Rue à la Planque Billot because a bridge had been constructed over the brook or Faux Bie, facing the house of one Billot. The memoirs of La Cloche tell us this bridge was constructed in 1633.
Beyond York Street were Rue de Hue (Hue Street), Vieux Chemin (Old Street) and Les Hemies (Le Geyt Street). On the Faux Bie near Les Hemies was a mill called Moulin de l'Hermitte. It was the same as Petit Moulin du Prieur, its older appellation, and had belonged to the Abbey of St Helier in its flourishing days.
A few more instances of ancient names may be interesting. New Street was first called Neuve Rue, but afterwards came to be known as Rue Durell and then again as Chemin Neuf. Vine Street was, of course, Rue des Vignes. A lane leading from King Street to Broad Street, now widened where the Mitre Hotel is today, was named Ruette Haguais, probably after a family of that name.
Green Street was Verte Rue; Roseville Street, Rue du Long Bouet;; St Clement's Road, Rue des Ronces; La Chasse, Rue de Madagascar.
The entrance to St Helier from the parish of St Clement by Georgetown was known as Rue des Alleurs.
The streets of the town, with the exception of Grande Rue, were narrow. They were unpaved and had no paths for the use of pedestrians. Drainage was bad and in the winter months the streets were well nigh impassable. Many ordinances of the Court bear witness to this. It was not until the 17th century that the inhabitants were ordered to pave at their cost the roads and streets in front of their respective houses and properties.
Under such conditions it is not surprising to learn that the plague broke out in the town on several occasions. In 1518 so terrible was the epidemic that the Court and Markets had to be transferred to Grouville and the town was for some time deserted. In 1540 and again in 1592 similar visitations are recorded. In 1540 the Court ordered that no meeting of the Court, no markets, no fairs, nor any other assembly should be held in the town.
Those who attended the sick were obliged to wear a red cross on the right shoulder. Vagabonds going about the country were to be flogged and put in the stocks, and pedlars were not to go from house to house under severe penalties. In 1592 the Court was also held out of town and the townspeople were prohibited from frequenting any meetings whatsoever.
But our forefathers do not seem to have learned the lesson they should have, and for many years after, even in the 18th century, the town appears to have been in a deplorable condition from a sanitary point of view. Although in 1688 an official had been appointed and sworn to keep the town clean, an Act of the States of 1 February 1692 complained of the bad state of the streets and roads.
It was customary for the inhabitants to deposit all kinds of dirt in the streets and it was deemed urgent to pass by-laws to remedy these abuses. But the provisions made for the cleansing of the town seem to have been entirely inadequate.
It will be seen that progress in town improvements was slow during the 17th century. When Charles II visited Jersey in 1646 as Prince of Wales and in 1649 as King, he resided at Elizabeth Castle, but it was with great difficulty that accommodation was found in the town for the members of his suite. There were not sufficient beds to be found, nor bedding, and it was ordered that each of the country parishes should furnish St Helier with two or three beds.
Even then so small were the resources of the island to meet the requirements of so large an influx of distinguished visitors that some of the servants of the King and his attendant lords had to sleep in the open, so Chevalier informs us. The same authority tells of the difficulties at first experienced in providing food for the Royal party.
To ensure a steady supply of provisions at fixed prices, the butchers and farmers were ordered to bring their meat and vegetables to the "Halles" on market days by nine o'clock in the morning, and they were prohibited from selling to any but the purveyors of the Prince and the Lords of his suite until noon had struck. The Island fishermen were also ordered to bring all their fish to market, and it was directed that on the other days of the week the inhabitants of the country parishes were to supply, in turn, the Castle with such provisions as were required, at a fixed price.
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