Noirmont Manor

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Jersey houses

St Brelade:

Noirmont Manor


Advert for a picnic in the grounds in 1855

'Noirmont House' by Charles Bessel in 1827

The present manor house at Noirmont was built in 1810, after the demolition of the earlier manor, which had been built in about 1700, on the site of a still earlier house. Dating from this period, perhaps, were two loop-holes in old garden walls, looking out over the sloping valley towards the sea, a back yard made from Belcroute cobblestones and a side-gate with 17th century chamfers.

Pipon family

The history of the fief goes back much further, however. It had belonged to the Abbots of Mont St Michel in the Middle Ages, before passing, by confiscation, to the Crown. It was then granted in 1643 by the Crown to Sir George Carteret, for having assisted in the release of English sailors held prisoner on the Barbary Coast. It was sold by his grandson to the wool merchant Elie Pipon, in 1696. It was Elie Pipon`s son Philippe, who built the first manor house, and his descendants lived there for almost 200 years.

The family was a branch of the Pipons of St Peter, one branch of which had already settled in St Brelade in the previous century, at nearby La Moye.

In 1880, the manor and fief were sold by the Revd Clement Collier Pipon to Girard de Quetteville, a Jersey-born East India broker, whose extensive tree-planting program converted much of the otherwise barren Noirmont heath, with seaward slopes, to woodland, much of which still survives. He also built the manor`s oak panelled and ceilinged library, parallel to the conservatory, at ground level, joining the main house to the vinery wall. De Quetteville died fifteen years later, a bachelor, bequeathing his property to one of his his brothers, the Revd William de Quetteville.

Guy de Gruchy

On William de Quetteville`s death in 1909, the manor and fief again changed hands. The buyer was another expatriate Jerseyman, Guy Fortescue Burrell de Gruchy, who had lived in Brazil for 20 years, as a member of that country`s British merchant community. On leaving Brazil for the final time, he brought with him a selection of that country`s urns and vases and some seeds in his pocket of a palm tree he particularly admired. One of these, grown from scratch, has been a source of admiration for many decades, standing to this day just behind the manor gates, to the left. It can be seen in two of the pictures, below.

De Gruchy followed the Pipon tradition, in serving both as Constable of St Brelade and Jurat, and wrote, in the manor library, his definitive study of medieval Jersey, Medieval Land Tenures in Jersey. The seigneurial court was revived, for the benefit of the tenants or land-holders of the fief. He also prepared his intended book on the birds of the Channel Islands, but realizing that his health was failing, he passed it instead, to his protégé, Roderick Dobson, to publish. On his death, his daughter Hope May de Gruchy, inherited manor and fief.

German Occupation

The German Occupation of Jersey during the Second World War saw much of Noirmont warren, ending at the Point, converted into a fortress, covered with barbed wire, and mined. The strategically placed manor house was allowed to remain in the possession of Guy de Gruchy, and later of his widow, Catherine May Miller, for two reasons: first, due to the personal intervention of their friend and neighbour, Alexander Coutanche, the Island`s Bailiff, and second because the German Colonel von Helldorf hoped to reserve it for himself, after the war was over. He was aware of the likely state of the house, had German troops used it as a barracks.

The Germans levelled the lower part of the flower garden, to house a wooden barrack, creating at the same time a cement-rendered latrine against the wall adjoining Belcroute Hill. Twenty metres away was an air-raid shelter. A WW1-style infantry trench crossed the main lawn on a north-south axis, parallel to the coastline at Belcroute. Near the top of the large copper-beech that stood ten metres away from the veranda, was a wooden machine-gun position, accessed by iron rungs beaten into the trunk of the tree.

The top of Belcroute slip received a concrete gun emplacement, a captured French gun, and steel anti-tank barriers. The adjoining knoll, known as Le Dget, the site of a former militia guardhouse, overlooking the beach and Le Vauvarin as far as St Aubin, received an underground munitions store, with a concrete passage leading to firing positions, at different levels, for machine-gunners firing in the direction of Le Vauvarin.

The warrant officer and sergeant in charge of Le Dget, from the distinctive appearance of one and smell of the other, were known to Mrs de Gruchy and her daughter, Noèmi, as the 'Bloodhound' and the 'Skunk'.

It was a source of some amusement to the family that men quartered in the former seigneurial barn or grange, behind the house and its rose garden, had installed a field telephone system and, as it did not work well, could be heard shouting into their mouthpieces, trying to be heard by either the Bloodhound or Skunk at the other side of the garden, who could be heard yelling back, the house being in between. Apparently shouting, yelling and running about was a feature of the Occupation years, in a garden and valley accustomed to the sound of the sea and the cry of gulls.

On one occasion, two soldiers were caught by Mrs de Gruchy, 'scrumping' greengages. This, even in wartime, was theft, so the men were taken to the sergeant, who called the Lieutenant at Noirmont Point, who duly charged them.

Less enjoyable perhaps was Thursday afternoon artillery practice, which involved the gun on top of the slip, in addition to those on the Point. All shutters needed closing and ears had to be covered. Noèmi de Gruchy, who was inclined to be sound-sensitive, found it a particular trial.

May de Gruchy resented intensely the German presence, and was not one to hide it. One afternoon two strangers walked round, unannounced, from the front yard to the veranda, where Mrs de Gruchy was reading a book on a reclining chair. The elder of the two 'clicked' his heels and stated that he was Colonel Knackfuss. An onlooker said she "paused from reading, looked at him and said coldly: 'I have read your name in the newspaper'."

Post-war sale

At the end of the war, such was the public and tourist interest in the fortifications at Noirmont Point, and such was the damage to the garden and fabric of the manor house and its outbuildings, that it was decided to sell the Point, Warren Farm, and its fields to the people of Jersey, as the Island government was, at the time, searching for a suitable war memorial to those Islanders who had suffered in both World Wars. That part of the estate was therefore offered to them in 1947, at a greatly reduced price, which was both appreciated and accepted. One condition was attached, that no building or structure would be erected on the purchased land, nor would it be changed in its nature or character.

The remainder of the land and the fief were sold in 1988 by its last Jersey owner, Hope May de Gruchy, the wife of Major W G M Dixon, to Mr and Mrs Jagger.

Vingtaine boundary

The fief of Noirmont is unique, in that it is the only fief in Jersey to have the same boundary as the Vingtaine of the same name.

The property was featured in the 1980s television series Bergerac as the home of one of the principal characters, Charlie Hungerford.

The house was also let for a short while in 1899, during de Quetteville ownership, to Lillie Langtry and her second husband, Gerald de Bathe. Her Christian name, scratched with the stones of her wedding ring, can be seen on the dining room window, facing Belcroute Hill. Some biographies of Lillie suggest that the manor had previously been in the ownership of her Le Breton ancestors, who had lost it through bankruptcy, but we have found nothing to substantiate this claim.

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