Old Jersey Houses

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Published in two volumes in 1965 and 1977, Old Jersey Houses was written by prominent Jersey historian Joan Stevens, and was, at the time, the only comprehensive guide to the island's homes. [1]

The first volume, which was reprinted in second, third and fourth editions, provided a fascinating insight into Jersey homes of the 17th century and earlier, and although it did not attempt to include every property from that era which was still in existence, it did miss a significant number of considerable importance.

The second volume, which took up the story at the beginning of the 18th century, completely ignored a significant number of homes built in that century, and the 19th, and still standing today.

General history

The first volume included chapters on the general history of the island and the life of a Jerseyman who might have lived in one of the houses, as well as examining in considerable detail the architectural features of the houses, both external and internal.

Given the degree of research undertaken by the author to produce what she did, one cannot help wondering what she might have achieved had she set out to produce her own all-embracing history of Jersey, rather than co-operating with Marguerite Syvret on updating George Balleine's own work.

Families

Jerripedia is happy to acknowledge the extent to which it originally drew on Old Jersey Houses as a source for its own articles on the island's old properties, but we need to make it clear that our over-riding interest is the families who owned and lived in them, rather than the shape of windows and arches, which were clearly more important to Mrs Stevens.

Sketchy articles

For a long time it would have been considered a heresy to criticise these two volumes in any way (perhaps it still is). They were much lauded at the time of their publication and the first volume sold heavily in four editions. The second volume was not quite so successful and is still in print in its first edition some 40 years after it was published.

Perhaps the success of Volume One was based on the detailed descriptions of those houses about which the author had assembled a substantial body of information, and the desire of those owning one of the other homes, given no more than a passing mention, to have a copy of the book for their coffee table. Unfortunately those properties covered in detail are all too few, and many individual articles are very sketchy. That for La Grande Maison, Trinity, for example, offers no information whatsoever about the age of the property, no description of the house, no details of which families owned it and lived there. Indeed, all that the author has written about the property is that it has an unusual granite trough built into a wall, the purpose of which was unknown to her, and 'the house also has a round arch'.

The articles on individual houses do not always mention where they are located, and the information on the families which owned them is usually very sketchy, and often contains mistakes.

The Jersey houses section of this website no longer relies on Mrs Stevens' articles as its principal reference. [2]It draws on our extensive collection of family trees to identify past owners and discover or confirm the identity of those who erected datestones to commemorate some aspect of their ownership. We accept that we also have the advantage of being able to use the results of research in the half century since the first book was published.

Notes and references

  1. Until the creation of the Historic Environment Record, an online guide to listed buildings from Jersey Heritage, in 2020, followed by an even more comprehensive Jerripedia section of house profiles
  2. The Historic Environment Record website has become a much better guide to houses which should be included in our collection, but it copies much of what is included in Old Jersey Houses without questioning its accuracy, and, in doing so, sadly perpetuates many of the author's errors
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