Palace Hotel in St Saviour, previously a convent school and, before that, a substantial private home, was destroyed by fire after an explosion during the German Occupation
The Palace Hotel, at Bagatelle, St Saviour - one of the island's finest in the 1930s - was being used by German troops planning a raid on Grenville in 1945, when the Cherbourg Peninsular was in Allied hands.
A fire broke out and in a desperate attempt to put it out it was decided to use explosives and blow a fire-break. Unfortunately, the explosion caused much more damage than planned and much of the building was destroyed.
How the fire started is a mystery. There is a suggestion that Norman Le Brocq and others started the fire at the Hotel as an act of resistance. This has never been proved and still promotes debate today.
The German who used explosives to put the fire out was explosives expert Hans Kableman, who was stationed at the Aberfeldy Hotel and was called to The Palace to help out. He miscalculated and ammunition stored partly for the Granville raid went up too. The bang was big - Charles Langlois near Swiss Valley claimed £30 for damage to his greenhouses from the blast - a fair way away from the blast site.
The demise of the hotel during the Occupation has been well documented, but the earlier history of the premises is not so well known. What became a hotel started life as the residence of Philippe d'Auvergne, a prominent figure in Jersey's history, was then rebuilt by an affluent Bailiff of Jersey, before becoming a convent school.
The foremost Jersey historian of the 20th century, the Rev George Balleine wrote in an article in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise in 1959 that Philippe d'Augergne, the so-called Prince de Bouillon:
- 'Bought a house in Jersey, about a mile from the Town, which he called Bagatelle. A contemporary calls it "a truly elegant and splendid residence"'.
- 'He had deer browsing in his grounds, and at first he opened them to the public, but in 1808 he announced “with pain, that, owing to the damage done, he was forced to make certain rules". One was that visitors must not cut up his gravel paths by wearing pattens.'
Balleine's article was probably based on a 1947 biography by Philippe Le Geyt dit Rauvet, also published in the Annual Bulletin, which stated:
- 'After France's naval power was crushed at Trafalgar he took up residence at La Bagatelle and enjoyed considerable popularity as chief man in the Island.'
The first house here was called Le Belvedere and was built by Francois Marett on land called La Vallée Colette which he acquired from Louis Nathanael Jean Brohier, probably on 25 October 1800. Brohier was than 41 years old, and single, and it would be another 12 years before he married, and two years after that before an heir, also Daniel, was born.
Francois Marett lived less than two years after building the house, and it was inherited by his nephew, also Francois Marett. There are so many Maretts named Francois in records of this era that we have not been able to establish with certainty where these two fit into the family trees.
However, the only relevant burial record at this time is Francois Marett of St Lawrence, buried on 2 June 1801. There is a Francois in the Avranches Manor branch of the family who died in that year, and he had a nephew Francois (1773-1850), eldest son of his eldest brother Philippe. So it seems reasonable to assume that these were the owners of Belvedere.
The younger Francois sold the property on 17 April 1802 to Son Altesse Serenissime Philippe d'Auvergne, Prince et Duc Souverain de Bouillon etc, who was represented in Court by his Advocate, Thomas Le Breton. d'Auvergne was a high ranking naval officer and heir to the duchy of Bouillon, and a considerable fortune, as explained in detail in a number of articles in this website.
D'Auvergne first appears in the land registry in September 1798, when he sold a house in Rue de Derriere (later King Street), St Helier, (adjacent to a house which had belonged to Charles d'Auvergne, his late father) at which time he was also described as "Capitaine de [illegible] de l'Armée Navale de sa Majesté Brittanique.....". He had evidently inherited this and other property from his father Charles prior to September 1790 and, by no later than December 1799, was married to Rachel d'Auvergne, née Payn, who owned land in St Ouen.
He spent so much on a legal action to try to secure his French inheritance, after the Duchy had been abolished and all its assets declared communal during the French Revolution, that he died penniless in 1816. His lawyer was clearly alert to the situation because on 20 October 1817 Thomas Le Breton acquired Bagatelle and the surrounding land from d'Auvergne's creditors.
The attorneys of the creditors had taken a transfer of the property from Edouard d'Auvergne, principal heir in the collateral succession of Philippe d'Auvergne, by an Act of Court dated 19 April 1817, which enabled them to sell it on to Le Breton. Le Breton acquired other pieces of land from 1817 onwards, expanding the size of the property.
It appears that Edouard D'Auvergne was the younger half-brother of Philippe, by their father's second wife. Philippe had three elder brothers, who had presumably predeceased him, and there was one other younger half-brother, Corbet James d'Auvergne
Thomas Le Breton
The house was eventually rebuilt by Bailiff Thomas Le Breton, and subsequent photographs indicate that the home created for him would continue to stand at the centre of a much enlarged building in later years. After his death, the property was sold on 4 April 1840 by his son Thomas, to Francois Godfray, another prominent lawyer. Bagatelle was obviously a substantial holding as the land was described as being in excess of 56 vergées.
On 29 August 1859 the property was sold by Francois Godfray to Isaac Pothecary. When he was later declared bankrupt Francois Godfray, as principal creditor, retook ownership of Bagatelle. He died within days and later in 1868 his son Francois Amiraux Godfray, sold Bagatelle to Elizabeth Noel, who in turn sold it two years later to Mary Elizabeth Ainge and Juliana Pitchers Ainge. Mary Elizabeth and William Ainge Gunner, Juliana's principal heir, sold the property in 1880 to Angelina Marie Levrel, nee Rousseau,, wife of Louis Julien Levrel.
The sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ) originally ran a school at St Matthews, Coin Varin, St Lawrence, before closing it and concentrating on Val Plaisant, in the town of St Helier, and Bagatelle. The sisters who came to Jersey, eventually established Beaulieu Convent.
Property ownership by the Catholic Church is somewhat confusing, because early transactions involved individuals on behalf of a single order.
Daniel Joseph O'Sullivan, Maurice Slattery and Stephen Kyne acquired the property on 19 December 1903 from Angelina Marie Levrel, nee Rousseau. The priests were not resident at the time, being represented in Jersey by those holding powers of attorney on their behalf.
When the property was transferred in 1914, the nuns all appeared in Court personally, so they were in the island, but the priests not so as they were represented by the Attorney. There is no mention of any particular religious order in any of the contracts. It was quite usual at that time for real property to be acquired in the personal names of various priests/nuns although the practice could be fraught with difficulty as if one died intestate, his/her share could devolve to their heirs-at-law and not the remaining co-owners. It later became practice to acquire property in the name of some form of body corporate or religious trust.
It appears that the property was used for religious purposes between 19 December 1903 and 10 August 1929. It was a substantial educational establishment which issued prospectuses presumable designed to attract pupils from outside the island.
Bagatelle was eventually closed as a school in or about 1927 and on 10 August 1929 Robert Henry Miller bought the property from Mary Kennedy, Anastasia Lambert, Margaret Gleeson, Mary Ann Devine, Ellen Carlin and Violet Spicer. His plans to turn the school into a hotel must have developed rapidly because it had been converted no later than 15 February the following year, when Robert Millar sold the property (described for the first time as "a certain house or houses now called 'Palace Hotel' recently built by the Vendor and in which is incorporated the main house called 'Bagatelle'...") to "Palace Hotel (Jersey) Limited".
On 25 May 1935 Millar sold the remainder of the property he had acquired to the same company so that all the property he had originally bought was reunited into the name of the holding company. The company was represented by one of its directors, Robert Edwin Millar, perhaps Robert Henry Millar's son.
In October 1942 Robert E Millar was also named as director of the company when agreeing to a grant of drainage rights through part of the company's land to a third party, so the family connection appears to endure into the German Occupation.
After an 18-year gap in the land registry, the company sold the sites of the hotel and other buildings on 8 October 1960 to Associated Builders and Contractors Limited ('flats formed in part of an old hotel building') and 'a certain ruined building (formerly the 'Palace Hotel') to Palace Investments Limited on which was built a couple of housing developments.
Pictures of Bagatelle as a school and then as a hotel indicate that all that happened was that a large extension housing bedrooms was added at one end of the existing building, which itself consisted of the Thomas Le Breton house and an extension on the right.