Picture of the week

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26 June 2017


Edwardian leisure

These images are not new to the site, but they were sent to us by a regular visitor to the site as part of a batch with the comment 'How times have changed!'. These two coastal locations on either side of the town of St Helier have certainly changed in the last 100 or so years since the photographs were taken, but that is not our reason for choosing to feature them here. It is the change in the years before they were taken which is so significant. Until the Victorian era the concept of leisure time was virtually unknown for the vast majority of the island's population. Previously there had been just three classes of people - the land-owning gentry, who certainly had time on their hands, but spent it largely in the privacy of their estates, perhaps venturing out occasionally on horseback; their tenant farmers, and the labourers who worked for them, all of whom worked from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, in a struggle to keep their families fed. The lifestyle of those living and working in the countryside changed little as the 19th century advanced, but an influx of affluent retired people from England, who settled in the rapidly expanding town of St Helier, had an entirely different approach to life. For them the island's beaches were not places to fish and gather vraic, but places to relax and meet their friends. The construction of the Esplanade from the Weighbridge to West Park made the beautiful sandy beach there readily accessible and it became fashionable to stroll along the promenade in their finest outfits and take their children, always smartly dressed, to play on the beach. Another attraction was Olympia, on the right of the picture above, next to the Grand Hotel. For many years this was the town's main venue for exhibitions, evening entertaiment, roller skating and other activities. Those living on the east side of the town might prefer to head for the closest beach at Havre des Pas, particularly after the bathing pool had been opened. This stretch of coast soon developed into a fashionable seaside resort, a growing number of hotels and boarding houses catering for early holidaymakers who wanted to stay at the seaside but within easy reach to the town centre. But into the 20th century the eastern end of the bay remained to be developed. This is where some of the busiest shipyards had operated until the 1880s. These yards had straddled the high water mark, but the third picture shows that by the early 20th century a granite sea wall had been constructed, allowing some land to be reclaimed, on which a promenade was constructed. Behind it the former shipyards remained boarded up and the hotels which would eventually occupy this prime coastal location had yet to be built. The most popular stretch of beach was some way distant from the slipway pictured at the bottom of Green Street, but a small sandy area here which remained uncovered except at very high tides, was a popular spot for mothers and governesses to relax while their children played safely. We have added the bottom picture, a rare photograph showing the same stretch of coast soon after the last ships were built there, and the rows of cottages which housed those working in the shipyards.
E17WestParkBeach.jpg
E17HavreDesPas.jpg
HdesPasShipyards.jpg

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