St Brelade's Bay

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St Brelade's Bay


BreladeBay1890.jpg

The bay from an 1890 painting

St Brelade's Bay has long been one of the most popular tourist beaches, and today it is built up along its full length. This is a comparatively recent phenomemon, however, and even between the two world wars the bay remained largely unspoilt.


The bay was once popular with smugglers

Prehistoric cave

The first inhabitants of the bay were probably the first people to live in Jersey. A cave in the cliff face at La Cotte Point at the eastern end of the bay was excavated some 100,000 years ago when the sea level was perhaps 60 feet above where it is today. The cave is a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists, and has revealed remains of prehistoric hunters over a period of some 10,000 years from 110,000 BC as well as further occupation by Neanderthal Man around 50,000 years ago.

Proof that Jersey was at one time connected to France is provided by the discovery of bones of the mammoth and wooly rhinoceros, creatures which could not have swum the Channel.

Jersey probably remained uninhabited when the last Ice Age drove the cavemen away, and St Brelade's Bay was certainly very sparsely populated until the 19th century, and beyond.

Guidebooks

As late as 1844 the following was published in a guidebook:

"You who love Nature in her wildest beauty, you pious souls who seek utter solitude to muse on godly things, come to St Brelade's and you will find the object of your search."

Durell wrote in 1852:

"The bay is enclosed by barren hills covered with heath and furze. The sealine is formed by a sandy down, yet even here the surface is overspread by a dwarfish, creeping rose."

Church

The only building in the bay, probably for centuries, was the parish church, which is on the shoreline at the western end. Quite why it was built here, so far from such centres of population which existed in the 11th or 12th century, is a matter for speculation.

One theory is that in those days the sea level around Jersey's south-west coast was somewhat lower and that there were areas of agricultural land at La Pulente, on St Brelade's St Ouen's Bay coast, which could be reached by walking round the coastline from the church, which was equidistant between that agricultural community, the small village of St Aubin and other farmsteads in the Quennevais Area.

It is perhaps more likely that an earlier chapel had existed where the church was built, which had served a community which sought the isolation of the otherwise unihabited bay.

A fanciful alternative theory suggests that the original intention was to build a church at Les Quennevais - a more logical location - but the land chosen was special to fairies, who daily moved the workmen's tools and stones to the seaside spot where the church now stands.



Dressed for the beach

An outing to the beach has long been a Jersey tradition. In the early years of the 20th century it was the preserve of those affluent enough to be able to afford the horse and carriage to take them there, and they always dressed for the occasion - not in t-shirts and trainers, but in their Sunday best suits. Hats were seemingly compulsory for ladies and gentlemen in Edwardian days and further protection from the sun was afforded by a dainty parasol: no Factor 30 sunscreen in those days! This picture was taken at the western end of St Brelade's Bay and St Brelade's Bay Hotel, one of the few buildings in the bay in the first decade of the 20th century, can be seen in the background to the right.



The Bay in 1929

Smugglers

An uninhabited bay with a flat, sandy beach, was the perfect location for smugglers and records suggest that contraband was regularly landed in the 19th century. A British Customs House report of 1823 recorded:

"On March 17 a Cawsand boat took in at St Brelade's Bay upwards of 300 ankers of brandy. On March 31 a Plymouth cutter took in at the same place upwards of 600 tubs of brandy and geneva. On June 10 a cutter from East Looe took in at the same place 690 casks of brandy, and during the same month a Cawsand boat took away a large cargo of spirits."

Defences

Not only was the bay ideally suited to smugglers' vessels, but there were fears that it may be chosen for an invasion during the periods in the 18th and 19th centuries when Britain was at war with France. Two coastal round towers with 18-pounder guns on top were built in the bay and still survive, but as historian George Balleine wrote in his The Bailiwick of Jersey, that was not all:

"The sand-dunes were bristling with guns - two 12-pounders on Le Grouin, three 24-pounders where the Hotel l'Horizon now stands, two 12-pounders near the St Brelade's Bay Hotel, three 24-pounders in the churchyard, two more on the point just behind the church, and at each extremity of the bay, at Beau Port and Le Fret, a battery. But when peace came, the gunners were withdrawn and the bay resumed its sleep."

Hotels

The construction of a road from St Aubin, down Mont Sohier into the heart of the bay, and then up La Marquanderie at the western end, encouraged some landowners to build houses, although the relative isolation of the bay ensured that development was still very limited right up to the Second World War.

The Fisherman's Inn, near the church, which had been popular both with fishing folk and, on Sundays, with those attending morning service and not wishing or able to go home and back again for evening service, grew into a large hotel, and some houses were eventually adapted to take in guests and eventually became hotels. Hotel l'Horizon is an example of an establishment which started in this way.

General Boulanger

Among the distinguished visitors to the bay were General Georges Boulanger, whose own political party became very successful in late 19th century France and was thought to be on the verge of staging a coup d'etat when he fled the country when a warrant was issued for his arrest. He spent two years in a house in St Brelade's Bay before committing suicide over the grave of his former mistress in Belgium in 1891.

Post-war development

After the Second World War, which saw the construction of a substantial seawall by the Germans, where sand dunes had previously swept down to the beach, a rapid process of tourism-based development saw St Brelade's Bay established as the most popular island beach with locals and tourists alike. At the peak of the tourism industry from the 1960s to 1990s the beach would be packed tightly from seawall to the sea along its whole length with sun-worshippers.

Today the beach remains almost as popular and the bay is extensively developed with hotels, cafes, restaurants, private houses and apartment blocks, and every spare space in between is given over to car parks.

Parks and gardens

This development is interrupted only by colourful gardens alongside the seafront promenade and the quiet oasis of the Winston Churchill Memorial Garden in the backdrop of the bay, a tribute to Britain's wartime leader.

Other articles

Early 20th century views

These six images showing similar views of St Brelade's Bay illustrate clearly how little development there was in the bay, even as recently as the 1950s.

Picture gallery

Click on image to see larger picture

Early 20th century photograph of the bay
An aerial joyride from the beach
1869
A picture taken in 1862 with Thomas Sutton's panoramic lens
Before a seawall was built by the Germans during the Occupation, residents in seaside bungalows had direct access to the beach
The bay in 1937, already popular with tourists but relatively undeveloped
1936

St Brelade’s Bay development

Two pictures of St Brelade’s Bay, and although the gap between when they were taken is only about 30 years, the change in the bay has been dramatic. The picture above probably dates from the first decade of the 20th century, and at this stage, although Jersey was already building a reputation as a holiday island, visitors had still not discovered the lovely golden sands of St Brelade’s Bay. There were few buildings and the appearance of the bay was much as any of the other small villages dotted around the island. Move forward about 30 years and the view of the same stretch of the bay from the opposite direction shows a proliferation of houses on the slopes above the bay, and substantial tourism development on the coastline. On the beach to the left we see organised sports in progress with a large crowd watching the start of a race, probably involving holdaymakers staying at one of the large hotels which were so busy in the pre-war years.

The 1976 heatwave

The summer of 1976 was one of the longest and hottest on record. These pictures were taken by a Jersey Evening Post photographer on the beach in St Brelade's Bay at the height of the heatwave

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