Uses of granite
It is our durable and beautiful local granite which transforms our houses from something quite ordinary into something very special with universal appeal and appreciation. Our ancestors built their churches, fortresses, piers and houses of the material they found at hand, and thus they became able stonemasons, and could fashion out of stone objects which in other countries would be made of wood or some other material.
So it was natural to them also to make smaller domestic objects of stone. We in the Island tend to take them for granted, and it is only when people from elsewhere remark on them that we realise that they are something out of the ordinary.
Let us consider some of them.
Perhaps the most noticeable are the troughs for crushing cider apples, so often erroneously called cider presses. The press is a vast contraption of wood, which worked on the same principle as a photographic press or a trouser press.
In the older specimens, the screws by which the huge beam was lowered on to the layers of pulp, sandwiched with oat straw, was of wood. An excellent example can be seen in the Agricultural Room at the Museum. The circular stone crusher is the tour or tou a cidre, and is about 12 feet in diameter and made up of six or more eliptical sections.
It was usually cut from Chausey granite. In Guernsey and in Normandy one sees just the same pattern, but an interesting fact is that in both these cases the twin crushing wheels were often made of wood, whereas in Jersey there is a single wheel and it is always in stone.
Being of such a standard pattern they are hard to date, and it seems likely that men continued to construct them to the same design for about 300 years, so well did they suit their purpose.
Our eminent Lieut-Bailiff, Jean Poingdestre, describes the manner of making cider, and the crusher and press, and one sees that the industry continued using the same methods and apparatus into this century. Nor does he suggest that it is in any way new when he was writing in 1680.
Most old Jersey farms have some stone weights. In days when produce had to be taken to town for sale, and when a system of barter survived and many dues were paid in kind, a set of weights was of great importance.
They are simply constructed by using large sea-shore pebbles and chipping them until the weight was accurate, and then fixing in a staple and link for lifting. There is a great variety in the actual weights, but the most common are 52, 26 and 13 lb, multiples of the Jersey hundredweight, or quintal of 104 lb, which was in use until the official adoption of English standard weights in 1919.
They can be approximately dated by the style of lettering, and some are certainly earlier than 1700. Similar weights are found in Guernsey.
Simple water conduits were also fashioned of granite to take storm water, and to assist in filling buckets and animal drinking troughs from the wells. They are always ingenious and labour saving.
The protective well heads themselves were also of granite, and though few of them are dated, one at least at Le Catel, Trinity, was built in 1748.
Every farmyard had a variety of stone troughs of every imaginable size. For the most part they were not made for specific purposes, but to fulfill every need which might arise, just as nowadays a housewife keeps a wide variety of bowls and baskets in her kitchen.
The very large ones, often used now as "sink gardens" were saleux, that is a trough destined for salting meat, particularly pork, for winter use. Originally these would have been indoors, in the kitchen or under the stairs.
There is one such at La Vallette, St John. One at Roselands, Grouville, now in the garden, was so placed until recently.
If you wonder about stone mushrooms on your farm, they are stack stones, and consist of an upright or stalk, and a circular stone resting on it like a plate, and indeed in Jersey-French it is called une assiette.
Several of these were arranged in a circle and a rough flooring of branches put across, and then the stack of corn was built on this platform, and could thus be protected from rats, as well as having ventilation to keep it sweet.
An unusually large stone is sometimes found in a farmyard whose purpose was to assist a man in lifting a heavy load, like a sack of grain, from ground level on to a cart.
In old houses there are usually some, and often many, rectangular niches in the walls. La Fosse, Trinity has a multiplicity of them, of all sizes. In a sense too great a significance is sometimes attributed to them; they are built-in-cupboards, formed very simply in the depth of our thick walls, and are a simple utilitarian device thought out by our ancestors at a time when furniture was scanty and expensive, and, like the stone troughs, serving any purpose the householder desired.
Those found in the fireplace recesses would probably have held a lamp, and may also have served to keep salt dry. In a few cases, as in one instance at Hamptonne, St Lawrence, it appears that wooden doors were fitted to them, but this is not common.
There are probably many such niches hidden under more modern wall covering, and if at any time you are stripping plaster from your walls, it is worthwhile searching for them. They may have been roughly filled with rubble, but the straight-cut surrounding stones will be clearly visible.
Then there is the paute. This is a primitive kind of safe, formed by burying a jar in the depth of the wall, the approach to it being the size and length of your forearm. It was thus invisible, and a piece of furniture or hanging garments would be placed in front of it, and perhaps only the owner of the house knew where it was.
Such safes have been found in a few houses, at Cap Verd, St Lawrence, Les Pigneaux, St Saviour, and Les Ruettes, St John, and also in a rather more modern farmhouse behind Les Hetres, St Peter. Like the niches, it is probable that many more are now hidden behind plaster or panelling.
Sections of very ancient wayside crosses, perhaps the base, or the head of the cross, or just a fragment of the octagonal shaft, may lie on your farm or in your rockery. Such fragments have been found at Sous les Bois, Trinity and at La Guerdainerie, also in Trinity, to mention but two.
Our ancestors had none of the mechanical aids that we have, but they were highly ingenious in organising simple labour savers, and you may have something really ancient, or something very intriguing, unidentified on your property.