Durell's 1847 guidebook
- St Ouen’s Manor
- de Carteret family
- Former fortress
- Present building
- Heroic adventure of the Seigneur and his horse
- Margaret Harliston
- St Ouen’s Church
- Greve de Lecq
- St Lawrence Road
Our travellers returned highly gratified with the tour, which the lateness of the hour alone had obliged them to leave incomplete. There were also, exclusive of Plemont Caves, other places which, though of a less powerful interest, had much in themselves to excite their curiosity. The two principal objects which they could not dispense with seeing were the Caves of Plemont, and St Ouen's Manor, the former for the wild magnificence of its inaccessible crags and precipices, and the latter for those ancient historical traditions which still hallow up the recollections of its diminished greatness, at a time that the improvements of modern times, and the vicissitudes of human affairs, will prevent it from rising again to its former importance.
An excursion to Jersey without having visited those two noted places would be a serious disappointment, and like losing the principal object which the traveller had in view. It was therefore under those impressions that the next morning our party got up in their open carriage to conclude their tour, and before eleven o'clock they were at the gate of the venerable mansion of St Ouen's Manor, where having been easily admitted, they spent a considerable time in examining the various antiquities of that feudal abode, with which they were highly gratified. One of the party who had a taste for drawing amused himself with taking a few sketches.
St Ouen's Manor was the ancient seat of the eldest branch of the noble family of the De Carterets, who still retain it in the female line, and is situated in the parish from which it takes its name. It is about six miles from the town of St Helier, about a furlong from its parish church, and on the military road from that town to St Ouen's Bay. The recollections attached to the spot are in the highest degree interesting, and it has, at all times, been held in veneration by the natives. Indeed, the history of St Ouen's Manor, and of its noble owners, is intimately connected with that of Jersey, and seems to have been the point from which all the chivalrous and heroic exploits of its ancient inhabitants have emanated.
It is unknown when that property was first vested in the family of the de Carterets. Perhaps they are as ancient as Rollo, the founder of the Norman name, and obtained an establishment among his followers in the province which he had conquered. Falle in his History, informs us that Renaut de Carteret was one of the Norman Seigneurs, who attended Duke Robert, the Conqueror's son in the First Crusade about the year 1101. The exploits of that brave but unfortunate prince are known to every reader of the History of England.
A century afterwards the de Carterets sacrificed all their lands in continental Normandy to follow the fortunes of King John, and settled in Jersey, and from that time, St Ouen became their principal habitation. From that period till the restoration of Charles II, the name of St Ouen's Manor and of its noble inhabitants was inseparably connected with the history of Jersey, and with the gallant actions of the natives in its defence.
That estate was two thirds of a knight's fee, which rendered the owner liable to the performance of certain military services in time of war, by virtue of his tenure. This estate relatively to large countries was but a moderate one; but it was the largest in the island, where its owners always enjoyed a preponderating influence. During the minority of Philip De Carteret under James I, it was estimated to be worth about 1000 quarters of wheat rent, which in the present value of money might be estimated as not less than £2000 a year. During the subsequent reigns, that property was much increased, and the family itself was loaded with honour and preferments. It has since considerably declined, owing to the extinction of the eldest branch in 1716 by the death of Sir Charles Carteret, Baronet, and by its final division among four co-heiresses after the death of Earl Granville, in 1777.
The possession of the manor and of his part of the estate still continues, however, in the lineal descendant of the family in the female line. This accounts for its having passed into the family of the Le Maistres. The late owner of that name, Charles Le Maistre, died not quite two years ago; a gentleman of high constitutional principles, and equally distinguished in private life for his unblemished integrity and for the mildness and condescension of his character. Sir George Carteret, who rose to so much eminence during the reigns of the two Charles, belonged to a younger branch of that family, which is now represented by the present Lord Carteret, who is also his lineal descendant in the female line.
St Ouen's Manor seems to have been anciently fortified, and to have been surrounded by a moat and a drawbridge. All this has long been suffered to fall into decay, and nothing now remains but ruins to attest its former military importance. When the defences were in a proper state of repair and before the invention of artillery, it must have been a place of considerable strength, being completely surrounded by water, and out of the reach of any commanding heights.
It is highly probable that it was principally from the resources of this castellated mansion that Philip De Carteret, the then Seigneur in the 15th Century was enabled during six years to baffle all the efforts of the Count de Maulevrier to subjugate the island, and that he finally regained possession of Mount Orgueil Castle, which the treachery or surprise of the Governor had yielded to the invader. The Manor was also sufficiently capacious to contain any garrison, which might have been required to defend it against any force which Maulevrier might have brought to have formed a regular siege.
The present mansion consists of two different sorts of buildings, the old castellated mansion, and the comparatively modern wings. These wings, which project in front, are known both from tradition and from their style of architecture, not to be older than Charles II. Several of the outbuildings having become unnecessary, in the present reduced state of the establishment, have been suffered to fall into a very dilapidated state. The centre of the building is all that remains of the ancient castle; but it is now impossible to ascertain how much of it was pulled down to make room for the wings, or at what period it had been erected. If, however, one might indulge in conjecture, it would be that the castle had been built about the time of Edward I, which would bring it to not far from the time when the family, having lost all hopes of being ever restored to their continental estates, had decided on their final settlement in Jersey.
The entrance from the road is through a narrow and arched gateway which opens into a small lawn in front of the house. This seems to be but a modification of the ancient terrace round the moat. This gateway, which is mantled over with ivy, has at first sight an air of great antiquity, but on examination it cannot be older than the close of the 17th century. The arms of the de Carterets have supporters, which could not have been the case till the younger branch of the family had been raised to the peerage by Charles II in 1681.
That escutcheon of the family is appended over the gateway, on each side of which are also the arms of the de Barentins and of the Powletts, of Hinton St George in Somersetshire. The Barentins were a noble Jersey family, which has long been extinct, the head of whom was Drogo de Barentin, who was Governor of Jersey, under Edward I, and who fell gloriously in the defence of Mount Orgueil Castle, in one of the sieges, during that reign.
There is a tradition that part, if not all of the possessions of the de Barentins, devolved to the de Carterets. The arms of the Powletts record the alliance of the de Carterets with them, a younger branch of whom they represent in the right of Rachel Powlett, who was the heiress of George Powlett, brother of Sir Amias Powlett, under Elizabeth. Rachel Powlett is noted in the insular history of her time for the length of her life, and for the personal sorrows with which it was clouded.
On entering the mansion, through a low oaken door, which seems to have remained unchanged for ages, what thoughts do there not crowd into the mind? It was through that door that the noble owner of this mansion returned, after having driven back the Constable Du Guesclin, from the walls of Mount Orgueil Castle. It was there that the heroic Philip De Carteret defended half of the island for six years against the attacks of the Count de Maulevrier, and there that the celebrated Margaret de Harliston, the subsequent mother of 20 sons, entered with her husband on their bridal morn. And to complete the list of those pleasing recollections, it was there that Charles II, when a proscribed and persecuted exile, condescended to receive the hospitality of a brave and faithful subject.
The door opens into a spacious hall, at the bottom of which is a large oaken staircase, which for its antiquity and high preservation has nothing to equal it in the island. The railing is of carved oak, and particularly elegant. From this hall there are doors which open into several spacious rooms. On the right hand side, going up this staircase, there hangs the picture of a large and spirited horse, in the background of which there is a sketch of St Ouen's Manor, such as it may be supposed to have been before the more recent addition of its present wings.
It does not seem to be known by whom it was painted, nor at what time, though it is much less ancient than the circumstance to which it refers, which happened in the 15th century, while the Count de Maulevrier had the partial occupation of the island. During the long residence of the Lords of St Ouen in England, the picture had been much injured by damp, but the late worthy Seigneur caused it to be restored at a considerable expense.
The story rests on a tradition that the then Seigneur of St Ouen had gone out one day to fish in the pond, or rather small lake, which lies close to the beach of St Ouen's Bay. While thus employed he was surprised by a French party, whom he had not perceived, coming along the sands below high water mark. He had, nevertheless, time and presence of mind enough left to mount his horse, and to gallop away from his pursuers. Being, however, closely pressed before and behind, he had no other resource left than to take a desperate leap over a deep hollow lane, between two high banks. The noble-spirited animal, rallying all his strength, succeeded in this extraordinary attempt, and saved his master's liberty, if not his life. As to the pursuers, they either dared not to venture on the perilous leap, or else they failed in the attempt. The lord reached in safety the gate of his baronial mansion; but the spirits and the lifeblood of the generous courser had been expended in the disproportionate exertion. He sunk under his lord, as he alighted, and gasped his last. Such is the tradition; it is possible that it may have been embellished and exaggerated, but there is every probability that the substance of it is true.
We have thus been particular about St Ouen's Manor, as from its being private property its interior is seldom visited by travellers, and very little is seen of it, beyond what may be seen by a cursory glance from the road to St Ouen's Church.
The Philip De Carteret who was thus rescued from the power of his enemies by the fleetness and the sacrifice of his high-spirited steed, was afterwards the father-in-law of Margaret de Harliston, the celebrated Lady of St Ouen, whose traditionary history forms such an interesting episode in the chivalrous history of Jersey.
After leaving St Ouen's Manor, the traveller will do well to devote a few minutes to visit the neighbouring church. The road winds round its churchyard wall. It is a very plain but ancient edifice, and being built in an exposed situation, its steeple is often used for a landmark. The advowson was an ancient appendage to the Manor; but Regnault De Carteret, many years after his return from the Holy Land, made a donation in 1125, of the Church of Carteret, in Normandy, and of the Chapel of St Ouen, in Jersey, to the Abbey of St Michael. This is another inference that St Ouen was then but a chapel, and not yet a parish church, at which time the building was enlarged.
The advowson of St Ouen's Parish, like all the other Jersey benefices, is now vested in the Crown, in whose possession it came at the suppression of the Alien Priories under Henry VI, about 400 years ago. The church is not only very rudely built, so as to bespeak a very remote antiquity; but it is observable that one part of the masonry is much older than the other, but the date of the construction of each is utterly unknown. The most probable supposition is that it was one of the ancient chapels, which had been built before the island had been divided into parishes. After the Abbey of St Michael had gained possession of St Ouen's Chapel, it is probable that the Abbot enlarged it, and obtained that it should be made into a parish.
If the pretended quotation from the Livres Noir of Coutances was correct, the present church would have been consecrated on 3 September 1130. The inside corresponds with the simplicity of its outer fabric, though it inspires a kind of reverential awe, for the dust of the many brave men, and patriots of other ages, who repose within its precincts.
On leaving the church, the tourist will have to return near St Ouen's Manor, and then to direct his route as far as two gentlemen's seats, called the Vinchelez. A few minutes more will bring him to the opening of a bleak and extensive common, the extremity of which is bounded by the bold promontory and the cliffs of Plemont. The country, after passing Vinchelez, soon loses its rural scenery, and the fields are inclosed with low rude walls of loose stones. The ground, however, still continues to be well cultivated, and does not seem to have lost any of the fertility of the interior.
Beyond that, where the salt spray and the violent gales from the sea may be supposed to reach, the land is in a great measure condemned to a comparative sterility, and partly covered with stunted heath, furze, and grass, affording a scanty nourishment to a few straggling and stunted sheep. Plemont forms a headland at the northern extremity of the common, and projects about half a mile into the sea. The ground slopes from the common to the foot of this headland, where it forms a kind of peninsula. Near this place is a guardhouse which, since the return of peace, has been suffered to fall into a very dilapidated state. The rock had been excavated at this point of junction, so as to insulate Plemont. There was also a drawbridge, but the fosse has since been filled up, so that no trace of it at present remains. Where the fosse had been excavated, the rock drops nearly in a perpendicular line to the sea. Several parts of the peninsula are at least 200 feet high, and are absolutely vertical. These present a surface as straight and as even as any artificial wall.
The coast forms a kind of curve from Plement to Grosnez Point, which is the next projecting headland to the westward. This may be about a mile and a half across; but in the intermediate distance the cliffs recede inland and, forming the arc of a semi-circle, leave at low water a fine dry sand, of considerable extent, and about half a mile wide. But the whole of that inlet is flooded at highwater to a considerable height along the cliffs. There is no beach whatever. This is the Greve au Lanchon, or Sand Eel Cove, perhaps so called from the great quantity of that small fish which is caught there at particular times. It is in that cove that the Plemont Caves are situated.
A little towards the western extremity of this common there is a very narrow glen, between the hills, with a small stream of water flowing directly towards the inlet. At the head of this glen there is a rude causeway, stretching across it, but it is not obvious for what purpose it was originally constructed. At present it does not seem to be applied to any practical use.
After taking leave of the common it is time to descend to the caves, which have their entrance on the sands of the inlet. They are not only of difficult, but even of dangerous access, and such as would deter weakly or inactive persons from making the attempt. There are two descents to the Greve au Lanchon; the one, on the north, by a narrow winding path along the edge of the cliff of Plemont, which is very difficult and dangerous, and down which, when arrived at the spot, many persons will not dare to venture. The other path is to the west, and on the left side of the stream, which ends in a diminutive waterfall. It seems to be that which is frequented by the country people, and is so much worn out into the heath that it may be distinctly traced from the opposite hill.
At the end where it reaches the bare rock, the descent is steep and unpleasant, but it is not long before it reaches the sand of the inlet. It may be pronounced to be easy in the daytime and, with common precautions, to be perfectly safe. Though the lower end of it may be somewhat difficult, yet the most timorous may venture down in a kind of naturally grooved channel, which has been worn out in the rock.
The inlet is left dry at about half tide; it is of a circular shape, not quite half a mile wide, free from rocks, and of a fine white sand like that in St Aubin's Bay. It may be about 200-300 yards to low water mark. There is no beach upon which boats might be drawn up, nor indeed any shelter against the strong westerly gales, which set directly into the inlet, and consequently none are kept there. A mast has, however, been erected on a low part of the cliff, at the height of perhaps 50 feet, and within a small distance from the waterfall, the use of which seems to be to hoist up, and to lower boats, as well as to raise some of the seaweed, which at particular times drift in large quantities into the inlet.
This semi-circular space is bound by an iron and inaccessible coast, varying in height from 200 to 30 feet in the lowest part, where there is a small waterfall. Of course we mean from those places where the slopes of heath and stunted furze cease, and where the inaccessible crags begin.
When one is safely arrived in the inlet there is something particularly grand in the surrounding scenery, and well calculated to impress the mind with admiration and terror. Suppose yourself to be placed in the arena of a huge natural amphitheatre, an awful solitude, though within a short distance from the most lovely rural scenes, which seems to be as old as creation itself, or to have been formed by some violent convulsion of nature, every memorial of which has been lost in the lapse of distant ages.
Before the tourist are stupendous and apparently inaccessible cliffs, rising to the height of 200 feet, and behind is the sea, which, with the returning tide will not leave an inch of ground to stand upon. It makes the scene appear still more awful that there is not even the smallest boat at hand in which the surprised tourist might escape; nor, except one or two scarcely perceptible ledges, where the two paths of descent terminate, is there any space left uncovered at high water, which might serve as a place of refuge.
As to cases of shipwreck, and especially if it was in the night, it would be of no avail to have reached the dry sand; for destruction would be still inevitable to the unfortunate mariner, from the impossibility of climbing up to the top of the cliffs.
It has been suggested that these caves had better be visited by water. About this we may be allowed to express some doubts. The distance from St Helier by water is very considerable, on account of the offing necessary to be taken to avoid the swell at the several projecting points, which it would be necessary to double. Add to this, that such an excursion could not be undertaken but in mild and favourable weather, and that along that line, even pilot boats have not unfrequently met with accidents.
There are, however, two points from which the caves might be reached by water, one from l'Etac, a fishing station at the extremity of St Ouen's Bay, and the other from Greve de Lecq to the westward. The distance, it must be owned, is comparatively trifling, but the excursion is not the less difficult nor the less hazardous on that account. On coming from l'Etac, there is all the way an iron-bound coast, rugged and perpendicular cliffs, against which the dashing of the breakers eternally roar, and where, in case of necessity, it were madness even to attempt to land. The passage from Greve de Lecq is equally objectionable, on account of the broken water round the points, and the offing necessary to be kept.
At Plemont the difficulties would be proportionably increased, on account of the length that it stretches out to sea. After having surmounted those difficulties, it would still remain to ascertain what facilities a boat might have to row in or out of the inlet, a point which we find ourselves perectly unable to determine. The exposed situation of the inlet is likewise the cause that fragments of the wrecks of vessels, and even valuable goods, are often cast there on shore. When unclaimed, they become the property of the Lord of the Manor. About a century ago a large dead whale was stranded there, and it is remarkable that the same thing happened again only a few years ago. This last whale was, however, in a very decomposed state, and had probably been a long time in drifting there from the polar seas.
The waterfall is another curiosity in this cove. It seems as if nature wished to have specimens in Jersey of all the objects which are either sublime or beautiful, though on a diminutive and contracted scale. This waterfall rushes down a perpendicular precipice of at least 30 feet high. We have already mentioned a small stream at top, flowing through a narrow glen, a little below the practicable path, till it disappears in a beautiful little cascade down the precipice. It is partly concealed behind a detached rock, so that it requires one to be close to it before it can be seen, which naturally contributes to give it a greater effect.
There are several caves in this inlet, which are all scooped out of the rock, and extend for a considerable way under the cliffs. None of them, however, are very large, or could come in competition with some of those extraordinary caverns that we read of in other parts of the world. The main cave, which makes the subject of this lithography, is very near the cascade, on the right of which it opens on the sands. After having passed some detached rocks, one of which tapers like a rude obelisk to the height of between 60 and 70 feet, the tourist will find himself at the entrance of the principal cave. It may be 100 feet high, is of a conical shape, and may be 50 feet wide at the mouth, where it is widest, but the width and height gradually diminish as you advance. It would be difficult to say how far it penetrates under the cliff, but 200 or 250 feet may not be far from the truth.
The floor does not dip in the rock, but being flooded every tide, it is perfectly level, being covered with fine sand, intermixed with pebbles of all sizes and shallow ponds. After proceeding to a certain distance the cave becomes tortuous, and receives but little light. Any person who would wish to examine those caves with accuracy and with proper effect, ought to do it with a torch. There is a perpetual oozing of water through the superincumbent rock, but as it is of primitive formation, and has no calcareous particles in solution, it has neither stalactites, nor petrifactions of any kind. On examining, however, the caves attentively, they are evidently large fissures in the rock, where the softer strata have been washed off by the violence of the waves, or by some other irresistible convulsion of nature.
The opening once made would have continued to increase in size, till all the materials which could not resist the agents of destruction had disappeared; after which the cliffs, as left in their fractured, disjointed, and excavated state, would present an impenetrable barrier to the elements, which would not have the power to make on them any further encroachments.
The entrance of those caves, and every little recess along the cliffs, is full of stones of all sizes, in the shape of nodules and pebbles. These are of the finest polished granite, which it must have taken ages before the attrition of the waters could have rounded them to their present shapes. Nor is our astonishment lessened, when we endeavour to ascertain how some (which are of enormous dimensions) could have been rolled to their present situation. Those pebbles are of the most beautiful granite, of which there is not one rock in this cove, or in its immediate neighbourhood. We mention these facts, though we decline all conjectures about their formation, and the places of their origin ; for it is better to leave what is at present unknown, to be ascertained by future investigation.
We cannot take leave of those caves and of the bold and romantic scenery in their neighbourhood, without regretting that they are not more often visited. That is owing to the danger and difficulty of access to them; but that inconvenience might be remedied at a trifling expense, if steps were to be cut in the rock from near the waterfall down to the sands. At this place the descent would not be more than 30 feet.
Greve de Lecq
On his return from the caves the tourist will do well to visit the romantic and interesting creek of Greve de Lecq. He had, therefore, best to get there by St Mary's Church, a plain and neat building, in perfect bearing with the spiritual wants of a rural population. A narrow and picturesque valley winds from the church, kept in good repair and might accommodate 250 men.
The States of the island have often had in contemplation to build there a pier. The project is highly popular with the neighbouring parishes ; but from unavoidable causes, it has hitherto been postponed.
Our travellers had been highly delighted with this their last excursion, but as they began to feel the want of a comfortable dinner, they lost no time to reach again the village near St Mary's Church. For the sake of variety they preferred to follow the road through part of the parishes of St John, and of St Lawrence, whence coming rapidly down Mount Felard, they joined again the St Aubin's Road, at about a mile and a-half from St Helier.
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