A history of Greve de Lecq

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What's your street's story? - Greve de Lecq


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Inside a Greve de Lecq cave from a 19th century drawing


This article is based on a Jersey Archive Street Story presentation


'The approach to Grève de Lecq is of the most charming description, and the scenery is sometimes equal to that of Wales, and even of some parts of Switzerland.'

Sandy beach

This quote appears in The Tourist’s Guide section of the Jersey Times Almanac of 1868. The Almanac goes on to recommend that the visitor should stroll 'on the fine sandy beach, watching the huge waves as they come rolling on, foaming and roaring towards the shore'.

While a modern description of Grève de Lecq might not be couched in such flowery language, the views of the countryside and bay are still as beautiful and dramatic.

This small area in the north-west of Jersey derives its name from Grève, meaning a 'sandy beach scooped out from the foot of the cliffs' and lecq, which is probably from the Norse word meaning 'creek', referring to the stream running through Les Vaux de Lecq. The stream also marks the boundary between the parishes of St Mary and St Ouen. The Cueillette de Leoville in St Ouen is to the west and the Vingtaine du Nord in St Mary is to the east.

Greve de Lecq tower, barracks and hotels in the late 19th century

Catel de Lecq

Tracing the history of the area, one of the earliest landmarks is an Iron Age defensive earthworks at Le Câtel de Lecq on the headland to the east of the bay. One of the best-preserved defensive earthworks in Jersey, it was used as a place of refuge in the late medieval period and, in 1779, Le Câtel Fort was constructed on the site.

General Sir Henry Seymour Conway, non-resident Governor of Jersey between 1772 and 1775, recommended the building of this fort in response to the threat of French invasion. Conway also recommended the construction of 32 round towers to protect the Island’s coasts. By 1794 it is estimated that 22 towers had been completed, with the tower at Grève de Lecq being one of the first to be built, work commencing in September 1780.

Jersey round towers are unique and while they are often commonly known as Martello towers, they are of a different design, pre-dating towers of this name built along the English coasts by some 20 years. Examples of Martello towers in Jersey are Kempt and Lewis, which were built at the turn of the century.

Barracks

With defence still a priority at the beginning of the 19th century, Lieut-Governor, General Sir George Don instructed the building of the Grève de Lecq Barracks as part of his plan to ensure that every bay and possible landing place was fortified. Designed for the garrison of troops stationed in the Island, the construction of the barracks began in 1810.

Accommodating up to 250 men at times, they remained in use for this purpose until the 1920s and are the only surviving barracks in the Island. They were purchased and restored by the National Trust for Jersey in 1972 and along with the round tower, are a permanent reminder of Jersey’s military history and a prominent feature of the bay.

Travelling away from the beach through the valley along Le Mont de Ste Marie, there are still large expanses of woods and fields. Some of this land has been used for farming, including sheep-breeding, with knitting a major industry in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Landowning families

The Godfray Map of 1849 shows several substantial properties owned by people such as Nicholas Arthur, who, according to the 1851 census, was a landed proprietor of 26 acres and lived in a house called Le Rondin. Not far from him was Philip Dumaresq who lived at Les Colombiers and was a landed proprietor of 12 acres. The families must have owned a fair proportion of the land in this area between them.

Along Mont de le Grève de Lecq, on the St Ouens side, the Godfray Map shows family names such as Hubert, Hacquoil and Lucas all of whom are described as farmers in the census records

The stream running through the valley powered a water mill, now the site of the Le Moulin de Lecq Pub and Restaurant. An indirect reference to this ancient water mill in the Assize Roll of 1299 indicates that parts of it may date back to the 12th century. It is the largest water wheel on the Island and was worked entirely by the weight of water, being used for either grinding corn or as a fulling mill until 1929, when it was converted into a private home.

Census records from 1871 to 1901 show that the mill was run by two generations of the Baudains family. In 1871 Abraham Baudains, his wife Mary and 5 children, including eldest son George, were living there. In 1881 Mary is a widow and George has taken over as ‘miller’. He and his wife Elizabeth are listed at the address in 1891 and 1901 when George is also described as a ‘Wesleyan local preacher’.

The Germans requisitioned the wheel during the Occupation in order to generate power for their searchlight batteries and, after 1945 Mr C T Clarke ran a tea room from the premises. In 1954 it was converted into a licensed inn by Mr and Mrs R Ronald and has been run as a public house ever since.

The popularity of Jersey as a tourist destination grew in the 19th century. The first hotel to be established in this area was the Grève de Lecq Hotel. It is listed in the census of 1851 as Grève de Lecq House, with a Mr John Toy as ‘hotel keeper’. He is running the hotel with his wife Mary and 2 servants. The Toys have 11 children, aged from 18 to 1 year.

By the time of the next census in 1861, Mr T P G Poujol was the proprietor. A Frenchman from St Croix Le Bocage, he was still running the hotel in 1881 at the age of 92. He appears to have been an interesting character, attracting prestigious patrons such as Prince Lucian Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew, who stayed two nights whilst pursuing his interest in Jersey/Norman French.

In 1872, Monsieur Poujol took the opportunity to advertise the hotel by serving a seven-course dinner to the members of the Grève de Lecq Harbour Committee, States members and other influential islanders. This was on the occasion of the laying of the foundation stone of the new harbour. The building has since been converted into the Les Pierres de Lecq apartments.

1881 Census

The 1881 census lists the Prince of Wales Hotel on the St Ouen side of the bay, now called the Prince of Wales Guest House. Mr Samuel Parker, a Chelsea Pensioner and publican is running it, although in 1901 it is listed as uninhabited. In a property contract dated 1863, the site is described as a piece of land or sand dune, owned by Mary Jean. By 1867 a house has been built there which is owned by Robert Randall.

Just below the car park of the round tower, are a number of new houses, called Fisherman’s Wharf. Part of this development occupies the site of another hotel, which was known as The New Pavilion, The Pavilion or Pooley’s Pavilion.

It first appears in the 1891 census under the management of Rodney Pooley. At the time, Pooley was a 41-year-old man from Surrey. He had died by the 1901 census and his sister Charlotte is recorded as Hotel Proprietress. The hotel was a popular venue for visitors and Mr Pooley seems to have been a very caring employer, leaving various individual legacies in his will to members of hotel staff.

The hotel was later destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Then in the 1980s the site became Caesar’s Palace, a venue for live shows and cabaret.

The Hotel des Pierres was the last hotel to be built at Grève de Lecq. It was formally known as the Pension de Lecq and before that was a house called Bay View, which was built between 1936 and 1946.

Sark

Tourists staying in these hotels could enjoy the beautiful beach while looking towards Sark. It was from this beach that the Helier de Carteret settlers left to colonise Sark in 1565.

As with other secluded bays in the Island, Grève de Lecq was frequented by smugglers. A profitable business for centuries, large quantities of French spirits imported by Jersey merchants were taken to England to sell and big profits could be made smuggling tobacco into both England and France.

Grève de Lecq pier has had an eventful history. After years of planning and deliberation, the pier was started in 1872 only to suffer storm damage in 1879, which resulted in the collapse of 40 yards of it within a week. The remains of the pier can still be seen. [Editor's note: This is incorrect. The first storm damage occurred in 1878, resulting in the collapse of part of the pierhead. It was a further storm in 1884 which caused the centre section of the pier to be washed away. See our detailed article on the pier's history - The construction and destruction of Greve de Lecq pier]

During the occupation Grève de Lecq was designated a strong point and manned by the 16th Machine Gun Battalion. The sea wall, which was already there, was strengthened and two bunkers were built, still evident today at either end of the beach.

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