What's your street's story? - Le Hocq and Pontac
The neighbouring areas of Le Hocq and Pontac on the rocky south-east coastline of the parish of St Clement have retained their picturesque charm over the centuries, despite the growth of the population and subsequent increased development.
Meaning of names
The name Hocq, or Hoc as it is spelt in early documents, means a cape, headland or spur of rock. The meaning of Pontac is less certain, but it is believed to mean a lookout, a place for watching or a stack of rocks. It is probably named after Pontague Rock, which lies south of Le Hocq. [Editor's note: The compiler of the Jerripedia guide to Jersey place names believes that Pontac is derived from the French pont = 'bridge'.]
As a place, Le Hoc, or du Hoc, is recorded in many 17th century documents. Pontac, however, does not appear in records until the early 19th century.
The Duke of Richmond map of 1795 reveals that there were about 25 houses in Rue du Hocq alone, suggesting that there was a small community there. In contrast there were just a few properties at the southern end of Rue de Jambart, centered around Jambart Farm at Pontac, and a couple close to Pontorson Farm in Rue du Pontlietaut.
The remainder of land at Le Hocq and Pontac at that time consisted of fields, orchards, rocky headland and marsh or common land.
Many early pictures of Le Hocq and Pontac show the beaches and slipways teeming with horses and carts laden with vraic. This area of coastline was very important for the collection of both cut and washed-up seaweed, which was mainly used as fertiliser by farmers of the six parishes which had vraicing rights in this area.
Many residents owned a horse and cart to enable them to make a living by collecting seaweed and selling it to the farmers, who paid them by the load or stack.
The coastline at Le Hocq and Pontac is vulnerable in times of stormy weather, but today's sea wall generally protects the coastal land and properties, except in the most extreme weather conditions. Before the wall was, erosion, flooding and damage to roads and properties were a constant headache for the States.
The earliest problems with the coastline are well documented in the States minutes from the 16809s onwards. In 1687 it was reported:
- "The States were informed of the ravages of the last great tide in the areas of du Hoc and du Dic in the Parish of St Clement, which have not only caused the public roads to be impassable but have also put flat land in the area in danger of being submerged, and some houses and land are ruined".
Repairs were undertaken regularly on the quays, walls and roads at a cost to the parishes with vraicing rights in the area. These defences were reasonably effective until a particularly violent storm in April 1811 caused immense damage, with the quay next to Le Hocq Tower being turned upside down and demolished. This meant that the tower itself was in great danger of collapsing.
This persistent damage caused by the sea on the coast from the Dicq to Le Hocq could have been one of the reasons why the Jersey Eastern Railway, which opened in 1873, followed an inland route from Havre des Pas to Pontac. The railway line ran in a south-easterly direction from the crossroads at Rue de Pontlietaut and Rue de la Chapelle, traversing the land that is now Le Rocquier School playing fields and then crossing Rue du Hocq before emerging on to the coast at Pontac.
In 1872 William George Aubin, representative of the railway company, bought land from many of the property owners at Le Hocq and Pontac, including Jean Aubin, George de Rue, Philip Marett, Thomas Payn and Francis Roissier. It was on this land that the train line and stations were subsequently built.
Le Hocq Station was situated on the eastern side of Rue du Hocq, just south of the intersection with Rue de la Houguette. The building is still standing, with part of the platform now a house called Craigie Cottage.
The crossing gates in Rue du Hocq were operated manually by station staff using a windlass.
Beyond the platform the line then headed directly along the track to the coast via what is now called King's Close. To do this, it had to enter a deep rock cutting, passing under a cast-iron bridge, which was built to carry the main road over the line. It is hard to imagine this today, as the cutting has been completely filled in and there is very little evidence of the bridge or the point at which the train emerged from the cutting on to the coast.
There was further level crossing at the top of the slipway at Pontac. The line then followed the coast to Pontac Station, which was just half a mile from Le Hocq. Pontac Station was one of the businest on the line, mainly because of the entertainment venue that was the Old Pontac Hotel and Gardens.
Three properties used the name Pontac Hotel at one time or another in this area, which can cause confusion. There was the Old Pontac Hotel (now Pontac Beach Apartments) on the south-west corner of Rue du Jambart; the New Pontac Hotel (now the Pontac House Hotel) on the south-east corner of Rue du Jambart, and at Le Hocq there was Arthur's New Pontac Hotel (now Le Hocq Inn).
Advertisements in the newspapers between the 1870s and early 1900s for the Old Pontac Hotel and Gardens show that the property had extensive gardens to the west, reportedly laid out by Mr Gibson of Battersea Park. There was a maze, supposedly modelled on the Hampton Court maze.
Special attractions were held in the gardens, often sponsored by the Jersey Eastern Railway, which owned this property in the early 1870s. Keen to increase the patronage of their service, they subsidised summer events, such as regimental band concerts and firework displays by Professor Mortram's Pyrotechnics, a renowned fireworks maker who made his home in Jersey.
In 1877 the hotel was sold to William Butcher, who expanded the entertainment on offer by bringing more unusual and often spectacular acts to perform. Newspaper advertisements show that a troop of Christy's Minstrels were performing there in the summer of 1878.
Later that year Wombwell's Menagerie was advertised at the hotel. It consisted of acts containing leopards, bears, hyenas, wolves and the world's smallest monkey.
Bankruptcies caused the hotel to change hands several times in the 1880s. Newspaper reports of 1891 confirm that the Gardens were still staging sensational ev ents to attract visitors. These included Professor Grais, a parachutist, who descended from the clouds on the Queen's birthday. According to the report the following day, his air balloon was filled with gas from the mains in Georgetown and was dragged by 20 men to Pontac. With his parachute attached, he was then propelled up into the air as the balloon was released. He then detached himself from the balloon and fell 20 feet before the parachute opened slowly and deposited him in the sea. He landed about 400 yards from the shore, swam to dry land and entered the gardens dripping wet amid loud cheers of congratulations from the large number of spectators.