Broad Street is a very wide street - hence its eventual name - increasing in breadth from the Charing Cross end to its junction with New Cut, Library Place and Conway Street, although the eastern end was split into two with the erection of a granite obelisk in memory of one of the parish's most successful and best-loved Constables, Pierre Le Sueur, after his death in 1853. Le Sueur had lived in a house overlooking the site of his obelisk, which commentators at the time condemned as 'irredeemably ugly'.
Limit of town
In its early days the row of houses on the south were the limit of the town in that direction, with a wall behind protecting these properties from the sea. Remnants of that wall still remain but the sea has been progressively forced back by successive land reclamation.
This side of the street now consists largely of financial institutions. On the opposite side there are shops, but many just have a back entrance, with the frontage on what is now the much more fashionable King Street. But roles have reversed, because when Broad Street was La Grande Rue, King Street was a backstreet, literally La Rue de Derrière.
Broad Street was St Helier's first shopping area, although this came fairly late, because until the influx of English immigrants caused a rapid growth in the town early in the 19th century, most of the inhabitants were very poor and did whatever shopping they could afford in the weekly market. Jersey was not a nation of shopkeepers, and has never really been, with many of the retail establishments started by immigrants from France and England.
This appraisal of the recent history of the street was part of an article by architecture historian Andre Ferrari in Town Crier, the St Helier parish magazine. It was written before a large section of the south side of the street was demolished in 2023 pending a major redevelopment.
Broad Street is arguably the town's original waterfront. One side would have been open towards the sea. By the end of the 1600s, the first buildings were going up on that side, and by the 1700s the Street was lined with granite houses, including some rather grand ones. The beach behind them served as a place for unloading boats in the pre-harbour days, private jetties were built, and the properties gradually extended out onto the foreshore.
Given recent legal wrangling over ownership of the foreshore, it would be interesting to know how this was organised. It seems not to have been the sort of single project we know today, but piecemeal expansion. Each site was extended ever-seaward, creating very long narrow plots unique to this area.
This resulted in a solid block of land with no roads subdividing it, and the unique creation of this area led to another distinctive feature - all the buildings added as the land was reclaimed ended up being 'fossilised' within the large solid site.
Embedded and hidden within the block were houses, lanes, courtyards, outbuildings and warehouses - the very history of the area was preserved in the buildings which stood there. While the eastern end of the site saw rebuilding with Lloyd's Bank, the JEC shop and the Post Office, the rest remained virtually intact until the 1970s.
From then on, chunk after chunk was rebuilt for office developments, and, eventually, all that remained was a granite-fronted building from the 1700s (once the Wimpy Bar). Behind that was a one-storey cottage of the same age, complete with its original A-frame roof timbers, and to the left was a granite-fronted house which had been somewhat unfortunately altered in the 1980s.
But inside was a carved granite stone dating from the 17th century. To the right were a pair of houses dating from the early 1800s (Caxton's) with original features inside. Inevitably, these too have recently been destroyed, with just the frontage of the 1800s houses remaining. Planning knew the age of all these buildings. They had been informed of this. So why was this last fragment of the site's history not retained as a unique feature of the proposed new development?
Yes, a section of pier at the Commercial Street end will be incorporated, but the oldest bits were on the Broad Street side. Now it is all gone. The fascinating history of this area is erased. What's the betting the new development will be given a twee heritage name to 'celebrate its history'?
We have two pages of histories of Broad Street premises from the 1830s to the present day. Each follows a route down one side of the street, with odd-numbered properties to the south and even-numbered to the north, starting at the eastern end where Broad Street meets Library Place, a much narrower street leading to the Royal Square.
Click on any image to see a full-size version
Members of the St Helier Municipality in procession along the street photographed by Percival Dunham