Coast: Greve de Lecq

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Coast:

Greve de Lecq


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The storm-damaged pier in 1885. Eventually the pierhead on the right was also washed away


This article by Doug Ford, a respected authority on Jersey's maritime history, was part of his Coast series for the Jersey Evening Post, and was first published in 2016


Smugglers' haunt

Westwards along the north coast, Grève de Lecq is the first decent anchorage a vessel of any size could use after Bonne Nuit, and in the 18th and early 19th century it was used by smugglers. One incident, in September 1848, involved the brig Eliza, owned by Jurat Philippe Nicolle, picking up five tons of leaf tobacco and several bags of tea and cases of spirit before proceeding to Fishguard. However, the presence of various military detachments guarding the several forts and batteries around the bay must have proved a deterrent at times.

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The name Grève de Lecq is a bit of a mystery for although Grève means beach there are a number of ideas concerning the second element - Lecq. Some regard it as one of the earliest place names in the island, derived from the Celtic word for stone – lech. However, the earliest reference to the place from the 12th century refers to it as La Wik, which is from the Norse Vik - a bay. Just to muddy the waters, in 1780 the Chroniques de Jersey referred to it as Grève de L’Etacq, which suggests a Norse derivation from stakkr - stack.

The bay was described in 1685 by Philippe Dumaresq:

"All the cliffs inaccessible, except a small sand ... of about half a mile ... on each side of which there are two watch houses, and on the east side the remains of an ancient entrenchment, called Catel de Leq ."

Catel de Lecq

Catel de Lecq, standing on the descriptively named Mont Agu – the sharp or needle hill - is a defensive earthwork which was used as a place of refuge by the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside. It was probably built during the late Iron Age, when a bank and ditch were built across the promontory. During the Middle Ages it was extended to the east. It was probably one of the four “castles” mentioned by Diaz de Gama in his account of the 1406 raid led by Pierre Hector de Pontbriand and the Castilian adventurer, Don Pero Nino.

The site continued in its military role into recent times, with the building of a small fort on its western slopes starting in 1779. This was among a number of military works being built as a result of the American War of Independence.

The Conway tower, now painted white as a navigation mark, was completed in September 1780, probably under the direction of Captain Mulcaster. It was one of the first to be built in the island. Like many other defensive structures, it was bought by the States from the British Government after the Great War. Interestingly, the price was £100, which was the same amount that the States raised by a public lottery in 1789 which they used to finance the completion of the guardhouse and battery on Le Catel de Lecq.

By the end of the Napoleonic Wars the bay was protected by nine guns capable of throwing 174 lbs of metal shot every two minutes.

Safe haven

For the peaceful, however, the bay was usually regarded as a safe haven. The 1870 Channel Islands Pilot described the bay as ‘good and safe in all winds, excepting those from the northward...’ This was before the pier was built.

Work began on the pier in the spring of 1872 and the contract was valued at £8,000. On 7 May a seven-course dinner for the members of the Grève de Lecq Harbour Committee, States members and other influential islanders was served at the Grève de Lecq Hotel to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone. Monsieur Poujol, the owner of the hotel, sent a copy of the menu to Les Chroniques de Jersey which printed it for all to see: soup, fish, entrée, meats, vegetables, plum pudding, fruit and grapes - Everything paid for by taxpayers!

The contractor obviously cut corners. for in February 1879 States appointed engineers submitted their report which said that the contractor had not carried out the work in accordance with the specifications and that the foundations had been laid on sand and were not deep enough. The contractor was ordered to carry out the repairs, which were thought to cost in the region of £2,000.

This was not the first scandal to be associated with the pier, for in 1873 the States had authorised a third loan to be taken out to raise enough money to complete the work. Philip Gosset, the manager of the Jersey Banking Company (and Treasurer of the States), bought £5,000 of the bonds, using his own money taken from the Jersey Mercantile Bank. Two days after the money was safely transferred, the Mercantile Bank, whose manager, Mr Armstrong, was Gosset’s brother-in-law, suspended operations.

The tower, barracks and hotels

The harbour was repaired, but in December 1884 a storm smashed through and destroyed about 30 metres of its length towards the pier head. The Star, a Guernsey newspaper, pulled no punches in their report, writing:

‘The white elephant of a harbour is thus again useless and presents a lamentable appearance‘.

Bad weather continued and by February 1885 more of the pier had been destroyed to the extent that The Yorkshire Gazette reported:

"'The harbour is consequently unsafe for shipping.’

Smaller boats had never needed a pier and for centuries fishermen launched their boats from the beach.

Sark colonists

It was from Grève de Lecq that Helier de Carteret and his followers sailed to colonise Sark in 1565. Most of the settlers had names associated with the parish of St Ouen and it would appear that they had small stowaways, for along with the human colonists went the lesser white-toothed shrew, only found in Jersey and Sark.

In the late 19th century the coastline at either side of the bay was stabilised when a sea wall was built, and this was strengthened and completed during the Occupation when major gun positions were set up at either end. The seawall is breached by a slipway giving access to the beach and the stream, which is the boundary between the parishes of St Ouen and St Mary.

The bay has been synonymous with tourism since the early 19th century. Tourists were attracted by the sands and the caves. The description of the bay in Le Lievre’s Guide of 1826 appears a little awkward to the modern reader:

'The sands at the reflux of the tide are firm and dry, and a beautiful colour; and there is a cavern in one of the rocks not unworthy of observation, though it cannot be approached with facility.’

It obviously worked, for throughout the 19th century visitors took excursion cars from St Helier every Tuesday and Friday. In 1880 the price for the day excursion was 2s 6d (12½p). In the 1890s a new attraction appeared in the bay, Mr England’s camera obscura situated in the centre of the bay by the slip road leading to the beach. It was demolished in the 1930s by a car that failed to take the bend at the bottom of the hill.

Among the millions of visitors who must have come to Grève de Lecq over the years, the most unexpected was probably Lieutenant Sidney Burgess, of the Royal Flying Corps, who made a forced landing in the bay on 28 May 1918. He remained in the island for three days before his damaged seaplane could be towed back to Cherbourg.

Further reading


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