Coast: Grouville Common

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Coast:

Grouville Common


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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 2015


Tenants

The large open space between Gorey Village and the sea is known as Grouville Common or La Commune du Fief de la Reine (ou du Roy)[1] It is the Seigneurial Common for the Tenants [2] of the Crown Fief in Grouville, and is still administered by the Chefs Tenants.

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Originally it was an area which would have provided both fuel and grazing for the Tenants and was also used for drying vraic - seaweed - to be used as a fertiliser.

Inland Grouville Marsh, also part of the Common, is an important wetland site for migratory and breeding birds and is home to many plant and insect species.

The area of the common on the seaward side of the road was called Les Mielles de Gouray - mielles means sandy waste land, and comes from the Norse word meolr.

The two main military features on the Common are Fort Henry and Fort William. The larger is Fort Henry. Originally an artillery fort was supposed to have been built here during the reign of Henry VII, although it may just have been an earth rampart with cannon. The existing fort, with its square tower and rectangular surrounds, was built in 1758. It was protected by a dry ditch and the drawbridge leading to the a single gate was on the landward side, which indicates from which direction they expected to be attacked.

At the time of the Battle of Jersey, in 1781, it was known as Fort Conway. French spies reported that it had a garrison of 25 men and six cannon. In fact, the garrison was five companies of the 83rd Regiment, the Royal Glasgow Volunteers, commanded by Captain Campbell - over 200 men.

During the Occupation the Germans added the two projecting ‘lugs’ to the tower to take searchlights, and added a combined personnel and ammunition shelter at the base.

At the end of the golf course is Fort William, or Prince William’s Redoubt, as it is also known. It was built in 1760. Despite having four 24-punder cannons, it was not even mentioned by the French spies who wrote the reports for Baron de Rullecourt’s unsuccessful invasion in 1781. The fort is now a private residence.

The anti-tank wall running from the beach in front of the fort to Fort William was strengthened by two 105-mm coastal gun casemates, which had concrete walls that were over 6 feet (2 metres) thick.

Russian soldiers

Scots regiments, English regiments, German soldiers: but perhaps the strangest set of military visitors to be billeted on the Common were some of the 5-7,000 Russians who arrived in the island in November 1799. They had been prevented from returning home to St Petersburg by ice in the Baltic, and because English law made it illegal for foreign soldiers to enter the country, they were sent to stay in the Channel Islands until the ice thawed.

They were spread around the Island, but the biggest camp was on the Common. Uncared for by their officers, according to one diarist, many of the Russian soldiers who died ‘were buried like dogs anywhere’. A small cemetery was said to have been created on the Common, but it eventually became overgrown and forgotten.

In late March 1799, just before the Russians arrived, two officers from the garrison fought a duel on the Common. At the sixth exchange of shots, Lieutenant Charles Barrow, the surgeon of the Regiment, fell to the ground mortally wounded. His opponent, Lieutenant James Hagan, was arrested and jailed for two months. It obviously did not do his military career much harm, because in late December 1802 he was able to buy a captaincy in the regiment.

The butts of the former Grouville Common rifle range

By the 19th century the importance of the Common had changed and it was used for many other purposes, including the Grand Reviews of the Royal Jersey Militia, held annually on 24 May, Queen Victoria's birthday. At other times the militia used it as a shooting range. The militia placed great emphasis on shooting practice and had other ranges at Crabbé and Les Platons. On 15 April 1866 men of the Grouville Militia refused to take part on range because they did not like people from other parishes firing with them.

On 10 July 1873 the newly operational Jersey Eastern Railway transported about 700 members of the Militia to Grouville Common to take part in manoeuvres, and on 6 August members of the States were taken from the Green Street station to the Grouville terminus, by the Wimbledon Hotel, in 15 minutes. The line opened for public traffic the following day.

The common has also had a great sporting past. Between 1843 and 1896 it was the main Island venue for horse racing; in 1842 a cricket match was played there, and it was also a football pitch. Since 1877 the Common has been best known as the site of a links – the home of the Royal Jersey Golf Club - which was granted its Royal Warrant the following year.

The first known layout of 18 holes was in 1883 which makes it the 18th oldest 18-hole golf course in the world. It was here that the early greats of the game Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and Aubrey Boomer, learned the rudiments of the game. The original clubhouse was in the Royal Oak, later renamed The Golf Inn, and now called The Pembroke.

Further reading



Notes and references

  1. The common is frequently referred to as Gorey Common, and is marked as such on the 1873 map above. The common is situated in the parish of Grouville; the town of Gorey is almost entirely in the neighbouring parish of St Martin. However, the French name for the seaward part of the common, which is now home to the golf course, Les Mielles de Gouray (see below), might suggest otherwise
  2. A tenant is a land holder; not the same as today's English rent-paying tenant
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