Garrison artillery on Mont de la Ville before the Fort was built
Fort Regent was built as the island's main barracks and fortification from 1806 to 1814, just as the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end.
Mont de la Ville
It was constructed high above the town of Saint Helier on the Mont de la Ville, which had hitherto been an exposed common, with magnificent views in all directions, and a much loved walk for town residents. So jealously did the residents of the Vingtaine de la Ville guard their rights to the common that in 1674 they fought a bitter legal battle against Philippe Dumaresq, seigneur of La Fosse, who eventually capitulated and handed over any rights he had to the land.
But it was long coveted by the island's military authorities. As early as 1550 King Edward VI had suggested that the whole town move to the top of the hill, where they could be better defended, but the townspeople refused to leave their homes on the plain below.
In 1591, with the threat of a second Spanish armada, some land was sold to the crown for a fortification, but the plan was abandoned or forgotten. It was revived after the Battle of Jersey in 1781 and work started on preparing rudimentary defensive walls and a parade ground. A prehistoric tomb was unearthed in the course of this work, but was not allowed to stand in the way of progress and it was given to the Governor, General Conway, who had it shipped to his Berkshire estate, where it remains to this day.
There was almost certainly a second prehistoric megalith on Mont de La Ville, the remains of which had been standing above ground and were recorded by Philip Morant in a paper for the Society of Antiquaries in 1761, before they were apparently broken up to make a defensive wall. Conway's stones were apparently unearthed during subsequent construction.
On the King's birthday on 24 June 1804 there was almost a major disaster, when fuses stored alongside 5,000 barrels of powder were accidentally ignited after the firing of a royal salute. The officer in charge of the signal post, together with a carpenter and a private, managed to remove the burning fuses and extinguish the fire inside the powder store, and were rewarded by the States of Jersey with medals and money for their bravery.
Later that year the Crown paid £11,280 to acquire the hill from the vingtaine and a grand fort was planned by Major General John Hambly Humfrey. Parishioners from across the island provided the necessary labour and at a cost of £375,203 the Fort, named after the Prince Regent and future King George IV, was constructed.
The only time that its guns were fired in anger was when it was commandeered by German forces during the Occupation. They used it for anti-aircraft guns to fire against any allied aircraft which came too close.
A decision to develop Fort Regent as a leisure complex was taken in December 1967. In 1970 the cable car facility was opened which gave access to Fort Regent from snow hill, this was closed to public use in 1991. In 1974 the Fort was roofed over.
The swimming pool was built on the Glacis Field and opened in 1971, the Gloucester Hall opened in 1978; this is part of Fort Regent’s multi-use facilities. The Queens Hall opened in 1988
From The Bailiwick of Jersey by George Balleine
- "The town of St Helier was built at the foot of a little hill called le Mont de la Ville or the Town Hill. Till the beginning of the 19th century this was a breezy, furze-covered common; 'a lovely walk', wrote Falle in 1734, 'with most extended prospect on all sides'. Durell, who had known the common before it was sold to the Crown, adds, 'On a clear day could be seen rising above the distant horizon the towers of the Cathedral of Coutances and a wide extent of the coast of France. Though bleak and exposed in rough weather, it was much resorted to for recreation at other times. On Sundays and holidays it was the best frequented walk in the neighbourhood of the town.'
- "In 1619 the residents in the Vingtaine de la Ville, which included the whole town as it then existed, built a shelter there for their sheep and paid a shepherd to watch them. But in 1674 Philippe Dumaresq, as seigneur of La Fosse which had been absorbed into the fief of Samares, claimed the exclusive right to hunt rabbits on the hill. This the vingtaine strenuously resisted, and after lawsuits before the Royal Court and the Privy Council, Dumaresq 'for the sake of peace' agreed to hand over to the vingtaine whatever rights he had.
- "But for a long time the military authorities had coveted this hill. As early as 1550 an order had come from the King: 'Because on occasion of foreign invasion we be informed you have no place of strength to retire unto, we require you to convey your Town unto the Hill above the same, which we be informed may with little charge be made strong and defensible.'
- "But the townsfolk could not be persuaded to abandon their old homes, nor was there then any water on the mount. In 1591, however, when Spain was preparing a second Armada, the vingtaine agreed to sell part of the hill to the Crown for a fortification, 'owing to the danger that daily threatens utter ruin to this isle'; but nothing was done.
- "De Rullccourt's raid in 1781 brought the matter up again, and once more the vingtaine consented to sell the common for a citadel. A wall of turfs was thrown up round the top of the hill and some guns mounted, and the rough dunes inside were levelled to form a drill-ground for the town militia.
- "While this was being done in 1785, a remarkable prehistoric burial-place was unearthed. It consisted of a covered passage 15 feet long, leading to a ring of thirty upright stones against which were built five large cells, each roofed with a cap-stone. General Conway, the Governor, grew quite excited about this, and had models of it made to scale, one of which is in the Museum and another in the Public Library. But militia drill was considered more important than pre-history; so, since Conway showed such interest in this tomb, the vingtaine presented it to him, and he removed it and set it up in his Berkshire park, where it stands today.
- "This was apparently not the only megalith that had stood on the hill. Conway wrote: 'The present Temple remained entirely covered with earth till the summer of 1785, having the appearance of a large barrow, which I had constantly seen, when I was in the Island.' But earlier writers had described stones that were clearly visible. Philip Morant, in a paper read before the Society of Antiquaries, had said in 1761: 'On the Town Hill stands a stone 14 feet long and 7feet broad and above 3 feet thick, which is supported by five others. South-east of it was a circle of stones, of which only one, 6 feet high, is still standing, the rest having been broken up to make a neighbouring wal1.'
- "It is easier to believe that the breaking-up process had continued, until this tomb had disappeared, than that in 24 years it had been so completely buried that all memory of it had been lost. Moreover, the two descriptions do not tally. There is reason to believe that many other prehistoric remains have disappeared like this.
- "Within the earthwork had been made a powder-magazine holding 5,000 barrels of powder. June 24 1804 was the King's birthday. At noon the royal standard had been hoisted and a royal salute fired. That evening panic-stricken soldiers rushing down the hill shouted to Lys, the officer in charge of the signal post, that the magazine was on fire. A careless gunner had put back there a smouldering fuse, which had set the other fuses alight. Lys called Touzel, a carpenter, and Penteney, a private, and the three men burst open the door, threw out the fuses, and extinguished the fire. They were only just in time, for chests full of powder were found to be badly charred. The States gave each a gold medal and a monetary reward, stating: 'We feel it our duty to pay this tribute of gratitude to these intrepid men, who, realizing that the explosion would certainly demolish part of the town and destroy many inhabitants, decided without hesitation to risk almost certain death in the heroic hope of saving their fellow-citizens.' The Museum owns Touzel's medal.
- "In November that year, after much haggling, the Crown acquired the hill from the vingtaine by an Act of the Court, which ordered the registration of the findings of a jury of 24 men (Ressort de Grande Vue) in respect of the area and value of the site ceded. The price agreed on was £11,280. This produces an income of about £600 a year, which still provides funds for many town improvements. The present fort, which covers four acres, was planned by Major-General Humphrey, and incorporated all the latest devices for defence.
- "The labour of the Island was mobilised. Each parish agreed to supply carts and men on a separate day. The slopes of the hill were blasted away, leaving only stark precipices, such as can be seen at the back of the houses in Hill Street. The 12th century Chapelle des Pas was blown up, lest it should provide cover for an attacker. A well 233 feet deep was sunk. The total cost was £375,203, on which the British taxpayer is still paying about £10,000 a year interest. The foundation-stone was laid in 1806, and the work was finished in 1814. It was named Fort Regent after the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, who was acting as regent during his father's madness."
- Early proposals for fortifying the Town Hill
- A history of Fort Regent Added 2019
- A brief history of Fort Regent Added 2016
- Fort Regent siege guns
- The well at Fort Regent
- The fire in the powder magazine on Mont de la Ville
- Fort Regent signal station
- Signal stations
- A 2006 conservation statement for the Fort prepared for the States
Click on small images to see larger picture