As a sequel to the trite, but increasingly true statement, "They make more people, but they do not make more land", we might add the observation that new buildings and institutions, however useful they may be, can, more than ever before, be erected almost anywhere with relative facility; ancient landmarks, once destroyed, can never be replaced, for, as Thomas Hardy says, a revival never has the genuineness of a survival.
Similarly, a reconstruction is a far cry from the real article. Historic landmarks are not merely quaint fossils to occupy the minds of a few eccentric dilletantes; they are tangible reminders of a past still living in the institutions which it engendered, and they can set a tone of reverence and lend a feeling of stability all too lacking in our iconoclastic times, not to mention the obvious value they possess in enlightening us about daily life of other times as no book can.
Regardless of the increasing sentiment throughout the world in support of historic preservation and natural conservation, we must still witness the demise of irreplaceable reminders of the past from day to day. One such instance is the impending destruction of Grainville Manor, or perhaps more properly Grainville House, in the parish of St Saviour in Jersey. Though not one of the island's oldest relics by any means, this house is nevertheless worthy of note from both an architectural and a historical viewpoint.
In applying the term Grainville Manor to this house, we must disentangle the word "Manor" in the mediaeval sense from the actual house which stands thereon. The fief, or manorial land, takes its name from its first recorded seigneur, Eustace de Grainville, who held it in 1204. It passed from him to his brother Gilbert, who sold it to Guillaume de Chesney in 1239. It then passed by marriage to the Walsh family, but in 1471 escheated to the Crown at the death of Geoffrey Walsh at the Battle of Barnet.
It remained in Crown hands until Charles I granted it to Sir George Carteret in 1643, and his grandson, George, sold it, with many other insular lands, in 1695. Thereafter it passed to the Poingdestre family, but in 1825 Jean Poingdestre (1746-1831) sold various holdings, including Grainville, to Philippe and Francois Godfray. They in turn sold it to James Robin, whose great, great grandson, Brigadier Raoul Lempriere Robin, is the present seigneur.
The ownership of the fief, except for a brief time, was not connected with the ownership of the house and its surrounding land, for Grainville House (or Manor) stands on land which had apparently been held by the male line of the Poingdestre family from the 14th century until long after the construction of the present house, for Pierre Poingdestre held land in St Saviour's parish, which was inherited by his son Jean, a Jurat of the Royal Court, in 1467.
Adjacent to Grainville stands an earlier house, now called Swan Farm, dating from the early 17th century. It is this old Jersey farmhouse which was the seat of the Poingdestre family before the construction of Grainville, and it must have been on or near this site that their earlier, mediaeval, house stood.
The Poingdestre family has a remarkable record for service to the Island in official capacities. There was a Bailiff who served in 1452-53, and 1467-76, though these dates may represent two different men; there have been two Lieut-Bailiffs, eight Constables of the parish, and eight Jurats of the Royal Court, five of them being in direct father to son succession, a unique performance.
In 1419, the then head of the family, Jean Poingdestre, Lieut-Bailiff, acquired by purchase Le Fief du Moustier in the parish of St John, and henceforth it was known as Le Fief es Poingdestres, and it ranks amongst the 15 who owe "Comparence" at the Assise d'Heritage. In 1645, in the Nouvelle Extente des Commissionaires pour les Fieux, it appears thus:
"L'An 1645 le 27e de Febvrier. Mr Philippe Poindestre ayant droit es heritages de Thomas Poindestre. Il nous a apparu d'une lettre en dapte de lan 1419 le jour de Samedy apres la feste St Gilles comme Jean Poindestre acquist de Collette de St Helier le fieu du Moutier en la paroesse de St Jean lequel fieu est tenu de notre Sire le Roy en chef et a droit de forfaiture, verp, guerp, essiage, et a droit de chasse comme est porte par les droits dou il possede."
An editorial note to the above says: "Collette de St Helier, veuve de Pierre des Augres vendit en 1419, a Johan Poingdestre et a Johanne sa femme, le fief du Moustier situe a St Jean, pour 15 couronnes et ½ ecu de vin et vente."
This same Jean Poingdestre acquired part ownership of the fief of Dielament in 1413, together with Jean Lempriere, Seigneur de Rozel, Regnauld Le Lorreur, Clement Le Hardy, and Perrot Le Lorreur.
It is not pertinent here to give the history of the family in detail, but it is clear they never lived on their seigneurial fief in St John, at least as a permanent residence. Instead they continued to live on their ancestral land in St Saviour, where Swan Farm and Grainville now stand. Records of the Cour d'Heritage, as well as those of the parish, make that clear. Sire Jean Hue, Rector from 1461-1507, for instance, mentions the family often in his parish records, and in the 14th century several of them were buried within the church. Sire Jean Hue thus records the burial of Jean Poingdestre, Bailiff of Jersey, who died in 1477:
- (Anno MCCCC) LXXVII die Sept(im) o mensis Julii.
- John Poingdestre inhumat(us) in Eccl(es)ia, deditq(ue) Thesaur(o) S(anc)ti Salvatoris duos cab. fru(men)ti. Item, obitib(u)s quinq(ue) cab.
- (1477. 7 July. John Poingdestre buried in the Church, and gave to the funds of St Saviour 2 cabots of wheat. Also, for memorial services, 5 cabots.)
and again, for the burial of his wife Alinor, daughter of Nicholas Morin, also Bailiff of Jersey:
- (Anno MCCCC) LXXVII xv". die Januar(ii).
- Helena uxor J Poingdestre filia Nicolai Morin inhumata in Eccl(es)ia prope dictum Nicolaum in capella: deditq(u)e quattuor cab fru(men)ti ex hereditagiis suis, viz: unum cab Curato propter celebrand(um) unam Missam quolibet an(n)o in die inhumationis su(a)e: duobus capellanis, unum propter orendum pro ipsa, unu(m) pro dicta inhumatione, et alium propter juvand(um) ad faciend(um) unu(m) cereum coram imagine Virg(inis) praetestat(a)e in dicta Capella.
- (1478. 15 January. Alinor wife of J Poingdestre daughter of Nicolas Morin, buried in the Church near the said Nicolas in the Chapel: and she gave 4 cabots of wheat from her inheritances, viz: 1 cabot to the Rector for celebrating a mass each year on the day of her burial: to the two Chaplains, 1 cabot for praying for her: 1 cabot for the said burial: and a third to help maintain one candle before the statue of the robed Virgin in the said Chapel.)
The prominence of the family in Island affairs continued, and we may add the names of Thomas Poingdestre, Rector of St Saviour, 1638-89, and Philippe Poingdestre who was Regent (Headmaster) of St Mannelier's School 1661-65. But the most prominent member of the family was doubtless Jean Poingdestre (1609-1691) who was Lieut-Bailiff from 1668-76. He married Anne, daughter of Laurens Hamptonne. He was a staunch Royalist, a noted classicist and author of various works on the laws of Jersey.
At some time in the early 18th century a member of the family, perhaps the Jean born in 1693, decided that they had outgrown Swan Farm, and built a more commodious house higher up the hill to the south east.
Mrs Joan Stevens, an authority on Jersey domestic architecture, after inspection of the present building, has suggested that the first Grainville house must have been a simple four-roomed one, perhaps with an additional utility room to the west, thus having the usual two rooms above and two below. The ground floor of this house became the base¬ment of the more modern house, rebuilt in about 1830; the first floor of the older house became absorbed into the ground floor of the newer, and all trace of it has disappeared.
In this basement floor are the kitchens, but architectural remains of the earlier house can be seen in the old parlour, which became a maid's sitting room in Victorian times. It retains the original panelling of the early Georgian type. The only surviving trace of the old upper storey is to be found in the panelling of a bedroom on what is now the first floor. It must have been salvaged from the earlier house and incorporated into the newer one. The old house had been built into the slope of the hill, so that its facade would have faced in the opposite direction from that of the later house. What was originally the handsome Georgian front door remains, but is now the back door of the basement.
We have an extant picture of the house as it was in the mid-19th century, in the form of a watercolor by Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96) now in the possession of Mrs G J Robin (nee Stewart) who has most kindly lent it for reproduction in this article. In it we see the classic 19th century facade that still exists, but at that time the house still retained a pitched tiled roof, as is shown in an architect's drawing dated 1829, in the possession of the writer.
The present porch to the front door was added later, by the Scotts, and bears their crest, a deer; it must therefore date after 1873 when they bought the property. It may also have been they who replaced the pitched roof with the present lower one, behind a parapet.
As already suggested, the oldest part of the building is the basement, with its relics of grandeur in the panelling; the rest must have been rebuilt and enlarged in the early 19th century, for the basic impression created by the house as it now stands is one of simple and regular dignity typical of the classical revival. The interior exhibits elements suggestive of early Victorian architecture, particularly the woodwork and heavy mahogany doors, and this is all in good accord with the drawing of 1829, already referred to, doubtless showing the proposed alterations of that date. Apparently the plans were followed closely, because the building of today differs little from that drawing, except for the roof alteration. An early photograph, of about 1860, corroborates the evidence for the pitched roof.
During its history Grainville has been the site of numerous events, both historic and festive. Most of these passed without record, but some 19th century accounts have come down to us. A tradition exists in the family that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Grainville during their brief visit to Jersey in 1846. One ebullient account even avers that the Royal couple danced in the conservatory there. Neither supposition is probable, for there is no record of their having visited any private home during their three-hour stay, though they would have passed the entrance to Grainville on their way to Mont Orgueil.
But Jean Poingdestre, the seigneur of Le Fief es Poingedstres at the time, did greet the Queen and her Consort upon their disembarkation, and offered them a gift. A newspaper article of the period thus records the event:
- "On the arrival of the Royal yacht in the roads, J Poingdestre Esq, of Grainville House, in the company of his very clever gardener, Mr Folley, went on board, and had the honour of presenting to Her Majesty a basket of fine fruit from his noble garden. The basket contained pineapples, figs, melons and grapes. The Queen was most graciously pleased to accept the timely and appropriate offering. We understand that the Countess Jocelyn wrote a letter to Mr Poingdestre, to express Her Majesty's thanks for the present." (Jersey Times. 3 September 1846)
At about the same period we have another newspaper article which records a masquerade ball given at Grainville by Mr and Mrs Poingdestre, probably about 1846. The names of most of the notable people in the Island are mentioned therein, and their costumes are painstakingly recorded in good Victorian fashion.
- "Mr and Mrs Poingdestre of Grainville, St Saviour, held their long-announced and eagerly anticipated Fancy ball on Thursday evening last, which is described to us as one of the most splendid fetes ever given in Jersey. The Drawing-room of the mansion was the Ballroom, the Dinner-room was the Reception Room, and the Hall was elegantly fitted up as a Refreshment-tent. The company began to arrive at about 9 o'clock, and the Dancing commenced before 10, there being between two and three hundred ladies and gentlemen present, in fancy costume or uniform, during the evening. Supper was served between one and two o'clock, in the noble Greenhouse of the mansion, along which four tables were sumptuously spread, and of which the vines along the roof were beautifully illuminated with variegated lamps. The company did not finally break up until nearly 6 o'clock on Friday morning. At the Supper-table, in honour of Prince Albert's birthday, the worthy host proposed the health of Her Majesty and the Prince, which was of course most loyally responded to. Among the more distinguished guests were His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor and Lady Reynett."
(Others mentioned were Mr Lempriere of Rozel, Sir Thomas Le Breton, Captain Dumaresq, Colonel Le Couteur, Colonel Pipon, La Contessa Ganin, Lady Jeremie, Colonel Mallet etc.)
Sale of property
Grainville remained in the Poingdestre family until 1873, when Edward Gibbs Poingdestre sold the house and most of its furnishings. The writer still has a printed brochure listing the contents of the various rooms of Grainville House which were put up for sale. The brochure reads:
- "Bernard Hastings is honoured by having been selected by Edward Gibbs Poingdestre Esq to submit to public competition on Tuesday 4 October 1873 and following days, the whole of the Valuable Contents of this far-famed and time-honoured Baronial Residence."
The opulence of the interior can be glimpsed in the listing of five principal bedrooms, seven attic bedrooms, kitchen, drawing room, library, dressing room, morning room, dining room, wine cellar, several staircases and landings, entrance hall, conservatories, gardens, stables and numerous appendages. An extensive library with rare volumes, statuary, oriental rugs, oil paintings, silver, crystal etc, are copiously detailed. The total amount brought by the sale of the furnishings was £1190.12.2d, a handsome sum by the day's monetary standards.
Edward Gibbs Poingdestre sold Grainville, as well as considerable land property in the vicinity, to Robert Herries Dudley Scott in 1873. The price was £4,000. It passed to his son, Henry Dudley Scott, who sold it to Lady Godfray in 1902. She was the widow of Sir James Godfray QADC, and they had rented the house for some years before the purchase, and before her husband's death in 1897. In 1952 Lady Stewart, daughter of Sir James and Lady Godfray, sold it to S W Smedley, and in 1967 Mrs Smedley, nee Venables, sold it to the Convent FCJ who intend to build a new and ambitious school there.
It is hoped that at least some of the woodwork can be salvaged for later use, both by private persons and the Museum of La Societe Jersiaise. Most of the furnishings of Grainville were, of course, dispersed at the time of the sale in 1873, but several portraits and other smaller items such as family plate and books, are still in the possession of Mrs Ferguson Roydhouse, a grand daughter of Edward Gibbs Poingdestre. The writer has a portrait of him painted in about 1870 by W M Hay, which once hung at Grainville, as well as counters from a 17th century loo set bearing the arms and crest of the family.
As an interesting corollary to the impending destruction of Grainville, we might strike an encouraging note in observing that "Christ's Cross" or "Criss-Cross", a house built about 1685 in New Kent County, Virginia, by George Poingdestre, has recently been restored, and is now open on certain occasions to public view. This George Poingdestre, a nephew of the Lieut-Bailiff Jean, emigrated to Virginia from Jersey in 1657. November, 1968