Green Island and witches

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What's Her Street's Story? – Green Island


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Green Island


This article is based on the Jersey Archive Street Story presentation in October 2019, focusing on the Green Island areas history of witchcraft


A Société Jersiaise outing to Rocqueberg in 1959

Green Island, or La Motte, is known for its prehistoric remains, connections with the Jersey witches and development from a small fishing area to a favourite tourist beach. The area is also well known for the Green Island swim and connections to the Jersey Swimming Club.

Excavations

Excavations were carried out at Green Island from 1911 to 1914 by La Société Jersiaise and the bulletins of this period describe and document these in detail. As part of the early investigations in October 1911, a number of chambers were discovered containing bone fragments and a complete skull. Excavations continued in 1912 when more graves of both adults and children were discovered on the islet. Finds there have also included flint flakes, bowls, hammer stones and Iron Age material. [1]

The presence of Witches Rock in the grounds of Rocqueberg, a house on the coast opposite the islet, has meant that the area has been associated with Jersey witches for a number of centuries. A 1940s guidebook indicates that the 40 foot high granite rock was traditionally associated with witches dancing on it during the Sabbath.

It also mentioned that the visitor could gain permission to 'inspect the rock from close quarters and so note the footprints of dancing witches'.

The Channel islands have been described as 'proportionate to their size, the witch-hunting capital of Atlantic Europe'. Between the 1560s and 1660s, when the island had a population of around 10,000, there were at least 65 witch trials before Jersey's Royal Court, with 33 leading to execution and eight to banishment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 88 per cent, or 57 of those named as witches in Jersey and brought to trial, were women. The process of bringing individuals to trial in Jersey either required a confession, proof 'as clear as day' or a parish indictment with parishioners deciding whether there was a case to answer.

While there appears to be no evidence to connect Witches Rock with those accused of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries, one of the accused women did have connections to the Samares and Green Island area.

A document from the 1625 trial of Marie Filleul for sorcery

Marie Filleul

She was Marie Filleul, the daughter of Thomas Filleul, of St Clement. Marie was around 60 years old at the time that she was presented before the Cour de Cattel division of the Royal Court on 20 October 1625.

She was presented by the Constable of St Clement on the accusation that she was culpable of the diabolical crime of sorcery. It was for the court to decide whether she was charged or discharged; whether she lived or died.

The court entry states that the 24 men appointed by the Crown's representatives considered that Mare was guilty of the execrable crime and that she should be taken and hanged or strangled by a competent person until she was dead. The court then ordered that her body be burned until it was reduced to ash.

Witches Rock stands in the grounds of Rocqueberg House, which was built by John Nathaniel Westaway after he bought land consisting of two sand dunes from Robert Hamilton Feur on 14 February 1863.

By 1891 the property had been bought by Charles John Benest, a builder and Jurat of the Royal Court, who lived at Rocqueberg with his wife, Jane Ann, nee Benest, and their two daughters, Clara and Ella. [2] Charles died in 1926 and in his will he left the property to Clara, his eldest daughter, who was married to Ernest Ereaut.

He also left her another property in St Clement that he purchased from the Jersey Oyster Culture Company on 16 June 1900. He left his second daughter Ella, wife of the Rev Charles Walter Balleine, six properties in St Helier.

The Married Women's Property Law of 1925 allowed the daughters to inherit in their own right, a wife's property no longer passing automatically to her husband on marriage.

Clara died in 1939 and her will included a bequest to the Jersey General Dispensary for the 'Eraut Bed' and a trust fund of £3,000 to be divided between seven institutions, including the Distressed Gentlefolks Aid Association and the Jersey Home for Aged and Infirm Women. She also left money to children's home Brig-y-Don, with the residue of her estate being shared between Dr Barnardo's, the Church Army and the Salvaton Army.

She had sold Rocqueberg to Arthur Harrison in March 1930. Married to Annie Eliza Guiton, daughter of Walter, he succeeded his father-in-law as proprietor and editor of the Evening Post.

Green Island swim

The Green Island to Havre des Pas swim has been a firm fixture of the Jersey Swimming Club's calendar since it first took place on 5 September 1919. The Evening Post reported the first swim as follows:

"A very interesting swimming contest took place yesterday afternoon when several members of the JSC did the distance from Green Island to the Havre des Pas Pool, estimated at 1½ miles. The water was in places decidedly loppy and the swim was more of a test of endurance than a race in the pool can ever be.'

There appear to have been five swimmers in the race: two men, Bernard Milnes, the winner, and B Clift, and three women, Miss E Kennedy, Miss Muriel Clift and Miss Connie Touzel.

The 1962 Green Island swim was reported in the Evening Post with the headline: 'Over 50 youngsters complete Green Island to pool event'. The report showed that 56 members of the club, some as young as ten, completed the swim. Denize Le Pennec, who would have been one of the youngest competitors, completed the swim in 51 minutes 11 seconds, coming third overall.

She achieved a number of feats in her swimming career, including becoming the youngest Briton, at 16 years old, to swim the Channel in 1966.

Notes and references

  1. This paragraph echoes the original belief that the graves found at La Motte were very ancient, but recently they have been assessed as being Medieval in origin, dating from the 4th to 11th centuries AD
  2. A middle daughter, Adeline, appears to have died young
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