Jersey Archive history of St Helier Harbour
St Helier had no harbour before 1700. Vessels landing at St Aubin's harbour would unload at low water, and carts would then be driven across the sands to take the goods to St Helier. La Folie Inn was already established by 1733. A small harbour was established on either side of the Inn. The French Harbour, originally known as the Havre Neuf, was the first quay in the modern harbour of St Helier and was probably built around 1700. Parts of the pier date from 1720, with improvements in 1749 (funded by the equivalent of a lottery grant), and it took its current shape in the 1820s. It is now known as South Pier.
The harbour to the south of La Folie was known as the French Harbour, and the area to the north was the English Harbour. At first, as in St Aubin, vessels had to unload at low water, using carts to take goods ashore. Pier Road was built to give some access to the new harbours. The English harbour was originally bounded by rocks, which were incorporated into the piers, funded by a donation from George II. The story is told that he gave the money for the harbours, and that a statue in the Royal Square was erected in acknowledgement of his gift. The statue however was put up in 1751, and the gift was not received until 1752.
In 1786 the Jersey Chamber of Commerce persuaded the States of Jersey that there was a need for a proper commercial harbour adjacent to the town. In 1790 work started on the North Quay and in 1814 on the Merchants Quay (now Commercial Buildings). The merchants themselves paid for the road alongside Commercial Buildings, giving easy access to their warehouses from the quay, and linking the English Harbour to the town.
The search for more of the history of St Helier's harbours still continues. Recent excavations beside the Royal Yacht Hotel provided evidence of an early quay, and earlier records mention the quay beside the Town Church. What is now known as the Old Harbour has perhaps moved slowly southwards as the town has expanded onto reclaimed land.
The Victoria Pier protected what is still known as Victoria Harbour, and it is currently a freight area of the harbour. Later, permission was given for the other arm of the harbour to be named for Prince Albert, and it is still known as the Albert Pier. These two arms have guarded the core of St Helier's harbours for over 150 years, and the port control signals are still located at the end of Victoria Pier.
It was about this time that the ease of access to St Helier from rural parishes meant that farmers could export their early crops through the harbour. Fast sailing ships gave way to steamships, and the commercial use of the harbour grew. This in turn led to demand for improved facilities at the harbour.
In a report about the harbour works by the engineer Imrie Bell, the existing harbour is described as "a tidal harbour, entirely dry at low water; so that passenger steamers, unless they arrive at a high state of the tide, have to moor outside, and discharge the passengers into small boats in the open bay - a most inconvenient and sometimes dangerous arrangement; and this operation has to be repeated as frequently in embarking to leave the port."
The States saw "the necessity of providing better harbour accommodation", and advertised for competitive plans for an improved harbour in 1867; forty-two plans were submitted. Many proposals were discussed before Sir John Coode's plan was selected. It was subsequently amended and expanded. As in Sir John Coode's lighthouse at La Corbière, much of the building work was in concrete. Imrie Bell was the engineer responsible for overseeing the work.
The developments of the later Victorian period gave the harbour area almost a century of greater usefulness. Access was still limited by the tides. Even today regular dredging is required to keep the harbour open.