Jersey Chamber of Commerce in the 1960s

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This article, by the then president of the Jersey Chamber of Commerce, appeared in Jersey Topic magazine in the 1960s

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The Jersey Chamber of Commerce was the first to be formed in the English speaking world. Since its formation in 1768 the Chamber of Commerce movement has grown enormously, particularly in England and America, but it is always with considerable pride that we can trace the beginnings of the movement back to this small island of ours.

Time of poverty

Tracing the formation of the Chamber of Commerce in his book Jersey in the 18th and 19th Centuries, historian A C Saunders tells us:

“When the chamber was formed, life in Jersey, particularly for the poor people, was very difficult. There was a scarcity of food, great poverty and the farmers did not grow sufficient grain for the needs of the inhabitants.
”The States were in the hands of a small clique who were more careful of their own interests than those of their fellow citizens. The people of Jersey were in a state of revolt against the injustices and hardships they were faced with and when the States allowed grain to be exported from the island some 400 women boarded a boat and unloaded the grain on to the quayside again, paid for it and distributed it among the starving. The husbands were standing by ready to take action if the women were interfered with.
”The laws of Jersey were severe and feudal. A good example of this was when in 1744 one Isaac Briard was fined for insulting a seigneur and another gentleman called Charles Marett was excommunicated by the Ecclesiastical Court for defaming the character of one Mr Lempriere.
”We therefore see that people who were not great people had to walk warily. Families were bitterly divided and little was done for the

public good."

Transatlantic trade

The majority of people in business in the Island at that time were merchants and ship owners and they had been very successful in developing a flourishing trade between the Island and Newfoundland, where a cod fishery station had been established. However, the Harbour facilities were quite shocking. There was a small harbour at St Aubin's fort (St Aubin's harbour had not yet been built) and cargo had to be carted across the sand to the shore. At St Helier the only harbour was the 'Havre Neuf', an open quay at the end of what is now Commercial Buildings.

Conway Street did not exist then and conditions into St Helier were appalling. Carts had to travel across sandy swamps littered with refuse of the town and often as many as 50 to 60 vessels would be waiting outside of the open quay yo unload their goods, their skippers casting anxious eyes skywards.

Harbour conditions were so bad that ships had to go to St Malo to lay up for the winter months.

So it was this background of poverty, a dictatorial government and a complete lack of vision by them that led to the formation of the first Chamber of Commerce in the English-speaking world.

The first meeting was held on 27 February 1768 when George Rowlands was elected the first President and the following merchants formed the first executive council: Philip Robin, William Patriarche, Thomas Pipon, Matthew Gosset, John Hue and Thomas Durell.

The first task that the Chamber set about with considerable energy was harbour improvements. Theirs was a difficult battle for the States were not at all sympathetic to the new movement, and it was only constant harassing that made them aware of the situation.

Petition ignored

By 1785 the Chamber had prepared plans to improve things radically and these they presented to the States assembly. The president of the States refused to allow the petition to be discussed and adjourned the meeting by leaving his seat and walking out.

The Chamber was furious at this high-handed attitude and presented another petition adding to it their public censure of the behaviour of the Lieut-Bailiff.

Saunders described this as:

"An unprecedented action taken by a body of tradesmen who had formed themselves into a Chamber of Commerce. It must have been a very serious blow to the Lieut-Bailiff and those supporters who still believed that might was right and that those in power were justified in doing what pleased them best. It proved that public opinion was beginning to be a force in the Island and we can well imagine what a sensation must have been caused throughout the length and breadth of the island when the facts became known".

The Chamber of Commerce eventually won the day and gained their harbour. Work began in 1790 and the island's increased prosperity was due entirely to this effort by a number of merchants who got together to form the first pressure group against the States.

Today the role of the Chamber of Commerce is still very much what it was when our forbears first got together to form it. It is principally a pressure group and very much concerned with the preservation of free enterprise in both large and small units. The business of the Chamber is to protect the interests of industry and commerce in the Island and the subjects it is campaigning for today are no less important than those of 1768 but with the material difference that today the Chamber is consulted, its voice listened to, and its recommendations taken into consideration on all matters affecting commerce and industry by the island government.

Traffic problems

At the moment the Chamber is very much concerned with traffic and car parking problems, particularly in St Helier. Full support was given to the proposal for the construction of a tunnel at Fort Regent and by-pass, as it was felt that the congestion of traffic in certain thoroughfares in the town would be alleviated and the benefit would be particularly noticeable in the summer months, when so many hired vehicles used the main routes of the town merely as a means of getting from one part of the Island to another.

The report of the traffic survey recently carried out in St Helier is awaited with keen interest. The provision of adequate multi-storey car parks in strategic positions has long been advocated by the Council of the Chamber. This is a matter calling for the most urgent action if trade and commerce in the town are not to be even more seriously affected than they are at present. The Chamber is pressing and will continue to press for the establishment by the States of a Traffic Committee which would be solely responsible for the regulation of traffic and car parks throughout the Island.

The Chamber in the past few years has referred to the ever-increasing number of shops which appear to follow the wake of successful tourism, and has advocated some form of control, being of the opinion that existing shops in St Helier were more than adequate to meet all needs and particularly deprecated the conversion of dwelling houses into shop premises.

It is felt that the powers granted under the new Planning Law should be used more extensively in controlling the type of shop premises which are already showing signs of becoming unprofitable encumbrances.

Granville hooliganism

The Chamber is very concerned about the hooliganism problem in Jersey and the shocking incidents that occurred in the town of Granville earlier this year. Its first move was to send a letter to the Granville authorities expressing concern and regret at the behaviour of certain irresponsible types in our midst who had damaged our name and reputation in a town with which we have close ties.

More positive action was taken when the Chamber appointed a special committee to look into the hooliganism problem in the Island and copies of its report recently released have been sent to the Island Defence Committee.

What of the future of the Chamber? Well I doubt if we have ever been so strong. We have a membership of over 500 members and I firmly believe we offer very real pressure to the Island's government in all important matters relating to trade and industry. I think it is also true to say that the Chamber is taking a new look at itself and its method of operating, in the light of present day requirements.

We have behind us a great tradition for getting things done for as Saunders wrote about the activities of the Chamber back in 1930:

"There are few Chambers which can show such wonderful records as the Jersey Chamber of Commerce, for in its early days they were not only anxious to see progressive action taken, but were willing to use their funds in seeing such actions carried out. Without their activities the harbour accommodation would not have been improved for a long time which would have prevented the development of trade".

The aims of the Chamber since those early days have been, and will continue to be, to uphold this great tradition. In unity lies strength and the considerable expansion which has taken place in our membership means that we can speak with even greater authority than ever before as the mouthpiece of the Island's trading and commercial community as a whole.

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