Until the early 1800s the land on which Kensington Place, Cheapside and the surrounding streets stand mostly consisted of empty sand dunes. The land was part of the Fief de Meleches, one of the many feudal holdings that the island was divided into.
Sale to tenants
On 5 July 1800 the Seigneur of Meleches, Edouard Fiott, sold part of the land in the Kensington Place area to two of his tenants. The land changed hands a few times until the west portion was acquired by property developers George Ingouville and Louis Poignand and the east part by Edouard Nicolle, Philippe Nicolle and Philippe Winter. In December 1804 the two groups of owners agreed on a contract to build a road which would separate the two portions of land. This was the road that would eventually become Kensington Place.
The road was originally named George Street after George Ingouville, with the houses that were built at the Parade end of the road being referred to as Kensington Place. Similarly Lewis Street is thought to have been named after Louis Poignand and a row of houses on the south side of Cheapside were known as Edward Place, possibly after Edouard Nicolle.
The owners gradually sold off plots of the land for house building. Sometimes the contracts of sale dictated what features the houses being built should have. The contract of sale for a plot of land bordering George Street passed on 12 September 1812 between Ingouville, Poignand and Jean Godel, stipulates that within two years of the sale Godel would build a house with at least one storey of rooms. The windows of the house had to be six imperial feet in height and of regular appearance.
The land continued to be sold off for development but the road was still jointly owned by the five property developers, who had to pay for its maintenance. On 5 April 1824 the St Helier Parish Assembly agreed to accept their offer to cede George Street to the public.
The St Helier Road Committee minutes for 29 September 1892 record the decision to rename the whole of George Street to Kensington Place. According to the minutes, this was done to end the confusion caused by having the Parade end of the road known as Kensington Place and the Esplanade end as George Street. However, popular legend says that the real reason for renaming the street was part of an attempt to gentrify the area, which had developed a reputation as a red light district and was home to a number of brothels.
An example of an accusation of brothel keeping in George Street can be found in the registers of criminal prosecutions in the Royal Court. The register records that the proprietors and inhabitants of several shops in George Street had complained of the 'disorder and scandal' surrounding the house of Henry Ward Puttock and his wife Anne de Caen. On Saturday 14 May 1836 at around 10 pm, the Constable of St Helier went to the house in George Street, which had been pointed out to him as a maison de débauch, or debauched house.
There he apparently found several people drunk on liquor as well as a number of women staying in the house who he claimed in his report were prostitutes. The Constable also noted that Puttock had not obtained a tavern licence. The Constable returned to the street later that night. At around 11.30, having heard noise in the house, he knocked on the door. However, before opening the door to the police, Puttock quickly made several people leave through a back door.
The Constable reported to the court that he 'had been informed for some time that Puttock and his wife had been keeping a house of debauchery, to the great scandal and great interruption of the peace of the neighbourhood'. Puttock and de Caen were ordered to appear in court to face whatever penalty was ordered.
Incident at tavern
The area seems to have caused the police quite a few problems. The Royal Court registers record in detail an incident which took place in December 1840. Two members of the honorary police, Centenier Dallain and John Le Cronier, had found a man they wanted to talk to regarding an investigation in a tavern at the bottom of George Street near the Esplanade and had gone into an empty room in the tavern to talk to him.
A pair of young soldiers from the garrison named Senior and Harrison barged in wanting to use the room themselves and refusing to take no for an answer. There was always a garrison of soldiers from the British Army stationed in the island and in 1840 they were from the 46th Regiment of Foot with their headquarters at Fort Regent.
A scuffle ensued with the soldiers eventually managing to escape in the direction of Pier Road. While there they rounded up a group of 15 to 20 of their comrades from an inn and headed back to George Street to settle the score with the two policemen. They decided to go to the Fort to ask the officer in charge to detain all soldiers returning from town that night in order to catch the culprits.
In the meantime the innkeeper, William Lloyd, had gone to alert another policeman he knew, Jean Le Neveu, who together with a colleague, Jean Alexandre, made their way to George Street to see what was happening.
Le Neveu and Alexandre arrived at Lloyd's Tavern at about the same time as the group of soldiers, who were reportedly armed with swords and bayonets. The policemen only had their batons de justice, carved wooden staffs of about a foot in length which served as their badge of office.
Alexandre decided that the best course of action would be to draw his baton and order the mob of soldiers to keep the peace in the name of the Queen. Needless to say, this did not go well for the policemen. The soldiers attacked them and seized Alexandre's baton. He managed to escape into George Street, although his injuries were so severe that he collapsed in the middle of the road. Luckily he was taken into a nearby house and recovered sufficiently to return to his own house. Le Neveu met a similar fate, although he was well enough to go to inform the Constable, who strangely decided that he could not involve himself in the affair at that particular moment.
The report of the ensuing investigation highlights how tense relations were between the police and the garrison. Senior was eventually sentenced to three months imprisonment and Harrison to a month, both with hard labour.
The Steam and Hand Laundry was in Kensinton Place, with a town centre office in Library Place