Douets à laver, as they are known to Jersey country people, or lavoirs, the name found in official documents, are communal washing places which can still be found in many places in Jersey, some maintained in excellent condition, while others have been allowed to become overgrown. Women used to gether to wash their clothes and exchange gossip.
Some belonged to a particular property, or a family, and some were used by a group of neighbours. The right to use a lavoir and the preservation of the path leading to it were important matters, and often referred to in contemporary documents.
A lavoir at St Cyr, St John has a stone engraved with the names of the only families which were permitted to use it.
- Noms des Personnes ci dessous mentionnés qui ont droit au Douet et qui l'ont fait réédifé dans l'année 1813
Droit au douet involved obligations as well as privileges. When a lavoir (sometimes incorporating an abreuvoir for watering animals) was erected, a contract was often drawn up, with the parties agreeing to share equally in all expenses and to observe certain rules. For example, advance notice might be required by any person wishing to wash linen. The duties of those who had the right to use a certain douet or lavoir were to keep the channel clean and free from obstruction, and to abstain from fouling or diverting the water.
The National Trust for Jersey looks after 20 lavoirs, wells and public pumps. The Trust owns the lavoir de La Rue des Prés. By arrangement with the parishes and individual owners, the Trust also runs a programme under which it accepts responsibility for the care and maintenance of other lavoirs which would otherwise fall into disrepair.
Most Jersey lavoirs date from the 18th and 19th centuries, although it is believed that the communal lavoirs may be older. They were constructed in stone, and the initials of the owner(s) and the year of construction can often be found engraved on the stone at the back of the lavoir. Before the lavoirs were constructe, clothes were usually washed in streams, and gradually some sort of pool or more elaborate structure was established.
In St Helier, one of the main washing-places was the open brook, Le Grand Douet, which flowed through the area now known as Springfield.
The Lavoir de La Rue des Pres was donated to the Trust by Mrs H M C Scott-Dalgleish in 1987. It is a large granite lavoir, which is easily accessible.
Among the other lavoirs the Trust cares for, the most significant are probably the Lavoir at La Fortunee and the Bouley Bay Hill Lavoir. The former is a very secluded construction, which seems to have been built in 1834. The main containment area in which the water is trapped holds 80 pots (a “barrique”). There is a tiny lane leading to the lavoir, which could only be used by those having droit au douet. The latter lavoir is also dated from 1834, according to the stone inscription, and served some tenants of the fief de l’Abesse de Caen.
Two other lavoirs can be seen in St. Clement: Slate House Lavoir and Pontac House Hotel Lavoir.
Lé Douët Fleury is at the end of a field path near St Martin's Church. The Douët is fed by a brook which finally discharges into St Catherine’s Bay.
There are several groups of letters on the stone pillars of the douët which were the initials of the householders who were entitled to use it for washing their household linen. These carvings include EELS 1832 (for Édouard Élie Le Sauteur). This would be Édouard Élie Le Sauteur (1792- ), Centenier of St Martin, married to Jeanne Sohier. They lived on Rue Faldouët in the Vingtaine du Fief de la Reine.
Lavoir des Dames
The Lavoir des Dames at Sorel, St John, is not a lavoir at all, but a large rock pool.