ersey's landscape has changed dramatically in the past century and large areas of open countryside are now covered in houses and other buildings to accommodate a population which has almost doubled, from just over 50,000 in 1911 to over 100,000 in 2020.
Nowhere illustrates this change better than the Les Quennevais area of St Brelade: once unspoilt sand dunes and green fields, now covered in estate after estate of similar or identical houses with virtually no room for further expansion.
From farmland to dunes
Opinions differ wildly as to when this part of the island, essentially a flat, triangular area from Route Orange north towards the Airport, and bounded to the west by the Les Mielles sand dunes, itself became covered in sand. Geologists suggest that it was as long as 5,000 years ago, others say that a great storm in 1475 swept sand up from Blanches Banques in St Ouen's Bay, while others hold that there has been a steady process of sand being blown up from the bay below by prevailing south-westerlly winds over a period of centuries, and that the process continues today.
The anonymous Jersey chronicler wrote in his 16th century diary, Les Chroniques de Jersey that the area became covered in sand at some time between 1484 and 1507. The account of an otherwise reliable historian is somewhat fanciful and it is not clear how the wine in the following quotation turned into sand:
- "At that time a large Spanish ship laden with a cargo of sweet wine was shipwrecked near La Corbière. As a result the sands were saturated with wine, even the Hall of St Ouen's Manor lay almost filled with wine."
A document in Latin in the library of St Ouen's Manor gives the date of the event as 1495 and makes the link between wine and sand, thus:
- "The Quennevais was the most fertile part of Jersey. About 1495 on the feast of St Catherine, five Spanish ships were wrecked on the coast. Fourt of them were engulfed by the waves while the fifth was driven ashore, their crews, with the exception of one good man, were drowned. The islanders plundered their goods, etc. Nor could the priests by their </div>
exhortations persuade them to restore the property. Soon after, Divine Justice interposed whereby the Western part of the island was overblown with sand and gravel. It ruined the fertility of all their lands which are called the Canveti".
No translation of 'canveti' has been found (but see section below on meaning of name). It is unclear to whom the priests were urging their flock to return the wine. The most likely scenario is that the Seigneurs of St Ouen and others having rights to the foreshore believed that the wine was theirs, and demanded that the priests try to persuade their parishioners accordingly.
In An account of the island of Jersey, published in 1813, William Plees suggests that it was not necessary to cultivate too deep to discover good quality soil beneath the sand:
- "Les Quenvais now form a large and barren common. There is an intention of enclosing it for cultivation : a design which is suspended, in consequence of some claims, of ancient date, that have lately been renewed to the whole district.
General Don, from a truly public spirited motive, enclosed 45 vergies, or 20 acres, which he trenched very deep, and thus reached the natural soil: whether this laudable trial may answer, in point of expense or not, is uncertain : his Excellency has however set an example, worthy of being imitated, in the same or some other shape.
But though, generally speaking, the soil is so fertile, that large families are maintained on the produce of ten vergées, or less than four acres and a half of ground, yet the ample supply of bountiful Nature is seldom collected to its full extent. The fields and gardens, too generally present "a wild, where weeds and flowers promiscuous shoot" but for this confusion, "we ought to blame the culture, not the soil" since the luxuriant crop of weeds affords a good proof of a prolific matrix.
Meaning of name
George Balleine, in his The Bailiwick of Jersey says that Quennevais is derived from chenevière or chanevière, meaning an area where hemp was grown, a most important crop for rope-making during the period of ship-building in Jersey. However, the era of shipbuilding was the second half of the 19th century, and Les Quennevais, as a district and one of St Brelade's four vingtaines, is thought to predate this by some time. It is also unclear why the name would then be in the plural as 'Les' Quennevais rather than 'Le'.
Philip Ahier's Short Parochial and Commercial History of Jersey suggests four different derivations:
- A corruption of the French champs envahis, meaning fields overrun
- From the latin campus ventus meaning a field of wind
- A reverse of voie des chenes, the path of the oaks
- Balleine's 'hemp field'
Plees's An account of the island of Jersey favours the 'field of wind' theory:
- "To trace the etymology of local names is generally a difficult task, and frequently an unsatisfactory attempt. Mr Falle, speaking of les Quenvais, quotes thus from a Latin MS of Philip de Carteret, Seigneur de St Ouen : "Nunc Canvetos vocant".
Quenvais, or Quenves, seems to be a very natural derivation from Canvetos; and as the MS on this subject says, "ventis pertiata fuerit, et universam iliam agrorum feccunditatem vastaverit". may we not imagine the barbarous term Canvetos to have originated from the words campus and ventus, and thus to signify us champs du vent? Even this last phrase glides into Quenvais or Quenve's, as in that dialect, which is called Jersey-French, ch is pronounced like k, as in Greek and some other languages. A provincial manner of speaking would soon effect such a change.
Today, however, the 'fields overrun with sand' seems to be the generally accepted derivation.
From dunes to housing estates
The acquisition of land at Les Quennevais by the States started in 1925 and 1926 when the public bought the land on which Clos des Quennevais and Clos des Sables, as well as the car park at Red Houses crossroads.
The process continued after the Second World War. In April 1960, negotiations were believed to have begun for the sale of Les Quennevais Racecourse. It had been the Island's major horse racing venue for years. Attempts were allegedly being made to place the land on the open market, but the then owners, heirs of the late Mr John W Huelin, were likely to face a legal battle with "The Jersey Race Club" providing the opposition. Mr Huelin`s heirs were reportedly asking for £250,000 for the property, which at the time was a wide area of scrub and gorseland. The highest offer at the time was £150,000. Mr Huelin paid £3,000 for the land when he acquired it. It was reported that "The Jersey Race Club" would possibly claim that the heirs have no right to sell the course.
The majority of the land in public ownership at Les Quennevais was acquired in January 1963 from Jersey Sports Grounds Limited. This land was referred to as the "Huelin Land" and measured 117 vergées in total. The fields acquired were La Mielle des Courses, La Mielle des Mines, and La Mielle de L`Artillerie. The field names indicate clearly just how sandy was the land on which the racecourse had been created.
The Don Farm area in public ownership was acquired by way of two contracts in August 1968 and included the acquisition of Don Villa and Don Farm.
The land that Le Clos Don and the Western Fire Station have been built on was acquired in September 1974.
The original Sports Hall was constructed in 1970. This building was incorporated into the new indoor swimming pool building in 1996. The building was opened on 27 May 1996. It is surrounded by high quality playing fields and a perimeter cycle track. To the south the playing fields are bounded by the Railway Walk, which was once the railway line taking trains from Don Farm Station on to La Moye and La Corbière. To the south of the walk can be found the Elizabeth Avenue housing estate, Les Quennevais School. Quennevais Park and Clos des Sables.
To the north is the Lesquende area, which consisted primarily of the old Belle Vue Pleasure Park, which was acquired by the Public by compulsory purchase on the 11 December 1992. It also included Les Leaux Teulees (Creepy Valley). Belle Vue Pleasure Park was opened on 14 April 1960 and included the island's go-kart track. The last kart race meeting was held at Belle Vue on 5 November 1994.
Further west and north the land drops down into St Ouen's Bay and is covered in sand dunes, which are maintained in their natural state as a public amenity area. The dunes have had all sorts of military purposes over the years, being used for tank testing, and housing a prisoner of war camp during World War One. They were also used for launching gliders before the growth of the nearby airport brought an end to recreational flying of this nature.
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