Noirmont Manor

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Jersey houses


Noirmont Manor


U21NoirmontManor9.jpg



H20NoirmontManorEast.jpg

Property name

Noirmont Manor

Location

Chemin de Belcroute (Belcroute Hill), St Brelade

Type of property

1810 Georgian manor house on site with history dating back to the 14th century

Valuations

No recent transactions, but, by a contract of 18 June 1695 Elie Pipon bought from the representatives of Lord Carteret, grandson of Sir George Carteret, Bailiff and Lieut-Governor, with the consent of His Majesty and by virtue of a Letter Patent of 16 January 1695, the fief and Seigneurie of Noirmont for 700 pounds Sterling and 45 pounds Sterling for fees. The Letter Patent authorised George, Lord Carteret, to sell the fiefs of Meleches, Grainville, Noirmont and others which had been given to his Grandfather in recognition of his services against the Turks.

Families associated with the property

Datestones

  • PPP 1644 (wife's name erased on shield background), for Pierre Pipon. The only Pierre or Philippe Pipon in 1644, connected to the Noirmont branch of the family, was Pierre Pipon, Regent of St Anastase, 1602-1664, who was the great-uncle of Elie Pipon, the 1695 purchaser of the fief. Pierre`s wife, in 1644, was Judith Effard, daughter of the Rector of St Saviour. [1]
  • GFB dGC 1916 - For Guy Fortescue Burrell de Gruchy, marks the conversion of a tackle room in the outbuildings to a store for an electricity generator of his own design
Advert for a picnic in the grounds in 1855

Historic Environment Record entry

Listed building

An important manor house site associated with the fief of Noirmont - the history of the site dating back to the 14th century.

Includes a notable late Georgian villa, [2] built in 1810 on the site of an earlier manor house of 1700, with associated outbuildings; and a rare early 19th century picturesque garden, woodland and extensive approach drive.

The house takes its name 'dark mount' from the rocky headland upon which it stands.

A chapel is recorded here in 1309.

There is an association with the famous Jersey actress Lillie Langtry, who spent her honeymoon at the manor and scratched her name on a window-pane in the front room.

The first manor house on the site was built by Philippe Pipon in 1700. This was replaced by the present late Georgian villa [3] in 1810 - a fine early example of the square villas [4] fashionable in Jersey in the first half of the 19th century. The coastal approach drive was laid out by 1795 (Richmond map), but it is unclear if it was created as a picturesque approach before the present house was built, or possibly it originated as a public road and was acquired after it was laid out and modified for private use, when the environs were planted with woodland.

The southern section contains exotic trees, as well as pines, and has lawns as open glades between the trees overlooking the bay.

The garden above [5] the public lane down to Belcroute Bay (Chemin de Belcroute) is enclosed by high granite walls. The principal building is two-storey plus roof accommodation, rectangular plan with late 20th century extensions. [6] The walls are colour-wash render. There are four bays on the entrance front. The off-centre granite portico has an entablature with moulding, supported on granite Doric columns, with a cut and set flagstone floor, and internal mahogany and glass panel front door.

There is a pedimented porch at the side entrance, and a ten-column stucco portico on a raised step on the garden front, added in the 1970s.

The south extension has a projecting bay window with embattled parapet. [7] There are replacement sash windows, and painted external wooden shutters on the east and north fronts. The slate roof has hung sash dormer windows and rendered chimneys.

'Noirmont House' by Charles Bessel in 1827

There is a range of outbuildings including an early 19th century fief house [8] - two-storey, with granite rubble walls and a slate hipped roof and notable double height first floor windows with stone hood moulds.

There are modern ancillary buildings on the west of the yard to the rear of the principal house. The yard to the south of the principal house; the 20th century conservatory and swimming pool building (the original glasshouse, stable block and dairy buildings have been lost).

The property is entered through a wrought-iron gateway flanked by two lamps on granite pedestals.

There is a German bunker in garden, and there are also gun emplacements and shelters within the site along the coast.

The site has a notable Picturesque layout and coastal setting - being located on a rocky headland overlooking Belcroute Bay - with enclosed gardens around the house set in the sloping coast landscape. The garden includes a rare Chilean palm tree that has been in the main courtyard since the 1800s. [9] North of the house is a rare and extensive Picturesque coastal drive providing a direct route to St Aubin. This comprises a detached drive, known as the Private Road, [10] running south from Mont es Tours at the south end of the village.

The northern entrance from St Aubin is marked by a large granite archway. From here the drive runs south in Picturesque style through woodland following the contours of the cliff above Belcroute Bay, enjoying numerous views of the bay and beyond. It terminates at a gateway set back off the north side of Chemin de Belcroute north of the house. The gateway is flanked by dressed granite piers with pyramid caps.

To the south on the opposite side of the lane a further large round-headed granite archway [11] with iron gates set into the wall gives access to the frontyard. There are 20th century properties within the site [12] - Vau ès Fontaines [13] and The Lodge. The interior of the house retains notable early 19th century features including a staircase with mahogany balustrade, decorative doorcases and plasterwork.

Old Jersey Houses

In a typically brief article for such an important property, Volume One notes that this is the only case in Jersey where the fief and the vingtaine in which it is situated have the same boundaries.

The fief was retained by the Crown after the separation from Normandy in 1204 and was exchanged with the Abbey of Mont St Michel for land in Alderney. Like all other land of Alien Priories it escheated to the Crown in 1413, but in 1643 it was granted, with other fiefs, to Captain George Carteret in recognition of his services against the Moors at Sallee. His grandson, Lord Carteret, sold the fief of Noirmont to Elie Pipon in 1695 and that family held it for almost two centuries.

As during the mediaeval period there was no resident seigneur, it seems that the first manor house to be built here was that built in 1700 [14] by Elie's son Philippe, who had inherited the property in 1696. The house was demolished by the Pipons and the present one built in 1810.

It is, like so many houses of that period, far more imposing inside than the outside leads one to suspect, and it has a notably beautiful staircase.

The Flagpole

The manor`s flagpole looks, to all intents and purposes, like any other flagpole, either in Jersey or elsewhere. Mounted and hinged upon a stone setting, when lowered it permits closer scrutiny. It transpires that the upper and lower sections are in fact, the former topmast and mainmast of either a schooner or cutter.

The Wells

The house had three wells. When it first received internal plumbing, in about 1909, two small box rooms in the attic received each a water tank, rendering obsolete the hip-baths that had formerly been carried, as required, by housemaids from bedroom to bedroom. [15] These two former box-room water tanks, with ball-cocks and external overflow pipes, then supplied the house with water. They, in turn, received their supply from two of the three wells. These wells were, firstly, the winter or "top well," which was, and doubtless still is, although sealed and in disuse, situated at the top of Belcroute Hill, within a few feet of the lane, on its north side, about twenty metres from the main road. Approximately twenty foot deep, it was on the site of a spring that in winter flowed down the hill, in the direction of the house. This gave a gravity-fed water supply to the house of excellent drinking water but was in danger of running dry by late April. A stop-cock in the road, at the side of the lane, then shut off this supply of water. The main well was then used until late autumn, being twelve foot, or three metres, from the south-west corner of the house, at the end of a range of outbuildings, immediately beneath the high granite wall enclosing this and the back yard. This well was about 100 foot deep and thus extended below the high tide level at Belcroute Bay. It was, though, never contaminated with sea water, nor was it ever known to have run dry, but by late autumn it was was running perilously low. The upper well then came back into use.

The third well was for garden use. It also explains why people so often prefer to go onto a mains water supply. Another spring on Belcroute Hill, half-way down on the south side, was used for this. The well had been in the middle of a damp area from which the spring ran. A path led to a pump set on a granite plinth five metres from the lane, under a slight bank. However, the damp area gradually became a shallow pond. The path then subsided into the pond, leaving the pump on its stone plinth standing incongruously in the middle of the pond. At about this stage, a low dam wall was built to retain the water and a new well dug three metres below the dam. Thankfully, this was only needed in summer. The water was orange, smelt, and whether or not it was fit for drinking nobody ever knew, not wishing to try it. It saved the main well, however, from ever running dry. The water from this well was also turned on from the lane itself, using, on this occasion, a large "T" shaped key. However, there was, unlike the top well, no gravity feed. The water had to be pumped by hand to a tank in an outhouse, which then supplied the garden. Instead of the usual pump with handle one might have expected to use, there was, in the back porch of the house, what rather appropriately resembled the handle of a boat`s bilge pump, that required half an hour`s pumping most days. The manor`s new owner in the 1970s understandably changed this system, even filling in the pond, which by then served little purpose other than to breed mosquitoes. The house is now on `mains water`.

The Woods and Warren

The Woods extended from a triangular parcel of land forming the `hairpin bend` on Le Mont ès Tours, opposite Rochebois, to Noirmont Point. The first stretch, from the Avenue gate to Belcroute Hill, consisted of native, indigenous, woodland, in which oak predominated. However, Holm oak, or Ilex, were also evident and two fine lines of Stone pine had been planted in the 1880s. Slightly before the first bend, which was to the left, on travelling south, was the first of three vallettes that, with an open glade, or `vau`, added charm to the Avenue. At this spot, on the seaward side, beyond the bank that bordered almost the entire length of the Avenue, the particularly steep drop to the beach, consisted of ancient loess and broken rock. As it was prone to minor land slides, five stone pillars of about one metre`s height, linked by chains, carried their warning to passers-by. Growing in the vallette above them were several fine sycamores, mingled with ilex. After the bend, three magnificent beech trees overlooked the Avenue, the bay below it (Le Vauvarin), and St Aubin`s Fort.

At the second bend, shortly afterwards, before descending to the `vau`, was a path leading down to a levelled area overlooking the Housse Rock and bay. The levelled area, with its retaining bank, had been the site of Belcroute Battery and the bank, its bulwark. The rock, Le Housse, and the rocky area surrounding it, which includes a five foot raised beach, was called by 20th century fishermen `Sally Mitchell`, after the tragic drowning here of a girl of that name. There was formerly situated here a rose arbor with a bench overlooking the sea. Parasol mushrooms were abundant here, in the autumn.

The Avenue descends to the open, sloping glade, or vau, in which stood two semi-detached Victorian gardeners` cottages. These were gravel fronted and picturesque, covered with climbing roses and fronted by a flower border to the wall adjoining, here, the Avenue. Flower gardens and shrubberies, with terraced walks, were to be found behind each house. Their shared vegetable garden lay inbetween these cottages and that pictured above, in which an abundance of red and black currants, raspberries and strawberries grew, besides vegetables of all kinds. Between this garden, that fronted the Avenue, and the gardeners` cottages, although a little above them, was a traditional granite well, that supplied them with water all the year round. This, with the cottages, was razed in 1988 to make room for a new house, named Vau ès Fontaines, which took their place.

Continuing southward, just before an excellent specimen of an Ilex, or Holm oak, was a rendered granite, 17th century cottage. Its east gable adjoined the Avenue, its west gable, as such, did not exist, as it was literally the actual rock face of a slight bluff. This cottage, being two-storied, the first floor had a small window facing this leafy outcrop that served as a gable, out of which small boys had a perfect `bolt-hole` into the woods. The water supply for the tenants of this cottage was a well in the next vallette, at a distance of 200 metres.

This second of three vallettes in the Avenue was divided in two. The upper half consisted of an apple orchard which had evidently long been very good, as the approach path was equipped with an alarm-gun, made to take a 12-bore shotgun cartridge pointed downwards. It was fired by the retaining pin, attached by a thread across the path to a peg, being pulled out by the feet of a passer-by, releasing the block that fell upon the percussion cap. The orchard`s Bramley cooking apples were harvested each autumn, being taken to the manor`s "apple room", at the other end of the range of low outhouses which housed the main well, where they gradually diminished in number over the winter! The room bore the odour of apples present and past, impregnated into its wooden walls and ceiling. The slopes above this orchard abounded in rabbit. The south-facing slope had a long-established rabbit warren, which provided the main house with annual rabbit casseroles and afforded ferret-owning small boys endless excitement and netting opportunities.


History

Lt-Col J K Pipon, whose portrait now hangs at Elizabeth Castle, was Seigneur of Noirmont

The present manor house at Noirmont was built in 1810 by Commissary-General James Pipon, KTS, after the demolition of the earlier manor, which had been built in about 1700, on the site of a still earlier house. Dating from the latter period, were two surviving loop-holes in old garden walls, looking out over the sloping valley towards the sea, a back yard made from Belcroute cobblestones and a side-gate with 17th century chamfers. Above the slipway until recently, were two embrasures for the use of militia cannon.

Pipon family

The history of the fief goes back much further, however. It had belonged to the Abbots of Mont St Michel in the Middle Ages, before passing, by confiscation, to the Crown. It was then granted in 1643 by the Crown to Sir George Carteret, for having assisted in the release of English sailors held prisoner on the Barbary Coast. It was sold by his grandson to the wool merchant Elie Pipon, in 1696. It was Elie Pipon`s son Philippe, who built the first manor house, and his descendants lived there for almost 200 years.

The family was a branch of the Pipons of St Peter, one branch of which had already settled in St Brelade in the previous century, at nearby La Moye.

In 1880, the manor and fief were sold by the Rev Clement Collier Pipon to Girard de Quetteville, a Jersey-born East India broker, whose extensive tree-planting program converted much of the otherwise barren Noirmont heath, with seaward slopes, to woodland, much of which still survives. He also built the manor`s oak paneled and ceilinged library, parallel to the conservatory, at ground level, joining the main house to the vinery wall. De Quetteville died fifteen years later, a bachelor, bequeathing his property to one of his his brothers, the Rev William de Quetteville.

Guy de Gruchy

Guy de Gruchy

On William de Quetteville`s death in 1909, the manor and fief again changed hands. The buyer was another expatriate Jerseyman, Guy Fortescue Burrell de Gruchy, who had lived in Brazil for 20 years, as a member of that country`s British merchant community. On leaving Brazil for the final time, he brought with him a selection of that country`s urns and vases and some seeds in his pocket of a palm tree he particularly admired. One of these, grown from scratch, has been a source of admiration for more than a century, standing to this day just behind the manor gates, to the left. It can be seen in two of the pictures, below.

De Gruchy followed the Pipon tradition, in serving both as Constable of St Brelade and Jurat, and wrote, in the manor library, his definitive study of medieval Jersey, Medieval Land Tenures in Jersey. The seigneurial court was revived, for the benefit of the tenants or land-holders of the fief. He also prepared his intended book on the birds of the Channel Islands, but realizing that his health was failing, he passed it instead, to his protégé, Roderick Dobson, to publish. On his death, his daughter Hope May de Gruchy, inherited manor and fief.

German Occupation

The German Occupation of Jersey during the Second World War saw much of Noirmont warren, ending at the Point, converted into a fortress, covered with barbed wire, and mined. The strategically placed manor house was allowed to remain in the possession of Guy de Gruchy, and later of his widow, Catherine May Miller, for two reasons: firstly, due to the personal intervention of their friend and neighbour, Alexander Coutanche, the Island`s Bailiff, and secondly because the German Colonel von Helldorf hoped to reserve it for himself, after the war was over. He was aware of the likely state of the house, had German troops used it as a barracks.

The Germans levelled the lower part of the flower garden, to house a wooden barrack, creating at the same time a cement-rendered latrine against the wall adjoining Belcroute Hill. Twenty metres away was an air-raid shelter. A WW1-style infantry trench crossed the main lawn on a north-south axis, parallel to the coastline at Belcroute. Near the top of the large copper-beech that stood ten metres away from the veranda, was a wooden machine-gun position, accessed by iron rungs beaten into the trunk of the tree.

The top of Belcroute slip received a concrete gun emplacement, a captured French gun, and steel anti-tank barriers. The adjoining knoll, known as Le Dget, the site of a former militia guardhouse, overlooking the beach and Le Vauvarin as far as St Aubin, received an underground munitions store, with a concrete passage leading to firing positions, at different levels, for machine-gunners firing in the direction of Le Vauvarin.

Lillie Langtry, née Le Breton, was briefly a tenant of the manor at the end of the 19th century

The sergeant and corporal in charge of Le Dget, from the distinctive appearance of one and smell of the other, were known to Mrs de Gruchy and her daughter, Noèmi, as the 'Bloodhound' and the 'Skunk'.

It was a source of some amusement to the family that men quartered in the former seigneurial barn or grange, behind the house and its rose garden, had installed a field telephone system and, as it did not work well, could be heard shouting into their mouthpieces, trying to be heard by either the Bloodhound or Skunk at the other side of the garden, who could be heard yelling back, the house being in between. Apparently shouting, yelling and running about was a feature of the Occupation years, in a garden and valley accustomed only to the sound of the sea and the cry of gulls.

On one occasion, two soldiers were caught by Mrs de Gruchy, 'scrumping' greengages. This, even in wartime, was theft, so the men were taken to the sergeant, who called the Lieutenant at Noirmont Point, who duly charged them. The Germans were however very respectful, with regard to the cemetery they found against the wall separating the garden from the Beech Walk in the woods, with its small marble engraved headstones. An officer told Mrs de Gruchy they would "leave her children alone". Reposing there, were the mortal remains of the de Gruchys` pet spaniels Jess, Jenkins (named after the manager of the Waterworks Company, as a result of an accident on the carpet), James, Punch and the Scottie, Julia!

Less enjoyable perhaps was Thursday afternoon artillery practice, which involved the gun on top of the slip, in addition to those on the Point. All shutters needed closing and ears had to be covered. Noèmi de Gruchy, who was inclined to be sound-sensitive, found it a particular trial.

May de Gruchy resented intensely the German presence, and was not one to hide it. One afternoon two strangers walked round, unannounced, from the front yard to the veranda, where Mrs de Gruchy was reading on a reclining chair. The elder of the two 'clicked' his heels and stated that he was Colonel Knackfuss. An onlooker said she "paused from reading, looked at him and said coldly: 'I have seen your name in the newspaper'."

Post-war sale

At the end of the war, such was the public and tourist interest in the fortifications at Noirmont Point, and such was the damage to the garden and fabric of the manor house and its outbuildings, that it was decided to sell the Point, Warren Farm, and its fields to the people of Jersey, as the Island government was, at the time, searching for a suitable war memorial to those Islanders who had suffered in both World Wars. That part of the estate was therefore offered to them in 1947, at a greatly reduced price, which was both appreciated and accepted. One condition was attached, that no building or structure would be erected on the purchased land, nor would it be changed in its nature or character.

The remainder of the land and the fief were sold in 1988 by its last Jersey owner, Hope May de Gruchy, the wife of Major W G M Dixon, to Mr and Mrs Jagger.

Lillie Langtry

The house was also let for a short while in 1899, during de Quetteville ownership, to Lillie Langtry and her second husband, Gerald de Bathe. Her Christian name, scratched with the stones of her wedding ring, can be seen on the dining room window, facing Belcroute Hill. Some biographies of Lillie suggest that the manor had previously been in the ownership of her Le Breton ancestors, who had lost it through bankruptcy, but we have found nothing to substantiate this claim.

The east facade of the manor

De Gruchy family photographs

These photographs were taken during the period when the manor was owned by Guy Fortescue Burrell de Gruchy and afterwards by his daughter, Hope

The view at high tide towards St Aubin's Fort, showing the Housse Rock, from which was quarried shale for the arched gateways

Notes and references

  1. How this stone came to its present location has long been a mystery. However, had St Anastase been rebuilt, either completely or in part, in about 1700, when Elie Pipon was building his manor house, the stone might have been saved and relocated, perhaps in memory of a well-liked uncle, who may also have been Elie`s schoolmaster
  2. This sort of house was called, in Jersey, a `cod house,` referring to the prosperity the Island experienced in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This was mostly derived from Jersey merchants` and captains` access from 1763 to the former French maritime provinces of Lower Canada, at the end the Seven Year War. The Pipons had been, from the mid-17th century, wool merchants. In 1765, however, a new source of income was granted to the family. A further mercantile venture, on this occasion in partnership with the Robin family, as Robin, Pipon and Company of Jersey and New Brunswick, proved most successful and enabled the 1700 manor house to be replaced by that of 1810, a true `cod house`
  3. `Cod house`, as above
  4. See above
  5. The garden is to the south and east of the public lane, not above it
  6. The west extension, facing the hillside, used to house the nursery and the governess`s room. It was built shortly after the main house
  7. This was built in about 1885. The interior of this room is oak paneled and has a similarly oak paneled ceiling, which is domed. It has been said that it resembles the interior of a coach! The room has a large open fireplace
  8. The writer must mean the manorial tithe barn called, in this case, La Grange. It was, until the 1970s, wooden paneled. The main door, at the top of a flight of steps, had a covered porch. This was used as firewood by German soldiers during the Occupation
  9. This date is incorrect. As shown below in the de Gruchy section of the history, the palm was grown from a seed brought back to Jersey from Brazil by Guy de Gruchy, in 1909
  10. Formerly called The Avenue
  11. This round-headed granite archway originally matched exactly the large granite archway at the north end of The Avenue, overlooking St Aubin. Their stonework is of interest. The flat-topped Jersey granite coping stones, with flanking dressed granite piers, were offset by locally derived shale. This was quarried from the landward side of the Housse Rock (Le Housse), which separates Le Vau Varin, to its north, from Belcroute Bay, to the south. The Pipons believed in thus applying their seigneurial rights of the foreshore
  12. These being along The Avenue
  13. This property is named after that part of Belcroute Bay it overlooks, whilst this, in its turn, is named after the sloping valley above it, whose springs and well seldom, if ever, run dry
  14. Guy de Gruchy wrote, however, that there was a fortified farmhouse here before the first manor house was built in 1700. Indeed, Belcroute means `farmyard enclosure`. Further evidence of this earlier property emerged during the demolition of the inner and outer sculleries and coal-hole in 1973, to create a new main entrance. Exposed stonework on the north wall of the kitchen included a re-used stone from the earlier house, bearing the date 1634 - see history above
  15. The last of these hip-baths still survives
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