Noirmont Manor

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Jersey houses


Noirmont Manor


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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

  • 1634 - A re-used stone, turned on its side, from the earlier fortified farmhouse, spotted during renovation by Alfie Pipon in the north-west corner of the house.
  • 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]
  • 1781 - By the steps leading from the back yard to the garage and stables, to commemorate the Battle of Jersey, in which Pipons took part.
  • 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 ès 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 Cellars

In the hall, below the early-19th century mahogany staircase, a door leads to the cellars. At the foot of the wooden steps, on the right, is the main cellar, or storage area, which was earth floored. This has exactly the same measurements as the ground-floor room above, being the Drawing Room. It comprised therefore a rather larger storage area than one might suppose necessary for the needs of a minor country squire. One should recall, however, that the Pipon family still retained in 1810, the year the house was rebuilt, shares in Jersey shipping. A use could thus no doubt have been found for the space. Adjoining this, was another earth floored cellar to the exact measurements of the Sitting Room, above it. This was in use as a wine cellar throughout the post-war years. Below the cloakroom or entrance lobby was another, but smaller, cellar, which was also in recent use.

Beneath the wooden steps leading into the cellars was the real cellar or cellier, being a two metre by two and a half metre grey stone pork salting-trough. Of a height of about one metre, this had been in constant use until the German Occupation. Into the 1970s, a shallow pool of salty water awaited in vain the next arrival. Broad granite steps led upwards to hinged wooden horizontal doors in the south yard.

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.

Mrs G F B de Gruchy and Punch in the manor grounds

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 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, was also evident, as were beech trees and two fine rows of Stone pine that had been planted in the 1880s, the first of which adjoined Le Clos des Tours, near the start of the Avenue.

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-slips, 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 in the autumn.

Gardeners' cottages

The Avenue descends to the open, sloping glade, or vau, in which stood two semi-detached Victorian gardeners` cottages. A few feet short of these, "The Violet Path" led to their flower gardens and the hillside behind them. The cottages were gravel fronted and picturesque, covered with climbing roses and fronted by a flower border above 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 between these cottages and that pictured below, 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, all the year round, with water. On the other side of the Avenue, opposite the cottages, is a sloping meadow, or vau, extending to the cliff`s edge, which had a large copper-beech to the left, as one looks out to sea, and an equally well-established marronnier, or chestnut, to the right. Formerly a pasture, there were here so many primroses by 1950, that it eventually came to be named "The Primrose Meadow." The cottages, with their well, were 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 children 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.

Gardeners' cottage

Apple orchard

This second of the three vallettes in the Avenue, named La Vallette, or Vau, ès Fontaines, 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 by the feet of a passer-by, releasing the block that fell upon the cartridge`s 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.

German mines

The lower half of the Vallette ès Fontaines was, before the Occupation, a pasture for grazing ponies used in the pony-trap. At its foot grew two walnut trees and a particularly large and fruitful Arbutus, or `winter strawberry`. After the Liberation, in 1945, German troops were obliged to clear all - or as many as they could find - of the mines they had previously so carefully laid. As this vallette was quite remote, they were then placed, with other unneeded ordnance, near the bottom of the valley and then blown up.

This accounts for an unusual dip in the middle of the former meadow! The second of the above-mentioned two rows of stone pines, stands here, overlooking the lower vallette. They were unaffected by the not inconsiderable explosion. As a cautionary tale, a small boy, in the 1950s, found nearby an artillery shell or mine, was foolish enough to clean it up and place it in his hide-out, made by covering the space between the roots of a fallen tree and the cliff-face. Friends would be shown this trophy. One day, on return from boarding-school, he found the cliff-face, fallen tree, hide-out and twenty metres of cliff lying on the beach below. There had apparently been an unexpectedly large collapse of the cliff-edge.

Stoat colony

The Avenue slopes, as they were called, also provided good rough shooting in autumn and winter. Guy de Gruchy and friends Charlie Le Cornu of La Hague Manor, before his untimely death, Ranulph Marett of La Haule and Charlie Robin, each kept a game-book or tally, of which at least one, belonging to the former, survives. Stoats were also regularly seen in those days, from 1909 to 1940. In 1937, one female, or jill, was spotted leading her young, or kits, out of the main Wood-gates, nonchalantly crossing Belcroute Hill, and mounting by the small bridge that then existed, into the Avenue slopes. By 1970, the tracks of a stoat in the snow, on one occasion, were the only evidence for these enchanting creatures` continued existence in the area. The owners put down this sad demise to man-made disease among the rabbits.

Continuing towards the main house, one passes a small bluff, at which point the Avenue is almost exactly above the beach-wall, below. As a result, a low wall, once surmounted by two stone spheres, bars the inquisitive from approaching the edge. Finally, the third of the three vallettes is reached, called, as in going from the house, the "First Valley"! Here grew wood anemones and glow-worms abounded in June. This particular vallette was of little use, when shooting in the 1960s, as it had been taken over by sycamore saplings and seedlings.

The main "Wood" lay behind the manor. This consisted mostly of stone pine, macrocarpa, oak and firs, set amongst rhododendrons, these all having been planted by Girard de Quetteville in the 1880s on what was previously a bare hillside. Holly, Holm oak and rowan also existed, whilst the walk from the manor`s side-gate named, from its shape, "The Chapel Gate", led out past an ancient oak with moss-covered, horizontal branches onto a beautiful line of beeches, the Beech Walk.

Paths through the main woods

On entering the Woods through the main Wood-gates from Belcroute Hill, there were three choices of path. The principal route was the eight foot wide former militia gun-carriageway that led from behind the Head Gardener`s Cottage to Noirmont Point. There, the round tower had its carronade and nearby was a gun battery. A quarter mile back, on this same route, was La Garde de Don, being General Don`s guardhouse and battery, which overlooked the rocky reef named Les Cracheurs. The route, on the way to La Garde de Don from the Beech Walk and house, after a bend to the right, reaches a wide valley. Walking upwards, where the route divides in two, one soon reaches another bend. There is here, about twenty metres above the gun carriageway on the right, a square, ruined, stone feature. This was built in connection with clay pigeon shooting, which once took place here, out of earshot of the house. Continuing, after reaching the other side of the valley, the route gradually descends through a stand of Douglas firs, past three tall granite outcrops, one covered in ivy, into a walk lined by Holm oak, or Ilex. Here there was a summerhouse which German forces removed during the Occupation, leaving only the metal fittings! It was not rebuilt, as priority after the Liberation, was given to the repair of the main house, outhouses [16] and lawn. The `charrière` then passed a further granite outcrop, into La Vallette ès Frênes, (Ash trees). Here, beautiful lent lillies grew with the last of the ashes. This was always a popular spring picnic spot, being sunny and sheltered from the wind. A summer`s day picnic, however, usually took place at the end of this long path, at Noirmont Point, where a low, level, area overlooks the point itself and the round tower.

The other branch of the above carriageway, descended into the wide valley and passed into a dip known and named after its `bouillons,` or seasonal springs, [17] where the route took a bend to the left, going to the guardhouse and battery at La Boue. This low promontory and its battery was not named after any point of land, but after the low rock that, at most stages of the tide, lay in the sea beyond it. Guy de Gruchy, in Medieval Land Tenures in Jersey, (Jersey: Bigwoods, 1957), 203, writes: "Boue, the name of a number of outlying rocks in the sea off the Islands, on which the tideway causes an "overfall". From O.N.bodi, the breaker over a sunken rock". La Boue, with its Ilex-lined bulwark, was the destination of many a summer picnic excursion from the house, the picnic itself taking place on the promontory. Before the war, depending on the weather, it took place in a summerhouse opposite the ruined guardhouse. This, however, was burnt down by German troops during the war, and never rebuilt. The guardhouse`s magazine survives.

The second choice of path lay within feet of the Wood-gates, being another eight food `charrière`, this time leading up through the woods to a glade of three stone pines, called the Three Pines, then beneath these and out onto the farmland above the manor, a reminder that all seigneurial land was in earlier times farmed from the manor and its own outhouses. Manor Farms were, in Jersey, characteristic of Victorian times, the Warren Farm being an example, having been built as such. This particular manorial land was the flat land from the top of that slope towards the Old Portelet Inn and included land extending to the heights above Noirmont Point. Half of this high, flat, land was cultivated, the other half uncultivated, by reason of there being insufficient depth of soil. This was La Varenne, or The Warren. Here the owner of the fief and his guests went on rabbit shoots, obtaining the occasional woodcock, whilst along the treeline, there was good pigeon shooting. The seigneur`s pond, or vivier, where, in medieval times, the monks kept carp, lay within sight of L`Ile Percée, to the west of Noirmont Point.

Newspaper and magazine articles have frequently, in the last decade, wrongly referred to Noirmont Warren as a "Common". The purpose of a fief`s common was to provide grazing and furze-cutting land for the fief`s tenants, but not to others. These commons are nearly always well-known to the fief owners and to lawyers. They have clearly marked, legally recorded, boundaries. They may consist of one parcel of land or more. That of Noirmont is in two parcels, one overlooking Ouaisné, Le Commune de Haut, and one adjoining the car park at Ouaisné, Le Commune de Bas. The seigneur`s warren was his own private land and that of Noirmont now belongs, mostly, to the Government of Jersey, subject to various strict covenants. It is not common land, even though available to the public.

A third path, created in 1950 by Major `Bill` Dixon, wound up through different levels of rhododendron to overlook the main house, the Grange and outbuildings, including cowsheds, which lay across the farmyard behind the Grange. It then passed in the direction of the Three Pines and on over the top of three small, north-facing, granite promontories, with tracks leading to the end of each. These were the "Three Pulpits". Their use lay not in addressing any congregation or gathering, but in pigeon shooting at dusk. Shooting from the first of these had to be abandoned in the 1960s, due to shot landing on the house`s roof and on the vinery.

A view in the garden

Quarries

There are three quarries in the manor grounds, two of which are visible, although each one is blanketed in a shroud of ivy. The third, in the field called Le Bailhache du Nord, has been filled in. The first quarry, half-way down Belcroute Hill, on the left, or north, yielded gravel and broken stone of a yellowish orange hue. It was used therefore for gravel paths, filling in potholes and minor masonry repairs. It may have contributed, to some extent, to the wall on the other side of the lane, bordering the former pond, but it was of limited use, which is bizarre given its size. Its main use was probably in providing hoggin and gravel for the manor`s front yard, for the area fronting the stables and Head Gardener`s Cottage and for the Avenue, when it was first made.

The second quarry was in the woods, between the Beech Walk and the Chapel Gate leading from the manor gardens. Of equally decayed granite, its uses will have been limited to those of the quarry already described. A child once tried impersonating Tarzan, in swinging from the long, twenty foot lengths of ivy, an activity that was not repeated.

The third quarry, that in Le Bailhache du Nord, was of good quality granite and must have been used for its field walls and coping stones that bordered the main road, those of its twin namesake, and those of the manor`s fields, seen when going north-east along Le Chemin de Haut toward the Avenue`s main Gates, above St Aubin. In disuse, it was an interesting source of tadpoles and a place where green lizards were occasionally seen. How it came to be filled in, was unusual. A groundsman at the manor had served until the previous year in the Army. He purchased from the regiment, on leaving, a hundredweight lorry which had outlived its military usefulness. Unfortunately, it was, when all was said and done, merely a chassis; being in fact, a restoration project. Major Dixon allowed it to stand, pending such restoration, behind the Grange in the old farmyard bordered by the cowsheds, and there it remained. After a year or so, the axles had seized up and it could no longer be started or, apparently, repaired. There came a time, when the now irate major told the said groundsman: "get rid of it; I won`t have it a day longer blocking the entrance. I don`t care where it goes, get rid of it!" Surprisingly, it duly vanished. A few years later, a youngster was shooting in the Bailhache du Nord and there, looking at him out of the water, yet filling most of this, the smaller quarry, was the lorry! It had never really left; it had merely moved up the hill!

Birds of woodland and heath

Birds seen in the woods included the usual crows, jays and magpies, wood-pigeon, and woodcock when there was in Normandy cold weather. Barn owls were a feature at dusk and nested on various granite ledges; Tawney owls were also spotted and heard, but were a rarity. A Tree-creeper, in 1960, built its nest and laid a clutch of eggs behind a piece of loose bark on Belcroute Hill, but Magpies soon discovered it. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers abounded, having arrived or returned to the woods in the late 1950s, and there could always be heard in May a Cuckoo, whose young would often be seen balancing precariously on a telephone wire, being fed by some smaller bird. The usual songbirds, including the now lamentably rarer Song Thrush, sang in the spring and early summer. A Mistle Thrush once nested above the Chapel Gate but was otherwise only occasionally heard or seen. The Blue Tit, Great Tit and Marsh Tit were all regulars, as were the Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. The finch family was well represented but the Bullfinch that successfully nested in a rhododendron on the upper path was a source of some joy. Collared-Doves were regarded as intruders but added their own charm. In the meantime, swallows nested annually under the Grange, above the redundant pony trap, whilst house martins built their nests in the open cowsheds and under various gutters. Swifts, that now apparently nest in only two places in the Island, were to be seen in the summer daily, feeding high in the sky over the lawn and warren.

On the Warren there were still, in those days, Skylarks and on the vivier (pond) moorhen. There were also Meadow Pipits, Linnets and Stonechats and in the winter, Fieldfare, Redwing, Wheatear, many Lapwing and the occasional Hoopoe. The hawk family was then limited to the Kestrel and Sparrow-hawk and on the rocks skirting the high-tide line, there were Rock Pipits, nesting Oyster Catchers, the two main local varieties of Seagull, Shag, Cormorant and the inevitable Rock-dove. The only bat recalled, was that of summer evenings, the pipistrelle. Throughout the woods and in the garden, the delightful red squirrel would be seen; there were also hedgehogs and crapauds, grass-snakes and slow-worms, and a variety of mice, voles and shrews.

The Triangular Flower Garden

On the seaward side of the house, there is a small upper lawn and on the left, two palm trees standing before a holly hedge, planted by the de Gruchys in order to provide privacy from the direction of Belcroute Hill. At this point, a path led to the long-established beech tree which contained during the Occupation, a machine-gun platform. Here the path forked, forming two sides of "The Triangle Garden", being a flower garden in which patches of colour varied from month to month. A notable blue patch of Forget-Me-Nots always marked the 1st of May, Mrs de Gruchy`s birthday. The family were asked to pause here, in memory of her, a gallant soul, every May 1st, after she had gone. The path leading to the left, by the Beech, descends to the bottom of the garden, lined on each side by camelias of varying colours, white, red and shades of pink. This was, and is, "The Camelia Walk", a beautiful sight in the early spring. The path to the right, forming the east side of the Triangle Garden, passed on its right a `Judas tree`, a rhododendron and a Mulberry tree, which was about thirty foot high. Picking the crop, both officially and otherwise, was always a pleasure, especially as elderly relatives could never reach the upper branches! At the foot of the Triangle Garden was the "Sunken Lawn", which was one way of naming the bizarre leveled rectangle that formerly housed the German barracks.

The Kitchen and Vegetable Gardens

Walking through a latched gate at the top of the Camelia Walk, one entered the Kitchen Garden. This was bordered by a high wall below the Front Yard and enclosed on the other side by a lower granite wall, separating it from the Camelia Walk. Plum trees grew on the high wall. The first was a Victoria plum whose branches reached the top of the wall, producing late summer fruit that could be harvested or acquired by lying on one`s stomach, under the camelias that lined the east side of the Front Yard, and stretching to one`s full extent, hoping not to dislodge stones from the wall--of course, there was also the ladder at the foot of the tree!

Next in order, as one walked along the Kitchen Garden`s path, following the curve of the wall, were two or three Green Gages, followed by the excellent two Golden Gages. These were all officially harvested in August and eaten at the table, given to friends, taken to the market in Halkett Place or bottled. Most things were done, in those days, with military precision. In the house, the Pantry, facing the side yard, had next to it the room housing floor to ceiling cupboards, in which were shelf after shelf of bottled fruit, awaiting winter consumption. The fruit involved, came, without exception, from the house`s own Kitchen Garden. In the middle of that garden were Worcester and Cox`s Orange Pippin apple trees, on the side adjoining the Camelia Walk, pears grew against the wall, waiting to receive brown bags--each one--to keep away the wasps, before being picked. Five banked rows of asparagus occupied the further end of this garden, bordered by a path and a bay hedge, with steps down to the Vegetable Garden.

The Vegetable Garden was, as its name implies, a place of cabbages, lettuces and other such things but, of greater interest were the netted `cages` in which grew loganberries, raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries. In the middle of this garden, which adjoined Belcroute Hill on two sides, was "the" Greenhouse. This had maidenhair fern growing under tiers of tomatoes and latterly peppers growing in large pots, whilst overhead grew an apricot, the fruit of which, was claimed by visitors to be one of the best they had ever tasted. On the south side of the greenhouse was an equally successful peach, with patches of rhubarb growing here and there. Against the south side of this glasshouse were "cold frames", which did not long remain this way, as they had to be opened before mid-day and closed before evening. Here grew marrows and cucumbers. A gate led out to the garden rubbish dump--across the lane and over the cliff! However, one day, the cliff fell into the sea, so the generations-old system had to start afresh. The second of the two surviving medieval loopholes is located amongst the pears against this garden`s south wall, looking in the direction of Belcroute slipway. A path led to further steps, leading back up to a narrow extension of the kitchen garden. This was the home of four bee-hives, or rather of the bees, which were regularly dealt with by Mr Renouf.

The Vinery and Rose Garden

The Vinery had three entrances. It could be entered from within the house by walking through the conservatory, which lay above and parallel to the Library, it could be entered through the door from the Rose Garden or up a flight of steps from the coal and wood bunker below, which was itself entered from the side yard. Entering by this route, one emerged by a beautiful plumbago. There were here, as in the Greenhouse, wooden tiers, but these were for various potted plants and flowers. The tiered rows were broken by spaces for two oranges, which fruited each summer and were a boon during the Occupation. One of these were still producing fruit in 1970. The vines were black and white muscat and Hamburg. The muscats were by far and away the best and were eaten by the family, friends and the Jersey public, as they were sold in the Fruit Market.

The Vinery was heated in cold weather by a furnace in the coal and wood bunker, which lay at the foot of the wooden steps, mentioned above. The entrance into the bunker was at the east end of the row of low outhouses in the side yard, to the south of the manor. The "Apple room" adjoined it. Two pipes led upwards from the furnace into the Vinery, and then passed around the exterior walls. The same system was used in the greenhouse in the Vegetable Garden.

The Vinery was one of those places where one wished to linger. Whether family or guest, one certainly had no wish on a sunny day to leave in a hurry. Perhaps this was why wooden veranda chairs sat about, awaiting an incumbent! One thing that inspired wrath, however, was Mrs de Gruchy or her daughter finding dozens of bare stalks hanging, where a couple of days earlier there had hung large, ripe bunches of grapes.

A strange incident occurred here in 1955. A grandson of Mrs de Gruchy`s, before the grapes had ripened, was on a hot summer`s day very thirsty. There was before him a bottle. He uncorked it and drank several mouthfuls before something terrible, as it were, hit him. He was thrown to the ground, wretching; his short life seemed to spin before his eyes, he struggled to his feet, fell and got back up, before being violently sick. Someone had left a bottle of unmarked methylated spirit on the shelf. The morale here is never drink from an unmarked bottle.

The Rose Garden, with its middle rose bed in the shape of a maltese cross and four corner beds forming a square, between which was finely-mown grass, all surrounded by a gravel path, was very atmospheric. Dwarf box hedges, in their turn, bordered the paths; wisteria grew on the south-facing wall and African marigolds grew along the side of the vinery. This was, indeed, a lovely spot. The Rose Garden and Vinery have now been replaced by a swimming pool.

The Gardeners

Before the First World War, Mr Le Warne was the Head Gardener, and remained so, in absentia until his return from the war, in which he had served, as a former militiaman, as a private in the Hampshire Regiment. Working under him were Sydney Charles Siouville, who also served, during the war, in his case, with the Royal Jersey Garrison Battalion, and John Francis Siouville. The latter, called "Jack", who was greatly liked by all, was killed in action on the 19th October 1918, whilst serving with the Royal Berkshire Regiment. His signature, in pencil, was written across a low beam at the top of the staircase leading from the coal and wood bunker to the vinery. Between the wars, Mr Boobyer was another well-liked and good Head Gardener, as was afterwards Mr Evans. In 1945, Mr Stanley Baker, a Serquais, came with his Alderney-born wife and their family, to Noirmont, as Head Gardener. After some years, he actually became the only gardener, as the late Mr de Gruchy`s optimistic late 19th century investment in nearly every Latin American country had been nationalised by them, along with those of other foreigners, with almost no compensation. Stanley Baker owned a farm in Sark and had been born at Le Moinerie nearby, but Mrs Baker preferred to live in a larger community. He could, of course, speak sercquiaise so was able to communicate easily with Jersey folk in jerriaise, the two languages having been one and the same in the early 17th century. He could outwork anyone and was to remain with the family, long after they had left the manor, only retiring when in his mid-eighties. He told the writer of these notes, speaking apologetically about his forthcoming retirement "I began work at fourteen and am now eighty-four, so I feel I have had a good innings. I have had a working-life of seventy years." He was much lamented on death. His son, Roy, had previously joked "The hearse will probably arrive late at the church as he is bound to remember some job he needed to complete, on the way!"

Exploration

One summer in the 1950s, two boys decided to set alarm clocks for six o`clock. The narrow extension of the kitchen garden housed a German bunker, with only a wooden door sealing it. Regrettably, it was ammunition they hoped to find, perhaps even their own private machine-gun to fire in the garden. It didn`t end very gloriously. Having found nothing in the gloomy interior of the bunker, attention was drawn to a blocked side door. This was duly broken down, to reveal a passage filled with rusting barbed wire and metal posts. These were dug out and discarded, at which point a machine-gun round added to the excitement. Further excavation produced a three foot, or one metre, passage but now mainly consisting of earth. A thought occurred, to check how far above lay the surface. One boy shinned up the wall, the other stood at the end of the passage whilst the former jumped! The result was rather appalling. An immense cloud of dust and fine soil rose about twenty feet into the air whilst, simultaneously, a strangled cry emerged from where the passage had been. Mrs de Gruchy now stepped from behind the bay hedge but was not smiling. When the one had extricated himself from the soil and the other, who had been left hanging from the top of the wall, had managed to make his descent, there were no hot drinks and sandwiches. What was then the `norm`, and expected fairly often, took place, a caning.

History

Lt-Col J K Pipon (1807-1868), of H.M. 94th and 85th Regiments of Foot, whose portrait now hangs at Elizabeth Castle, was the last resident Pipon 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 in 1695 by his grandson to the wool merchant Elie Pipon (1635-1696), whose father Thomas Pipon of La Fosse, St Peter, [18] had first become a wool merchant in about 1640. Elie Pipon died not long after purchasing the fief, so it fell to his son Philippe, to build the first manor house, thereby becoming the first resident seigneur of the fief, in its long history. His descendants lived there for almost 200 years.

One branch of the Pipons of St Peter had already settled in St Brelade in the previous century, at nearby La Moye. Although intermarrying every now and then, the relationship between these two families was not always cordial.

In 1880, the Pipons having presumably fared badly in the 1873 Jersey Bank crashes, the manor and fief were sold by the Rev Clement Collier Pipon to Girard de Quetteville, a Jersey-born East India broker. It was his extensive tree-planting program that 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 above and 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, became Dame de Noirmont, inheriting 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 manor house and main Woods were sold, but not the fief, in the 1970s. 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 Philippe 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 Philippe`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. This description has been taken from a sign-post. The drive or `chasse` was 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
  16. Two of the outhouses had their floors used by the Germans as firewood. In the case of the stables, there was a need to stabilize the external walls and repair all gutters, these being wooden! The cowsheds, backing on to the Woods beyond and behind the rectangular shaped Grange, remained largely floorless, although their roofs remained unaffected by events. The joists, however, that had once borne the floorboards, provided a most challenging climbing frame!
  17. These still flow, as they have for countless years, perhaps even for centuries. However, with the continuous fall of pine needles, they have become hidden from view. One of the bouillons was seen in 1963 but none since then
  18. La Fosse, pronounced in Jersey, `fowse`, is a fine property now adjoining the Co-op, the front garden of which has now been partly incorporated into the Co-op`s car park. The Pipon family`s `chef-mainte`, however, was L`Aleval, near the former Living Legend, in St Peter, where they had lived since the late middle ages. L`Aleval is little changed to this day
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