Popular History of Jersey Chapter 33
General Don 1
Prior to the days of the Reformation there had existed on the Island a Franchise d’Eglise, as it was called, by which the different parish churches of Jersey had a right of way, twenty feet broad, extending from the church to the sea, whereby any person who had taken sanctuary in the sacred building could, if he so desired, escape from the Island; the abolition of this Franchise throwing such perquages into the possession of the Crown. And when Charles II granted them to Edward de Carteret, son of Sir Philip, in May 1633, in consideration of what had been done by each of them for the cause of loyalty, he could hardly have been aware that in giving such a reward he was throwing the civilised condition of the Island back for generations so far as good main roadways were concerned.
For in thus presenting them to the future Sir Edward he debarred Jersey of the chance of having splendid public communication between the centres of the different parishes and the sea-coast for some two hundred years to come. In other words, had His Majesty made them over to the States for the use of the inhabitants, one-half of Lieut-General Don's great work need not have been undertaken. As it was, when the General arrived in 1806 the only roads the Island could boast of were numerous narrow communications winding in and out in an aimless manner, in general sunken below the level of the land, and flanked on each side by high mounds in the same fashion as is presented even now by the majority of the by-lanes.
Three classes of road
These apologies for roads were divided in all into three classes: Le chemin du roi, with foot walks 16 feet wide between the hedge banks; Le chemin de huits pieds, or cross-roads, 8 feet wide; and Le chemin de quatre pieds, or extremely narrow bridle-ways, to which may be added sheep tracts, which at that time abounded to a considerable extent — each and all oftentimes unpassable in dirty weather, and allowing as a rule only the passage of one vehicle at a time. And it was to remedy this by no means creditable state of affairs that Lieut-General Don, for one thing, set his indomitable energy to work.
It must not from this be thought that these matters had formerly been overlooked by the States. One of the principal summer events of the Island in those days was that connected with the law of Branchage, whereon, on Midsummer Day each year, with great pomp and ceremony, perambulations of the different parishes took place, conducted by the respective Constables and the twelve principal men of each district. These, whose particular duty it was to look after the state of the roads, hedges, and banks, met the Bailiff and Viscount, who were accompanied by three or more Jurats, all mounted, at the parish boundaries, from whence the procession proceeded through the different routes with the Viscount at the head, he bearing his staff of office erect, and with the base of it resting on the pummel of his saddle; the law being that if the staff touched a branch of any tree the owner thereof, whether present or absent, was summarily condemned to a fine, the overseer of the parish being under a like penalty if the roads or hedge banks were found in an unsatisfactory condition. This law of Branchage, be it said, is in vogue to the present day, only carried into effect upon more modern if less picturesque ideas.
Roads and fortifications
To the soldierly eye of Lieut-General Don such a state of affairs was no longer satisfactory, and it was with this view that he caused to be commenced, during the first year of his arrival, all the main roads that the Island now possesses, wherever they may be found; having such constructed, it must be added, from a purely military point of view, and primarily for the convenience of the marching of his troops. The formation of forts and towers had also his distinct attention, it being under his Lieut-Governorship that the Martello towers were finished; whilst the foundation stone of Fort Regent was laid by him on 7 November 1806.
In doing all this, it is of especial interest to note, Lieut-General Don faithfully carried forward and brought to a climax the schemes of his predecessor, General Conway; whilst, as showing the great interest he took in the general welfare of the Island, comes in the fact that, during the earlier days of his appointment, the Lieut-General frequently sat with Sir Jean Dumaresq, Lieut-Bailiff, at the meeting of the Royal Court, where, being a fluent French scholar, he had every opportunity of becoming more conversant with the laws and institutions of the Island, concerning which he had gained some insight when stationed in Jersey as Lieut-Colonel of the 59th Regiment, during the years 1792 and 1793.
St Helier to St Aubin
With regard more especially to the roads, which, to a considerable extent were constructed by paid military labour, that from St Helier to St Aubin was, as it would appear, the first to be commenced, and this about the middle of November 1806 — before which period, as one writer justly remarks, "though the two towns were only separate an actual distance of some 3½ miles, and were within sight of each other, there was no other means of communication between them than that afforded by the sands upon the shore: this only being convenient for a few hours a day between high and low water. After this, other roads were undertaken with a like vigorous spirit and energy.
Contributions were freely asked and as freely given towards the expense of these great and enduring works, books for the entries of subscriptions being left by the Governor's orders in 1809 at the three banks then open in St Helier — amongst which would be the Old Bank and the Commercial, established respectively 1797 and 1808 — whilst bazaars and lotteries were held in support of it; the first prize in the St Aubin's Road lottery, out of the £72,000 proposed to be raised in this manner, reaching the handsome sum of £12,000, though the name of the lucky winner thereof is unrecorded.
Though as might be expected the completion of these undertakings was not effected until after some years of labour (St Aubin's Road, for instance, was not opened until 1810, or altogether finished during the residence of Lieut-General Don, to whose other special works upon the Island may be added the training of boys from 13 to 17 for the Militia, and the establishment of district drilling sheds or centres for the convenience of the members of that body.