The town in 1800
If we could be transplanted back into the town of 1800, our first surprise would be its smallness. It was only a narrow strip of houses from Snow Hill to Charing Cross with a bulge at the Charing Cross end embracing Hue Street and Old Street on one side and Seale Street and Sand Street on the other. This bulge was comparatively new, for the two oldest houses in Hue Street bear the dates 1756 and 1767.
In breadth the town merely stretched from Hill Street to Hilgrove Street and from Broad Street to King Street. The back windows on the north side of King Street and Hilgrove Street looked out over green fields, the back windows on the south side of Broad Street over sand dunes to the sea.
Our second surprise would be the extreme narrowness of the streets. King Street, Queen Street, Hill Street and Library Place were Chemins de huit pieds, eight feet across from house to house. Others were half that breadth: Chemins de quatre pieds, such as Bond Street.
The third surprise would be the number of streams you had to cross on planks. All the valleys and hills that surround the town pour streams down into the plain, and these have to find their way to the sea. Today they flow underground through sewers, but then they flowed on the surface. There was a watermill in Bond Street and another in Dumaresq Street. Innumerable rivulets ran down the streets, and the planks that crossed them were familiar direction points.
Advertisements in the early Gazettes constantly describe houses as being near the Planque Billot or the Planque Godel. I will not pretend that St Helier was then a northern Venice, but it was certainly a town of running waters.
I have spoken of the streets by their modern English names, but in 1800 all the street names were, of course, French. The Royal Square was le Marché. The old name of Church Street must have begun as a joke; but it became official. A stream ran down the middle of the road, and apparently there was no plank; so ladies wishing to cross to church had to tuck up their skirts and jump. Hence someone named the street Rue Trousse Cotillon (Tuck-up-your-petticoat street), and the name stuck. It is found in Acts of the Visite des Chemins and in contracts passed by the Court.
A more recent example of a joke name that nearly became official is Crackankle Lane (a gorgeous inspiration), which, till Victoria College was built, was the name for College Hill.
It is a pity that Bond Street lost its pretty name of Rue de la Madeleine, which preserved the memory of the mediaeval Chapel of St Mary Magdalen, which was only pulled down in the 18th century. The old name of Broad Street was Rue d’Egypte. I cannot imagine why. Nor can I suggest why La Chasse was called Rue de Madegascar. (La Chasse, by the way, has nothing to do with hunting, but is an old Norman-French word for a small by-way.)
Hill Street was at first the Rue des Forges. In 1674 an Act of the Court forbad the inhabitants of Rue des Forges to throw their soapsuds into the brook, as this defiled their neighbours' drinking water. But later, from a tavern where the lawyers dined, it became known as Rue des Trois Pigeons. Queen Street was Rue es Porcqs. This had nothing to do with pigs. The Le Porcq family owned the land on which the street was built.
King Street was Rue de Derriere (Backdoor Street), because at first it contained only the backyard gates of the houses in Broad Street and the Square. St Peter Port in Guernsey still has its Back Street; and one of the best known walks in Cambridge is called The Backs. Dumaresq Street and Le Geyt Street were spoken of as es Hemies. Hemie is Jersey-French for a five-barred gate; so these, no doubt, were private roads shut off by gates.
The country lanes round the town all had their French names, which they retained when they were built on. St Clement's Road was Rue es Ronces (Blackberry Bushes Road). Regent Road was Rue de Froid Vent (Cold Wind Street).
Roseville Street was Rue de Long Bouet. I am not sure what this means. St Peter Port has two streets called Le Bouet and Le Grand Bouet, and there is a valley in Alderney called Le Bouet. As Roseville Street runs through low-lying land, it may have some connection with boue (mud).
Vauxhall Street was Rue de la Dame. At its David Place end there was a field known as Piece de la Dame, with a well in a grove known as Puit de la Dame. This was haunted ground. A white lady walked here at night. De la Croix wrote: ‘Concerning the Piece de la Dame there exist a thousand superstitious stories of apparitions; nevertheless the mothers of the town go there (by day, be it understood, for by night they would not dare to approach it) to wash their garments and hang them up on the quickset hedge to dry.’
Val Plaisant is a mystery. It may have been pleasant, before the houses were built; but it can never have been a valley. David Place is nowhere more than a few feet higher than Val Plaisant, and on its other side the ground slopes downward to the sea. Can Val in old Norman French have had some different meaning?
This is the case with Rouge Bouillon, which has nothing to do with either broth or boiling. Bouillon in Norman-French means a marsh. It is found all over the Island. St Brelade has a marshy field called Le Bouillon. There is a Clos de Bouillon at St Ouen, and another at St John, and a Trinity farm called Les Bouillons. Guernsey, too, has a district called Bouillon and a Rue du Bouillon at St Peter Port. The stream which flows down Queen's Road formed a marsh or bouillon at the bottom, and the oxide of iron that was carried down from the clay higher up gave the mud a reddish colour. In Elizabeth I’s reign this district was known as contree du Rouge Bouillon, the land of the Red Marsh.
La Pouquelaye reminds us that a dolmen once covered that hill, for pouquelaye is old Norman-French for a cromlech or dolmen. The learned derive it from petra poculata, stones with cup markings, which in French would be pierres gouquelees. The popular derivation is Puck stones or fairy stones. The dolmen was standing, when Morant wrote in 1761, but soon after was broken up for building material.
La Motte Street, too, may have prehistoric memories, for motte means 'mound', and a conspicuous mound was often a Neolithic burial place. Whether that long-vanished mound was natural or artificial, no one can now say, but it gave its name to one of our medieval manors.
At the bottom of Grosvenor Street is a door marked Old Government House. (It is the house in which Moyse Corbet, the Lieut-Governor, was seized by the French on the eve of the Battle of Jersey.) This is the old Manoir de la Motte, which in the 15th century was one of the chief manors of the Island. In those days there were no houses nearer than Hill Street, and its manor grounds stretched as far as Colomberie, where stood the colombier or pigeon-tower, a highly-prized privilege. The possession of a colombier raised a manor in Jersey to the highest rank; and in this respect La Motte was unique, for, when it was advertised for sale in 1797, it was stated that it had 'the right to two colombiers'. Racquet Court is probably the site of the tennis-court of the manor, real tennis played within walls, not lawn tennis.
Georgetown preserves the name of another manor, on whose fief it stood, the Manoir de Georges, later known as Bagot. In 1442 we read of Jean Bagot, Seigneur of Gorges. It is strange that more of the old Fief names were not given to the streets built on them. La Rondiole Road, La Houguette Street, Meleches Lane, Surville Street and Debennaire Road would be more attractive than meaningless repetition of names of English towns, Brighton Road, Croydon Road, Hastings Road, Oxford Road, Windsor Road, Richmond Road, etc.
Havre des Pas
Havre des Pas recalls an ancient chapel, which stood at the end of Green Street. Occasionally marks are found on a rock, which look like human footprints. Havre des Pas boasted two of these footprints of the Virgin, and built a little chapel over them, Chapelle des Pas (Chapel of the footprints).
In the 15th century this had a Fraternity attached to it, with its own cemetery under the shadow of its chapel. At the Reformation, like other chapels, it was confiscated by the Crown, and became a dwelling house. In 1814 it was blown up by the military authorities on the ground that it afforded cover to an enemy attacking Fort Regent. It must have been a solid structure, for ten mines were necessary; and with that explosion vanished our hopes of ever inspecting those footprints.
Two names just outside the town remind us of another bit of ecclesiastical history. In 1198 a knight named Hugh de Gornaco founded a monastery in Normandy, and called it Bellozanne Abbey. He must have been a good beggar, for he got a subscription out of John, who later became King of England. His gift consisted of 20 livrees of land in Jersey, and this remained the property of the abbey for centuries. Hence that hill was known as Mont a l'Abbe (Abbot's Mount), and the valley behind as Bellozanne Valley.
And, while thinking of ancient things, let us not forget the Dicq. A dicq was an embankment to keep out the sea, like the dykes in Holland; and from early days there must have been one round St Clement's Bay to prevent the spring tides from flooding the low-lying land.
Switch to English
About 1790 the great switch over from French to English began. In many cases the French name was merely translated into English. Rue des Vignes, so called from its vine-covered houses, became Vine Street; Vieux Chemin, Old Street; Rue Verte Green Street; Rue du Petit Douet, Brook Street; Rue des Sablons, Sand Street; Ruette de la Commune, a memory of days when the land from St Mark's Road to Belmont Road was an open common, became Common Lane.
But often the new name had no connection with the old. We can sympathize with residents in Rue des Helles, if they wanted a new address, though the old name had nothing to do with the Infernal Regions - the Helles were a Jersey family, who held the Fief es Helles at St John and property in the town. But Ann Street was not an inspiring alternative to have chosen.
The craziest feature in the switch over was the borrowing of names from London, which were generally allotted as inappropriately as possible.
Cheapside, the hub of business London, was given to an outlying street of suburban villas; Drury Lane, the centre of Theatre Lane, to a rural back-lane off Rouge Bouillon; Bond Street, the fashionable shopping-centre, to what was then a four-foot muddy alley; Vauxhall, London's glamorous pleasure-garden, to a road whose most conspicuous ornament was a brick-kiln. Covent Garden in Jersey was an insignificant street without Convent, Opera House, or Vegetable Market; and St James's Street, London's most aristocratic address, was a cul-de-sac near the Cattle Market. Later, when St James's Church was built, the name was transferred to the street that passes that church, and the other became Old St James's Street, and then plain James Street.
Snow Hill, at any rate, is a hill, though very unlike the one at Holborn, down which the Mohocks rolled women in barrels. Of all these London names, only one seems appropriate; Newgate Street does at any rate contain the prison. A chance was missed when they failed to turn into Rotten Row Ruette Pourriture, where the steps now lead from Snow Hill to Regent Road.
In some cases, after a struggle, the old French name survived. For a time Colomberie was called Dove Street; Lemprière Street, Sligo Street; and Journeaux Street, John Street. But in each case the older name came back to its own.
Growth of town
For the first half of the 19th century the growth of the town was prodigious. When Falle wrote in 1734, the population was about 2,000. By 1800 it had quadrupled to 8,000. By 1831 this had doubled again, to 16,000. By 1841 it was 24,000, by 1851 30,000. All these newcomers had to be housed. Jersey was a builder's paradise. New streets sprang up like mushrooms, and for each a new name had to be found.
Some took their names from a building in them. The Public Library, until it moved to its present premises in 1886, was in Library Place, Bath Street had public baths, opened in 1827 with "baths hot or cold, fresh or salt, Bristol, Harrogate or Cheltenham".
Museum Street gained its name from a museum started in 1836 with "an Exhibition of Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman relics, collected by the late John Gosset, Esq, including a mummy, numerous papyri and amulets found in tombs at Thebes, specimens of the arts of the South Sea Islands, China, America, etc, liberally lent for the purpose of establishing a National Museum". Unfortunately, on the first free day, so much damage was done that the museum had to be closed, and nothing remained but the name which clung to the house and street.
St James's Church, built in 1829, gave its name not only to St James's Street, St James's Place, New St James's Place, and St James's Cottages, but also to Chapel Lane, for in early days the church was known as St James's Chapel of Ease.
Before St Mark's Church was finished in 1844, St Mark's Road had borrowed its name. And Wesley Street takes its title from the Wesleyan Chapel.
Many a street is called after some private house in, it. Hilgrove Street, for example, after Hilgrove House, the home of the Hilgrove family, a large mansion which stood on the bank of the Grand Douet, near the point where the present Hilgrove Street meets Halkett Place. Its spacious fishpond occupied the site of what is now the Market, and, until its later years, it looked out north and east over nothing but green fields. It was pulled down in 1845.
Plaisance Road got its name from Plaisance, the home of Jurat Falle. Many other of our street names, such as Bagatelle Road and Belvedere Hill, can be explained in the same way.
Other streets preserve the name of a landowner. Mont Cochon, like Rue es Porcqs, has nothing to do with pigs, but belonged to the Couchon family. In early deeds it was generally called Mont Couchon.
Burrard Street was a gift to the town from Sir Harry Burrard, the General who superseded Wellington in the Peninsular War. His mother was a Durell, and he was born at St Ouen. The Gazette de Cesaree announced in 1812: "Lieut-Gen Sir Harry Burrard is about to give a new proof of the lively interest he takes in his native land by opening a road from New Street to the New Markets. This road will be called Burrard Street after its generous donor."
In the Visite des Chemins of 1699, Hue Street is called "the road which passes the house of Mr Helier Hue"; and permission is given to Matthew Le Geyt to widen the street beside his house" (the present Le Geyt Street).
A contract of 1770 describes Dumaresq Street as "the street which Guillaume Dumaresq caused to be made". Lemprière Street in the Town Plan of 1800 is a long, private tree-lined avenue, leading up to the large house of the St Helier branch of the Lemprieres.
Jean Seaton was an auctioneer who sold his goods on an open space facing the sands, which he called the Seatonnerie. Here a little later Seaton Place was built.
Byron Road and Byron Lane have nothing to do with the poet. They were built on land that was called Bironnerie long before the poet was born, a name derived from the Jersey family of Biron.
Haguais Street, the short cut from Broad Street to King Street opposite the Post Office, gets its name from another old island family, the Haguais.
The military authorities also have left their mark. The Parade was a wilderness of rough sandhills, until General Don levelled it to be the parade-ground of the Militia. At the corner of Cannon Street the building can be seen where the cannon of the Artillery were stored. And Dauvergne Lane gets its name from Fort Dauvergne (called after the Prince of Bouillon), which stood on the seafront at the end of the lane.
Some streets received the names of bigwigs, whom the town desired to honour.
First the Royalties: King Street and Queen Street from George III and Queen Charlotte, and Regent Road from the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, who acted as Regent during his father's madness.
In 1817 the Duke of Gloucester, nephew of George III, visited Jersey, the first Royalty to do so since Charles II, and Rue de l'Hopital (Hospital Street), was renamed Gloucester Street in his honour. Clarence Road got its name from the Duke of Clarence, who became William IV; and the old Rue de la Planque Billot became York Street as a compliment to his brother, the Duke of York.
When Queen Victoria came to the Island with Prince Albert in 1849, the memory of that visit was enshrined in Victoria College, the Victoria and Albert Piers, Victoria Street, Albert Street, and Queen's Road. Victoria Avenue was given its name at the time of the Queen's Jubilee.
Other streets bear the names of popular Governors or Lieut-Governors. Don Road, which is part of the new road from St Helier to Gorey, was named by an Acte of the States in 1806, "seeing that this improvement is the first of its kind to be carried out in the Island, and that its utility is recognized by all, the States desire Posterity as well as our Contemporaries to know to whom it is due. It is therefore ordered that this road be called Don Road" . Don Street was part of another suggestion made by General Don to cut a direct road from the town to the Town Mill. It was begun in 1812, but never carried further than Vauxhall; and eventually New Street and Val Plaisant became the desired thoroughfare.
Halkett Place was a road made when the New Markets were built. At first it was called Rue du Nouveau Marché. When General Gordon, the Lieut-Governor, left in 1821, it was proposed to call it Gordon Street. But his successor, Sir Colin Halkett, became so popular that his friends urged that it should be called by his name. It is mentioned in advertisements as "Gordon Street or Halkett Place" or Rue du Marché, "which some individuals have recently named Halkett Place". An attempt was made to buy off the Halkett supporters by giving them Halkett Street, but this did not content them, and eventually they captured Halkett Place also.
Lord Beresford, the Governor (Halkett was only his Lieutenant), visited Jersey in 1821, and the newly-built Beresford Street was given his name. Conway Street bears the name of General Conway, the builder of our coastal towers; Norcott Road of Sir William Norcott, who became Lieut-Governor in 1873.
The latest road to be named in this way is Mount Bingham. About 1917 Mr E T Nicolle propounded a scheme for regarding Grosvenor Street, La Motte Street, Queen Street, and King Street as a single thoroughfare, and calling it after Sir Walter Raleigh, who was Governor in Elizabeth's reign. The parish authorities would not consent to such a drastic alteration.
But about the same time the property owners of Almorah Road petitioned the Roads Committee to free them from a name that had become associated with funerals. (The road had that name before the cemetery was thoughts of. The builder chose it because his wife had been born in Almorah, a hill town in India.) So, when this petition was read, somebody said "here is one group wanting a road named after Raleigh and another wanting to get rid of the name Almorah. Let us call Almorah Road, Raleigh Avenue. Then everyone should be satisfied."
Other celebrities honoured in this way are Major Peirson (the street where he fell is Peirson Place, and Peirson Road faces Gallows Hill, where he mustered his troops), and Captain Mulcaster, who refused to surrender Elizabeth Castle, though ordered to do so by the Governor.
National leaders receive a tribute of respect in Pitt Street, Nelson Street, Peel Road, and Wellington Road,
But it is strange that this compliment has never been paid to a single Jerseyman. In any French town the street names provide a list of its eminent citizens. But one looks in vain for this in Jersey. Philippe Baudains nearly had his name given to Victoria Avenue, but the Jubilee robbed him of his chance. And Mont Pinel has no connection. The name is sometimes asserted with the late Judge Pinel, but it is the ancient name of the hill, which has recently been revived.
Some names have been switched in an odd way from one street to another. The original Wellington Road lay between the Parade and the sea. The original Oxford Road was what we now call Stopford Road and Victoria Street.
Some queer names have disappeared altogether. No more can you prowl round Tinkers' Court or down Sweeps' Lane. Limpet Lane and Winkle Alley have passed unmourned from the map.
No High Strret
One curious fact must be noted. St Helier must be almost the only town in Great Britain that does not possess a High Street.
Notes and references
- ↑ The article was recently republished [on his blog by Tony Fellows] with the suggestion that it was written by the renowned 20th century historian George Balleine and published some five years after his death. We believe that the writing style is not remotely reminiscent of Balleine's, ruling him out as the author. We are not aware that he ever wrote in the first person.