Tour Nicolle

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Tour Nicolle

This article by Joan Stevens was first published in the 1983 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Nicolle Tower is a familiar landmark on a spur of high ground in St Clement's parish, approximately on the 160 foot contour line. Curiously little is known about its history.

An impetus to find out more about it has been provided by its recent acquisition by The Landmark Trust. This Trust exists, as its name suggests, to preserve landmarks, of whatever age, that might otherwise disappear, to the detriment of the countryside and the disadvantage of future generations. This it has achieved by buying such buildings and converting them into holiday homes, and its tenants are thus able to stay in a wide variety of unusual dwellings. The Landmark Trust already operates a fort in Alderney, but this is its first venture in Jersey.

Tour Nicolle

Mr Vincent Obbard, to whom the tower and the land on which it stands were bequeathed by his late father, Jurat Commander E C Obbard, could see no other way of preserving and restoring this interesting but problematical possession. The building consists of a three storey look-out, formed by a hexagon joining a rectangle, measuring about 11 feet 6 inches square and 9 feet 3 inches by 5 feet 9 inches respectively. Before the new plaster was added it was possible to see the structure clearly and to conjecture as to its development. It seemed as if the oldest part was the eastern, rectangular, section, probably single storey in origin, to which had been added westwards, a hexagon, both parts becoming double storied. The angles of the hexagon are in brick, but the rest of the walls in rubble diorite; Gothick windows had been inserted, and the top battlemented.

Storey added

One cannot but think that it was inspired by the Prince's Tower on La Hougue Bie, started in 1759. During the German Occupation (1940-45) a third storey was added, infilling the battlements; this was regarded as an important lookout point, and there is a dug-out just to the south of the tower. The whole is constructed on a base of diorite boulders, a type of stone abundant in the immediate locality.

So much for the structure, but what of its history, origins and purpose? And whence came the name Nicolle Tower, and the alternative La Folie Anley?

The field on which the tower stands is Clos de Hercanty, probably meaning a tilted menhir, from Old English haer (stone) or Old Norse horg (stone altar) and kanten, canted, cante, meaning tilted or leaning. In 1611 Daniel Dumaresq sold to his brother Clement, Une pieche de terre appelee hercanti en laest des terres dudyt Danyel et ioignant a ung costil de terre appartenant a Jacques Chevalier au sue dudyt costil estant bornee par le bord de laest d'une grosse pierre et dune levee de Jon ou fosse appartenant a Gilles Canyvet. .. (a piece of land called Hercanti east of the lands of the said Danyel and joining a costil of land belonging to Jacques Chevalier to the south of the said costil, bounded on the east by a big stone and a raised hedge of gorse, or bank, belonging to Gilles Canyvet.)

As we shall see, this was very soon after Clement had received from his brother le fief d'Elie, in the partage of their father's estate. This grosse pierre may well be the one at the east end of the field, of porphyritic mica granite, similar to the Rocqueberg at Samarès. Though this stone is now only about 4 feet high, it could perhaps be described as 'resembling a man', and until the hedge on the south was made, would almost certainly have been visible from the shore.

The subsoil of this area consists mainly of diorite, a dark-coloured granitic rock, which commonly undergoes spheroidal weathering. Over thousands of years rainwater gradually attacks the rock, reducing most if it to a brownish friable granular mass, embedded in which are spheroidal masses of fresh, hard rock which have resisted this process. As a result of the more active weathering which takes place at the ground surface as well as from the effects of ploughing, the soft decayed rock becomes washed away by the rainwater, leaving the spheroidal masses projecting from the surface whence they are often removed by farmers to the field boundaries. They are sometimes mistaken for the remains of megalithic monuments, and some may indeed have spent a period incorporated in such monuments.

There are two such masses incorporated intact in the foundations of the hexagonal tower, possibly still embedded in their lower parts in their original position in the decayed rock. One of these, some four feet in diameter and two feet thick, with a horizontal upper surface, bears on this surface artifical incisions of considerable interest, but partly obscured by the tower itself, which is built athwart it. The visible part consists of half a compass rose, beautifully cut, this half being divided into 16 sectors. Beside it, touching its circumference on the east side, is a long straight incision aligned approximately north-south, and beneath this, that is to the east, is the date 1644. In 1817 Plees- said 'on these heights (of St Clement) near the manor house of Samarès, some former proprietor of a field has caused to be chiselled, on a large stone, lying horizontally, a mariner's compass, of about a foot in diameter. All the 32 divisions are very accurately cut, and the direction of everyone points to its proper place; there are not, however, any distinguishing letters round it; it bears the date 1644.

Who cut the compass?

This is a most important piece of evidence. But who can it have been who cut this compass? One would have liked to suggest Philippe Dumaresq, Seigneur of Samarès, but he was only seven years old at the time. This suggestion is advanced because his Survey of Jersey contains a highly important reference to the site, when he says, 'Havre du Hoc, its channel lies NW and SE or near it, to enter therein, keep a picked rock, the eastern-most of two on the shore, with a stone like a man upon the top of a high hill, called Her quantin, the channel NW and SE.' Our 'Grosse pierre' again? The forked rock must surely be the rock called Hercantin on the shore just outside le Havre du Hoc.

The Richmond map (1795) shows no building on the site and the first indication of an actual structure is given in a report to the States from the Defence Committee on 18 January 1792, when they listed 'Herket (Mont Ube)' in a chain of projected signal stations. Stead, in 1809, in describing an excursion eastwards from town, says:

'Upon the hill above is the signal station, called Arcot, a neat convenient dwelling, with a good garden; a small but excellent retreat, for a weather-beaten seaman; his Yards and Rigging remain, and he is still able to show his Colours; his Birth is amply furnished, his Supply of Fresh Provisions and Grog is certain; he may enjoy all the Conveniencies of the shore and all the Amusements of the sea, without the Dangers attending upon the profession.'

There can be little doubt that the same site is being described by both Plees and Stead, and we can be satisfied that between 1792 and sometime after 1809 there was a manned signal station on the hill, and that the man concerned lived on the western part of the tower, probably only as a single cell dwelling.

In 1821 Philippe Nicolle comes into the picture. He was not a native of the parish, though he was its Constable from 1763 to 1770. He was descended from the Nicholls of Longueville, who later changed their name to the Jersey form of Nicolle; this could account for the tower being sometimes referred to as 'Colonel Nicholl's tower'. He had married Jeanne Dumaresq, Dame du Fief d'Elie, and must have lived at Le Manoir d'Elie, the precursor of the present Maitland Manor. A contract of 19 May 1821 is most enlightening, when Jean Clement, son of Moyse, sold to Philippe Nicolle, son of Philippe, une certaine piece de terre appelee le Hercandy fosses et reliefs tout autour sauf partie de celui du sud est, vers la terre du Seigneur de Samares, joingnant au nord ... Philippe Fauvel, sud ouest le Seigneur de Samarès, et buttant est. .. Daniel Touzel et. .. sud est a une ban que ou issue appartenant audit Sieur Nicolle.

It measured 6 vergees 13 perch and 18 feet and was on the fief de Samarès. It continues, Possession dudut clos de terre avec toutes ses appartenances et dependances au jour de Noel prochain ... Et aura ledit Preneur la faculté de porter des materiaux a l'endroit de ladite piece de terre au il se propose de batir un edifice et de commencer ladite batisse aussitt que les grains seront recueillies ainsi que de porter du fumier ou autre engrais dans ladite terre en temps convenable avant ledit jour de Noel.

Different vergées

So we see that Nicolle bought the field, and intended to build something there, while continuing to cultivate it, as he was going to fertilise it as soon as the vendor's wheat crop had been harvested. It is interesting that it measured over 6 vergees, as it now appears to be more like 5 vergees, but at one time the Samarès vergée , like that of some other fiefs, was only 35 perch to the vergée instead of the more usual 40 perches.

Thus it seems safe to assume that it was this Philippe Nicolle, son of the Constable, who gave his name to the tower he had built. Both his sons died childless, and his property passed to his daughter Marie, who had married Philippe Anley, hence the alternative name of La Folie Anley. Was it he who added the castellations? On Godfray's map (1849) it is called 'Look-out', and is shown with its present outline. In 1871 the Anley family sold the fief and the manor house to Mr Cabot, great-great-grandfather of Jurat Raymond Le Brocq; it later passed to Mr T Litler-Jones and now belongs to Mr H D Constantine.

As so many of the persons associated with the tower were also connected with the Fief d'Elie, it is perhaps apposite to consider the history of that small fief. One cannot guess who was the Elie after whom it was called, for, as will be seen, it was already so named in 1479. An undated document at St Ouen's Manor, probably a rough draft for a formal protest, seeks to establish the boundary of the fief d'Elie in order to decide the ownership of objects washed up on the shore. It showed that the fief d'Elie lies between those of Samarès and le Prieur. The writer states that according to La Coutume de Normandie, wreckage belongs to the Seigneur to whom the coastline belongs, and he continues; "Sur lynterest que le Roy a dans cette cause qui y est considerable en ce que sy le gravage appartient au fief Elie le Roy en aura le tiers au lieu que s'il etoit ajuge au fief de St Mares le Roy y perdra son droit ayant quitte son droit sur le gravage du fief de St Mares et non sur le fief Elie". (The King's interest in this cause is considerable in that if the wreckage belongs to the fief d'Elie the King has a third, but if it is judged to be on the fief of Samarès the King loses his right, having relinguished his right to wreckage on the fief of Samarès but not on that of the fief d'Elie.)


He accepts that wreckage is une chose casuelle which may or may not occur during 100 years, but that this cannot alter the law. It is clear that Madame de Samarès was claiming wreckage on part of the shore which he considered belonged to the fief d'Elie. A large part of the trouble was that la mer mange et gaigne de ce cote journallement and thus augments the area of possible Samarès wreckage. He is satisfied that in 1570 the boundary of the fief d'Elie lay between le Douet east of Le Hocq and La Rocque Sofiche to its west. So there is nothing new about encroachment of the sea on the coast of St Clement. In 1479 in the Partage de Michiel Le Feuvre of Vinchelez we find in the tierce partie mention of le fieu helie en sainct clement le tenement que Guille costil tient. In spite of a great number of du Costil papers in the La Haule manuscript collection, this particular reference cannot be traced.

In 1608 there was a partage between Daniel Dumaresq, Seigneur of Samares and his brother Clement, as already mentioned. In it there is mention of le fieu d'Elie, as well as fields Le Clos de la Moissoniere and le Jardin de la Chapelle, all as having belonged to Helier Messervy, son of Richard. Boundary stones were to be placed between the lands of Samarèes and of Elie. (It may be mentioned that the names Elie and Helier are often confused, mistakenly.) In 1645 an Extente of the fiefs of the island was ordered and we find, for le fief d'Elie, the following; "Monsieur Helier Dumaresq nous a apparu d'une lettre en dapte de lan 1608 le 18e jour du mois de Mars comme Daniel Dumaresq gent bailla a Clement Dumaresq gent, son frere, le fieu d'Elie Messervy, avec la Cour le camp art avecqs toutes autres deubtes, casualities et dignites audit fieu appartenant. Item nous a apparu de certains droits en dapte de lan 1570 le dixe jour de juin comme Honeste gent Jean Perrin bailla a Helier Messervy un certain fieu appele le fieu Elie."

From there, as we have seen, it passed through Dumaresq to Nicolle, and then to Anley. What is still not clear is how it passed from the Le Feuvre descendants to Jean Perrin; it may well have been through his wife, Marguerite de Beauvoir of Guernsey, who was the youngest daughter of Michiel Le Feuvre, but this is only conjecture.

What is abundantly clear from all the evidence surrounding this spot is that it has been regarded as an excellent lookout up to the time of the German Occupation, and as far back as the 17th century, and possibly back to Neolithic times.

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