Tracing the history of a St Helier manoir
Tracing the history of an old Jersey building, particularly one which no longer exists, can be a difficult process, particularly when it is believed to date back to as early as the 15th century. Putting precise dates on the bulding's construction is nigh impossible, unless original contracts exist, and even determining the sequence of events surrounding a property of importance can be difficult.
Such is the case with Manoir de la Motte, which was finally demolished in 1958, and was possibly one of the oldest houses in St Helier at the time. That was before controls were introduced to protect historic buildings, although they failed to save the nearby Colomberie House, which was demolished in 1998, 227 years after it was built.
At the time of the Battle of Jersey in 1781, Manoir de la Motte and Colomberie House were probably still relatively isolated at the eastern end of the town of St Helier, and when Manoir de la Motte was built, it would almost certainly have been the only house in the area. When that was is very uncertain, but it appears that the property, then known as Manoir de St Helier, was completely or partially demolished and then rebuilt at some point.
Without access to original documents (which may or may not throw further light on the subject), it is necessary to turn to the work of 20th century historians, and three of the most prominent and respected have written about the manoir, and come to somewhat different conclusions.
- Emile Guiton, secretary of La Société Jersiaise from 1932 to 1946 and editor of its Annual Bulletin, wrote an article in the bulletin in 1959 recording the manor's demolition the year before
- Edmund Toulmin Nicolle, secretary from 1901-1929, wrote about the manor in his book The Town of St Helier, published posthumously by La Société in 1931
- Joan Stevens, president of La Société in its centenary year, 1973, wrote about the manor in Volume One of her two-part Old Jersey Houses
Emile Guiton believed that the original manor, dating from the 15th century, or earlier, fell into ruin in about the middle of that century. He wrote that the woodwork and stones were taken to Mont Orgueil Castle and perhaps used in the construction of Harleston Tower.
- "In the Rent Roll of Thomas de Saint Martin (who died in 1515) appears the following: Item, le Manyer de Saint Helyier avesq les terres ... ...lequel Manyer fust par lesdits Harlyston et Hareby descouvert et la pyere et le boys porte au Chatel tant que le Manyer est toutl cheet". (The Manor of St Helier together with the surrounding land - the said Manor was by Harleston and Hareby uncovered and the stones and the timber carted to the Castle as the Manor was completely in ruins.)
- "Sir Richard Harleston was the first Governor of the Island and was in office 1470 to 1483. Guillaume Hareby was Bailiff from 1479 to 1481. It is, therefore, clear that in the 15th century it was known as the Manoir de Saint Helier, and that, as stated in the rent roll, it was completely in ruins and the stones and timber were carted to Gorey Castle. Probably used in building the Harleston Tower. There is nothing left of the building of the 15th century. At a later date, of which there is no record, it was rebuilt, and was known as Manoir de la Motte, or as Maison la Motte, or as Maison de Tehy."
Joan Stevens wrote the following about La Maison Tehy or Le Manoir or La Maison de la Motte
- "When sold in 1476 by Raulin Lempriere to Perrotin Tehy it was described as une maison & mesnage nom(m)é le Manyer de St Hellier ovecq Les colombier et tous les franchieses & libertés ap(par)tenantes aud(i)t Manyer ovecq le jardin seceant devers le voest dud(i)t manyer & les yssues & ap(par)tenances a ycelluy ovecq le Grand Pray sceant devers le Nord dud(i)t manier, tout contenant treize vregies de t(er)re ou environ (a house and messuage called the Manor of St Helier, with its dovecot, and all the rights and liberties belonging to the said Manor, with the garden to the west, with its approaches and exits and appurtenances, with the great meadow situated to the north of the said Manor, the whole containing about thirteen vergees).
- "At some time between 1479 and 1481 it was in ruins, and the Governor at that time, Sir Richard Harliston, and the Bailiff Guillaume Hareby, had the stones and timber carted to the Castle, where the Harliston Tower, named after the Governor, was being built. The house must have been rebuilt soon afterwards, though it is difficult to see what condition it was in when it was purchased by Tehy and came to be known by his name. It was called La Maison Tehy in 1612, having become the property of Nicolas Lempriere, Jurat from 1567 to 1609, It subsequently passed to Journeaux, and to Dumaresq, and in 1799 to Charles Chevalier, when it was described as La Maison de la Motte.
Edmund Nicolle quoted the same rent roll as Guiton, but a fuller version:
- "Item: le Manyer de Saint Helyer avesq les terres .... viij qrte lequel manyer fust par lesdits Harlyston et Hareby descouvert et la pyere et le boys porté au Chatel tant que ledit Manyer est toult cheet pourquoy ledit de Saint Martyn est en domagy en la some de ccccl: estg"
What happened when?
This seems to suggest that Thomas de Saint Martin was being held liable for 450 pounds sterling for the state of the property. But was it in ruins when Raulin Lempriere sold it to Perrotin Tehy in June 1476? How did Tehy allow the stone and woodwork from a property he had bought in 1476 to be taken within five years by the Governor and Bailiff for building work at Mont Orgueil? And when was the manor rebuilt? These were turbulent times: Harliston was appointed Governor after he drove out of the island the French who had occupied and governed it from 1461 to 1468. Did Tehy buy a derelict property and have some of its structure appropriated for some offence? All is far from clear.
And it is not clear how much of the original property survived. Guiton suggests none; Stevens offers no opinion; Nicolle believes much of what stood in 1958 could be dated to the early 15th century.
- "This fine granite front has in recent years, sad to relate, been cemented over, whilst the interior has undergone modern embellishments, which have obliterated the distinctive features of this remarkable old house; but a mere examination of the gables which are no less than 6 feet thick, the square tower with its stone staircase (now covered over with boards) and its small square windows, shows clearly that the building is of early construction. It would certainly appear to date from the commencement of the 15th century."
Nicolle goes on to give more details of subsequent sales of the house:
- "Whilst it remained in the Tehy family it came to be known as the Maison de Tehy. It was reacquired by the Lempriere family and on 23 April 1612 under the divisiuon of the estate of Nicolas Lempriere it became the property of Jeanne Lempriere, wife of Thomas de Soullemont, who was Constable of St Helier from 1590 to 1597. It is designated in the contract as Le Manoir maison et menage de Tehy a la Motte.
- "In the 17th century it passed into the family of Solomon Journeaux and then into that of Jean Dumaresq. On 18 October 1799 it was sold by William Dumaresq to Charles Chevalier as the Maison de la Motte.
Battle of Jersey
What all the writers are agreed on is that in 1781, when the French invaded the island, Lieut-Governor Moyse Corbet was using Maison de la Motte as his official residence and it was there that he was captured by the French, shortly after being woken on the morning of the Battle of Jersey.