Traditions and customs

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Traditions and customs


A cartoon of about 1870, by James Finucane Draper, showing Jurat David de Quetteville raising the Clameur de Haro over the building of the railway

Many unusual traditions and practices have been observed in Jersey over the years. Some continue to this day, and some died out centuries ago. This section of Jerripedia identifies some of the more bizarre and attempt to trace their origins and the reasons why they were outlawed or fell into disuse

Further reading

Customs, Ceremonies & Traditions of the Channel Islands, by Raoul Lemprière

Notes and references

  1. A custom which was observed as recently as 1973 in Jersey, on either St John's Eve or St John's Day (23/24 June). Participants blew shells or horns just before sunset. The origins of this custom perhaps lay in landowners reminding their tenants that their rental was payable at midsummer
  2. Farmers in medieval times and later were used to donating a tenth of their crops (the tithe) to their parish church, but fisherman Leonard Gupill took umbrage in the early 17th century at being required to give a tenth of his catch to the Rector of St Brelade, David Bandinel. He appealed to the visiting Royal Commissioners in 1607, Sir Robert Gardiner and James Hussey, and brought as witnesses old fishermen who testified that it had always been left to the fishermen themselves to decide what proportion of their catch to donate to the church.
    The commissioners ruled at "considering the great charge, trouble and danger the said Goupill and other fishermen do take their fish and considering also how needful it is on the other side that the said minister, whose living doth much depend upon Tythes of fish, should be in some reasonable and convenient manner provided for". They ruled that Goupill and other fisherment should give a fifteenth of their cash to their Rector
  3. Jersey has virtually no traditional folk music. In his book The Bailiwick of Jersey, historian George Balleine speculated that the arrival of French-speaking Calvinist priests in the wake of the Reformation in the 16th century may be to blame: "Was it this Calvinist regime, one wonders, which frowned so severely on all superstition, that banished from the Island its folk music? We know that on winter nights the popular form of amusement was to gather in one of the old farm kitchens and spend the evening singing; yet hardly one of the songs has survived. Did a time come when nothing was sung but Marot's Metrical Psalms?" Whatever the reason, there is further support for the view that there is a virtual complete absence of traditional local music because Raoul Lempriere, in his book Customs, Ceremonies and Traditions of the Channel Islands does not mention the subject at all
  4. La jouôte was a barbarous custom of throwing stones at farmyard poultry and animals on public holidays which survived at least until 1906. Effectively a cock-shy, la jouôte was observed on Easter Monday, Shrove Tuesday and other religious holidays. The unfortunate ducks, hens, cocks and rabbits, usually undernourished and not worth keeping, were offered by farmers for the public to pay to throw stones at. Kill the target and you kept it as a prize. The events were usually staged in the heart of the parish, near the church or public houses. They were outlawed by an 1896 law to prevent ill-treatment of animals. It took a further ten years or so for the practice to die out because there is a record of a cock-shy at Greve de Lecq in 1906
  5. This is an old custom common to all the Channel Islands on the first Sunday in Lent. Young people used to assemble close to home and dance around a lighted bonfire. The brandons were torches made of straw and resin, or sometimes just wisps of straw. They were passed from one reveller to another and the youngsters leapt over the bonfire. The name of the day had spread from France as dimanche des brandons or jour des brandons. THe dance was said to have a bacchanalian origin
  6. Jersey has not had town criers since the First World War. The last two were S Honeycombe and William Landick. They not only walked the streets of St Helier ringing their bell and calling out items of news, but they sold newspapers for those wanting greater detail. Landick was renowned for calling out:
    Jersey Times and Evening Post
    Buy the one you like the most.
    One is pink, the other white,
    Both are printed every night.
    This was a reference to the original pink paper on which the Evening Post was printed
  7. The history of Jersey is littered with nicknames, many unflattering, for inhabitants of various parts of the island. Youngsters from the town of St Helier were nicknamed "town pats" by country folk. But the general name given by country people for their townsfolk was highly unflattering. Les clyichards, in Jèrrais, means "those suffering from diarrhoea". Perhaps a less insulting translation could be "the pale and weak ones" or "pale faces" but the country dwellers were clearly contemptuous of the townies. The traditional nickname for St Pierrais is ventres à baînis (limpet bellies)and that for St Breladais is carpéleuses (caterpillars). The cottage industry formerly practised by Grouvillais of burning vraic gave rise to the traditional nickname of les enfuntchis (the smoky ones, or the dim ones, in Jèrriais) shared by the Grouvillais and their neighbours in St Clement. St Ouennais were called gris ventres (grey bellies), possibly because the wool for their Jerseys was not died blue as in the other 12 parishes but left its natural colour. The inhabitants of St Ouen, St John and St Martin were collectively known as Jeannots
  8. St John's Eve, 23 June, used to be celebrated in an usual way, both in the parish of St John and elsewhere in the Island. The customs is described by John Stead, writing in 1809:
    "In the parish, and indeed in most parts of the Island, a custom prevails of which the origin is unknown; on the eve of St John's Day several persons in different parts of the several parishes assemble their respective neighbours; a large brass boiler (in ordinary use as a kitchen utensil) is taken into the yard and partly filled with water, in which spoons, drinking utensils, candlesticks, etc of metal are immersed; a strong species of rush is then attached to the rim of the boiler, to which other rushes are tied, having been thoroughly wetted. Persons of both sexes then lay hold of each rush, and drawing their hands quickly upwards and often repeating the application, cause a vibration of the boiler and other articles that produces a most dolorous and terrific sound, which is encreased by the blowing of cows' horns: the exercise forms altogether a discordant noise, almost as loud as a Chinese Gong. This uncommon amusement is continued for several hours, 'till the performers are weary and deafened with their sport5. It is called faire braire les poêles; the same custom prevails in the neighbouring province of Normandy"
    Another description is given by William Plees, in his 1817 Account of the Island of Jersey
    "In various parts of Jersey a singular4 custom has long prevailed; so long that its origin cannot now be traced. At Midsummer eve, a number of persons meet together, and procure a large brass boiler: ths is partly filled with water, and sometimes metallic utensils of different kinds are thrown in. The rim is then encircled with a strong species of rush, to which strings of the same substance are attached. When these strings are sufficiently moistened, the persons assembled take hold of them, and drawing them quickly through their hands, a tremulous vibration is excited in the boiler, and a most barbarous, uncouth and melancholy sound produced. To render this grating concert still more dissonant, others blow with cows' horns and conchs. This singular species of amusement continues for several hours.
    "How extraordinary soever this recreation may be, it would be well if it ended in the innocent though discordant manner just described; but, unhappily, it has introduced another custom, which is of an injurious nature. After the sport is over, parties of men and boys go about the country, and from all the cows they can find take the milk, for sillabubs, puddings etc for the following day. They also make depredations in the gardens. This conclusive amusement is, however, now much restrained, and by magisterial vigilance will, probably, in a few years be entirely suppressed
  9. Historian A C Saunders, in his 1931 book Jersey in the 17th Century, records a curious incident involving the old custom of promising to pay money "with his girdle". "On 15 May 1630 Hugh Le Marquess had made a contract to wed Catherine Masson, but evidently something went wrong, for Catherine no longer found favour in his sight, and he arranged to pay £140 for expenses, etc, and as a proof that he owed the money, he promised to pay the sum 'with his girdle', it being the custom in the Island 'on a man making cession of his estate, to come into the Market and tie his girdle to a post'. Evidently Le Marquess thought that he had got out of the marriage so well that he wondered whether he could not get over the 'girdle' difficulty by refusing to pay, and so Catherine's father went to the Privy Council for assistance." Unfortunately Saunders does not record whether Mr Masson was successful
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