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History of Jersey

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Title: History of Jersey  
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History of Jersey

The Bailiwick of Jersey

The island of Jersey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy that held sway in both France and England. Jersey lies in the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel and is the largest of the Channel Islands. It has enjoyed self-government since the division of the Duchy of Normandy in 1204.


  • Prehistory 1
    • Hoards 1.1
  • Christianity 2
  • Normans 3
  • The Feudal Age 4
  • Reformation to Restoration 5
  • 18th century 6
  • 19th century 7
  • 20th century 8
    • Occupation 1940-1945 8.1
    • Post-Liberation growth 8.2
  • 21st century 9
  • References 10
    • Print 10.1


La Pouquelaye de Faldouet was constructed on a site on the east coast looking across to the Cotentin Peninsula.

The earliest evidence of human activity in Jersey dates to about 250,000 years ago (before Jersey became an island) when bands of nomadic hunters used the caves at La Cotte de St Brelade as a base for hunting mammoth.

It has been an island for approximately 8,000 years and at its current extremes it measures 10 miles east to west and six miles north to south. After Jersey became an island, evidence exists of settled communities in the Brittany and the south coast of England existed during this time. The island apparently was significant enough to inspire large-scale construction projects.


Evidence of occupation and wealth has been discovered in the form of hoards. In 1889, during construction of a house in Saint Helier, a 746-g gold torc of Irish origin was unearthed. A Bronze Age hoard consisting of 110 implements, mostly spears and swords, was discovered in Saint Lawrence in 1976 - probably a smith's stock. Hoards of coins were discovered at La Marquanderie, in Saint Brelade, Le Câtel, in Trinity, and Le Câtillon, in Grouville (1957).[1]

In June 2012, two metal detectorists announced that they had uncovered what could be Europe's largest hoard of Iron Age Celtic coins, which may be worth up to £10 M, after a search spanning 30 years. The extracted mass including soil and the hoard reportedly weighed about three-quarters of a tonne, and could contain up to 50,000 Roman and Celtic coins.[2] This came after an earlier find of 60 Celtic coins, in the same area, by the same men.[3] Hoards of coins may have been buried in the island so as to protect them from Julius Caesar's armies which were advancing through France.[4]

In October 2012, another metal detectorist reported a new Bronze Age find, the Trinity Hoard.[5]


Although Jersey was part of the Roman world, very little is known about the island's history until the 11th century. The tradition that the island was called Caesarea by the Romans appears to have no basis in fact. The Channel Islands, then called the Lenur Islands, were occupied by the Britons during their migration to Brittany (5th-6th century). Various saints such as the Celts Samson of Dol and Branwalator (Brelade) were active in the region, although tradition has it that Saint Helier from Tongeren in modern-day Belgium first brought Christianity to the island in the 6th century, and Charlemagne sent his emissary to the island (at that time called Angia, also spelt Agna)[6] in 803.


The island took the name Jersey as a result of Viking activity in the area between the 9th and 10th centuries. The Channel Islands remained politically linked to Brittany until 933, when William Longsword, Duke of Normandy seized the Cotentin and the islands and added them to his domain; in 1066, Duke William II of Normandy defeated Harold at Hastings to become king of England; however, he continued to rule his French possessions as a separate entity.[7]

According to the Rolls of the Norman Exchequer, in 1180 Jersey was divided for administrative purposes into three ministeria: de Gorroic, de Groceio and de Crapaudoit (possibly containing four parishes each).[1]

The islands remained part of the Duchy of Normandy until 1204, when King Philip II Augustus of France conquered the duchy from King John of England; the islands remained in the personal possession of the king and were described as being a Peculiar of the Crown.[8] The so-called Constitutions of King John are the foundation of modern self-government.

The Feudal Age

Mont Orgueil dominates the small harbour of Gorey and guards Jersey from attack from the French coast opposite

From 1204 onwards, the Channel Islands ceased to be a peaceful backwater and became a potential flashpoint on the international stage between England and France.

In the Treaty of Paris (1259), the King of France gave up claim to the Channel Islands. The claim was based upon his position as feudal overlord of the Duke of Normandy. The King of England gave up claim to mainland Normandy and appointed a Warden, a position now termed Lieutenant-Governor and a Bailiff to govern in his stead. The Channel Islands were never formally absorbed into the Kingdom of England, however.

Hundred Years' War, the island was attacked many times [9] and was even occupied for a few years in the 1380s.

In March 1338, a French force landed on Jersey, intent on capturing the island.[10] Although the island was overrun, Mont Orgueil remained in English hands.[11] The French remained until September, when they sailed off to conquer Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark. In 1339, the French returned, allegedly with 8000 men in 17 Genoese galleys and 35 French ships. Again, they failed to take the castle and, after causing damage, withdrew.[12]

In July 1373, Michaelmas and du Guesclin sailed back to Brittany, leaving a small force to carry on the siege. Fortunately for the defenders, an English relief fleet arrived in time.[13]

The French would not succeed in capturing Jersey during the Hundred Years' War, but did capture Mont Orgueil in the summer of 1461, allegedly as part of a secret deal between Margaret of Anjou and Pierre de Brézé to gain French support for the Lancastrian cause. The island was held by the French until 1468, when Yorkist forces and local militia were able to recapture the castle.[14]

Because of the island's strategic importance to the English crown, the islanders were able to negotiate a number of benefits for themselves from the king. During the Wars of the Roses, the island was occupied by the French for seven years (1461–68), until, after the failure of an attempt to attack the French, Sir[15] Richard Harliston arrived in the island to claim it back for the English king.

Reformation to Restoration

During the 16th century, the islanders adopted the St Peter cannon can still be seen at the bottom of Beaumont Hill.

This map of Jersey, published in 1639, shows interior details such as Le Mont ès Pendus (the gallows hill, now called Westmount). At first sight, the coastline appears wildly inaccurate, but if the image is rotated a little clockwise, the shape becomes much closer to what is known today.

The production of knitwear reached such a scale that it threatened the island's ability to produce its own food, so laws were passed regulating who could knit with whom and when. The islanders also became involved with the Newfoundland fisheries at this time.[16] The boats left the island in February/March following a church service in St Brelade's church and they would not return again until September/October. During the 1640s, England was split by civil war and hostilities spread into Scotland and Ireland, as well. Jersey was divided, and while the sympathy of islanders lay with Parliament, the de Carterets held the island for the king.

The future New Jersey, now part of the United States of America.[17][18]

Towards the end of the 17th century, Jersey strengthened its links with the Americas when many islanders emigrated to New England and north east Canada. The Jersey merchants built up a thriving business empire in the Newfoundland and Gaspé fisheries. Companies such as Robins and the Le Boutilliers set up thriving businesses.

18th century

Round towers were built along the coasts to protect the Island from French attack.

By the 1720s, a discrepancy in coinage values between Jersey and France was threatening economic stability. The States of Jersey therefore resolved to devalue the liard to six to the sou. The legislation to that effect implemented in 1729 caused popular riots that shook the establishment.[19] The devaluation was therefore cancelled.

The Chamber of Commerce founded 24 February 1768 is the oldest in the Commonwealth.

The Code of 1771 laid down for the first time in one place the extant laws of Jersey, and from this time, the functions of the Royal Court and the States of Jersey were delimited, with sole legislative power vested in the States.

John Wesley preached in Jersey in August 1789, his words being interpreted into the vernacular for the benefit of those from the country parishes. The first building constructed specifically for Methodist worship was erected in St. Ouen in 1809.

The 18th century was a period of political tension between Britain and France, as the two nations clashed all over the world as their ambitions grew. Because of its position, Jersey was more or less on a continuous war footing.

During the American Wars of Independence, two attempted invasions of the island were made. In 1779, the Prince of Orange William V was prevented from landing at St Ouen's Bay; on 6 January 1781, a force led by Baron de Rullecourt captured St Helier in a daring dawn raid, but was defeated by a British army led by Major Francis Peirson in the Battle of Jersey. A short-lived peace was followed by the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars which, when they had ended, had changed Jersey forever. In 1799-1800, over 6000 Russian troops under the command of Charles du Houx de Viomesnil were quartered in Jersey after an evacuation of Holland.

The first printing press was introduced to Jersey in 1784.

19th century

Jersey cattle were developed as a breed during the 19th century. Judging the quality of cows remains a feature of rural life.

The livre tournois had been used as the legal currency for centuries. However, it was abolished during the French Revolutionary period. Although the coins were no longer minted, they remained the legal currency in Jersey until 1837, when dwindling supplies and consequent difficulties in trade and payment obliged the adoption of the pound sterling as legal tender.

The military roads constructed (on occasion at gunpoint in the face of opposition from landowners) by the governor, microclimate to waiting ships and then on to the markets of London and Paris ahead of the competition. In conjunction with the introduction of steamships and the development of the French and British railway systems, Jersey's agriculture was no longer as isolated as before. The new transport links also allowed the arrival of the first tourists.

Map of the former railway lines of Jersey

Two railways, the Jersey Western Railway[20] in 1870, and the Jersey Eastern Railway[21] in 1874, were opened. The western railway from St Helier (Weighbridge) to la Corbière and the eastern railway from St. Helier (Snow Hill) to Gorey Pier. The two railways have never been connected. Buses started running on the island in the 1920s, and the railways could not cope with the competition. The eastern railway closed in 1926 and the western railway in 1936 after a fire disaster that year.

The number of English-speaking soldiers stationed on the island and the number of retired officers and English-speaking labourers who came to the islands in the 1820s led to the island gradually moving towards an English-speaking culture.

Jersey was the fourth-largest ship building area in the 19th-century British Isles,[22] building over 900 vessels around the island. The banks on Jersey, guarantors of an industry both onshore and off, failed in 1886, even causing strife and discord in far-flung societies.

In the late 19th century, as the former thriving cider and wool industries declined, island farmers benefited from the development of two luxury products - Jersey cattle and Jersey Royal potatoes. The former was the product of careful and selective breeding programmes; the latter was a total fluke.

The anarchist philosopher, Peter Kropotkin, who visited the Channel Islands in 1890, 1896, and 1903, described the agriculture of Jersey in The Conquest of Bread.

The 19th century also saw the rise of tourism as an important industry, which reached its climax in the period from the end of the Second World War to the 1980s.

20th century

Elementary education became obligatory in 1899, and free in 1907. The years before the First World War saw the foundation of cultural institutions, the Battle of Flowers and the Jersey Eisteddfod. The first aeroplanes arrived in Jersey in 1912.

In 1914, the British garrison was withdrawn at the start of the war and the militia were mobilised. Jersey men served in the British and French armed forces. Numbers of German prisoners of war were interned in Jersey. The influenza epidemic of 1918 added to the toll of war.

In 1919, imperial measurements replaced, for the most part, the tradition Jersey system of weights and measures; women aged over 30 were given the vote; and the endowments of the ancient grammar schools were repurposed as scholarships for Victoria College.

In 1921, the visit of King George V was the occasion for the design of the parish crests.

In 1923, the British government asked Jersey to contribute an annual sum towards the costs of the Empire. The States of Jersey refused and offered instead a one-off contribution to war costs. After negotiations, Jersey's one-off contribution was accepted.

The first motor car had arrived in 1899, and by the 1930s, competition from motor buses had rendered the railways unprofitable, with final closure coming in 1935 (except for the later German reintroduction of rail during the military occupation). Jersey Airport was opened in 1937 to replace the use of the beach of Saint Aubin's bay as an airstrip at low tide.[1]

English was first permitted in debates in the States of Jersey in 1901, and the first legislation to be drawn up primarily in English was the Income Tax Law of 1928.

Occupation 1940-1945

As part of the Battery Moltke.

Following the withdrawal of defences by the British government and German bombardment, Jersey was occupied by German troops between 1940 and 1945.[23] The Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II. This period of occupation had about 8,000 islanders evacuated, 1,200 islanders deported to camps in Germany, and over 300 islanders sentenced to the prison and concentration camps of mainland Europe. Twenty died as a result. The islanders endured near-starvation in the winter of 1944-45, after the Channel Islands had been cut off from German-occupied Europe by Allied forces advancing from the Normandy beachheads, avoided only by the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship Vega in December 1944. Liberation Day - 9 May is marked as a public holiday.

Post-Liberation growth

The event which has had the most far-reaching effect on Jersey in modern times is the growth of the finance industry in the island from the 1960s onwards.

21st century

On the 26 June 2012, it was reported that a hoard of approximately 70,000 late Iron Age and Roman coins had been found in Grouville.[24]

On July 5, 2012, a fire broke out at a gas holder in St Helier.[25]


  1. ^ a b c Balleine's History of Jersey, Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1-86077-065-7
  2. ^ "Jersey pair in 30-year search for Iron Age coins" at
  3. ^ Jersey pair find more than 60 Iron Age coins
  4. ^ Massive Celtic coins hoard found on Jersey
  5. ^ "BBC News - Bronze age pottery find in Jersey". Retrieved 2012-10-11. 
  6. ^ "History of stamps".  
  7. ^ "A Short Constitutional History of Jersey". Voisin & Co. 1999-05-18. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  8. ^ Liddicoat, Anthony (1 August 1994). A Grammar of the Norman French of the Channel Islands.  
  9. ^ Including twice in the 1338–1339 Channel campaign
  10. ^ Watts (2007), p.8-17
  11. ^ Ford (2004), pp. 18–25
  12. ^ Ford (2004), p. 22
  13. ^ Ford (2004), p. 23
  14. ^ Watts (2004), pp. 16–17
  15. ^ [Note: - W.A.Shaw's "The Knights of England", Pub. 1906, - usually a most-reliable source which even notes foreign knightoods conferred upon English subjects - does not list any knightood conferred upon Richard Harliston. He was undoubtedly an Armiger - and Vice Admiral of England, (commanding the Fleet and soldiery which relieved Jersey in 1468, defeating the French Occupiers under Messire Pierre de Brézé with the aid of a force of local militia from the western parishes commanded by the Lord of St. Ouen), - but that does not mean that Harliston was also a knight in any order. The possession of personal armory was not - at this date - an indication of knighthood. This is a common error by later commentators because a personal heraldic escutcheon did later go hand in hand with an award of knighthood from Henry VIII's reign onwards - for which King Henry VIII demanded a fat fee to the royal exchequer. Henry VIII's reign marks the beginning of the English crown's official regulation of English heraldry through the College of Arms, - which did not exist before 1483. Henry VIII found the 'power of Snobbery' to be a wonderful way of raising extra tax revenue to fund his extravangances, in those status-conscious times. During the previous era of "unregulated heraldry" - any man could assume armory of his own choice and design - only provided that they did not conflict with those already in use by another armiger living in the same polity; - see the "Boke of St. Albans", by Dame Juliana Berners (1st-printed in 1486 by Caxton at the Sign of the Red Pale, Westminster, and reprinted 1496 by his successor, Wynkyn de Worde). ]
  16. ^ Ommer, Rosemary E. (1991). From Outpost to Outport.  
  17. ^ Weeks, Daniel J. (1 May 2001). Not for Filthy Lucre's Sake.  
  18. ^ Cochrane, Willard W. (30 September 1993). The Development of American Agriculture.  
  19. ^ *Balleine's History of Jersey, Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1-86077-065-7
  20. ^ website theislandwiki
  21. ^ website theislandwiki
  22. ^ BBC Tourisme schooner plans unveiled
  23. ^ Bellows, Tony. "What was the "Occupation" and why is "Liberation Day" celebrated in the Channel Islands?".  
  24. ^ "BBC News - Roman and Celtic coin hoard worth up to £10m found in Jersey". 2012-06-26. Retrieved 2013-03-28. 
  25. ^ "BBC News - People return home after gas facility fire in Jersey". 2012-07-05. Retrieved 2013-03-27. 


  • Balleine's History of Jersey, Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens (1998) ISBN 1-86077-065-7
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