Considered to be one of the oldest streets in St Helier, La Motte Street, running from Snow Hill to the junction of St Saviour's Road, St James Street and Grosvenor Street, is the source of many fascinating stories.
The considerable redevelopment of the area may lead many to be surprised how many older properties did once exist and how different the street might have looked even as recently as the early 20th century.
At the time of Peter Meade's Town Survey of 1737 only a few buildings existed at the start of the street. By the time of the Le Gros map of 1834, properties ran the whole length, including the beautiful Hemery Row. The map also illustrates the affluence of the street, with a number of prominent properties having large gardens.
One such property was Manoir de la Motte, which was at the end of the street on the junction of Grosvenor and St James Streets. An exact date of origin for the manor is hard to establish, although records reveal the original building dates back to the 15th century. Rent rolls from the early 16th century indicate that at this point it had fallen into disrepair, with much of the stone and timber being removed for use at Mont Orgueil Castle. [See note below]
By the time Heath painted the scene in 1758 the manor, with its square colombier, or pigeon house, was clearly back to prominence. Contracts reveal that, following the purchase of the manor in 1958 by Herbert Walford, it was demolished and rebuilt as apartments. Today only a plaque marks its site and highlights its connection to the Battle of Jersey, as the residence of Major Moyse Corbet, Lieut-Governor at the time, who was captured there by French forces.
The row of buildings known as Hemery Row ran from numbers 37 to 49. The origins of this beautiful row of Georgian houses can be traced through property contracts. They reveal that in 1798 Jacques Hemery purchased from Jean Brohier a property known as Manoir de Tehi, previously called Maison de Colombier, for 31 quartiers of wheat. Following the purchase Jacques demolished the house and replaced it with a row of seven houses, with stables, a washhouse and a coach house.
[Editor's note: There is some confusion here because Maison de Tehy was one of the earlier names of what was subsequently named Maison de la Motte. It was not demolished until 1958. The land on which Hemery Row was built was open fields belonging to the property. A 1795 map does not show any buildings on the land on which Hemery Row was built, although the painting by Heath on the left does show a group of buildings to the right of the manor which may be on land which became gardens at the rear of the Hemery Row houses. Maison de la Motte was not strictly a manor house, even though there was Fief de la Motte. When Raulin Lempriere sold the property to Perrotin Tehy in 1476 it was described in the contract as le Manyer de Saint Hellier. Tehy called it La Maison Tehy and when it was reacquired by the Lempriere family in 1597 it was called Le Manoir maison et menage de Tehy a la Motte. Ownership of the Hemery Row land must have been separated from Maison de la Motte because that property was sold in 1799 to Charles Chevalier. After its demolition in 1958 La Société Jersiaise had a plaque erected on the building which replaced it, describing it as 'Site of the Manoir de la Motte, 1400-1958'.]
George Croad's Jersey Album records that, as Jacques had no children, he gave the properties to his nieces and nephew in 1808 with the proviso that they would pay him £40 a year rent for the remainder of his life.
Five buildings in the row are still standing, but Nos 47 and 49 have been demolished and have now been replaced by Standard Bank. At one time No 49, under William Gregory's ownership, housed the Royal Livery Stables, so called because they supplied carriages for Queen Victoria's visits in 1846 and 1859. The two houses were demolished after General Services Garages purchased No 47 in 1959, having already bought No 49 in 1948. They then redeveloped the site into Varney's Garage, which later became St Helier Garage.
Just before Hemery row is the BNP Paribas office block, which before it was built was the location of 19, 21 and 23 La Motte Street. The property was redeveloped as offices under the ownership of Hillam Ltd, following their purchase of 19 and 21 La Motte Street and 1 and 2 Hilary Street in 1968.
Ivy St Helier
No 19 was the birthplace of a celebrity. In 1886 David and Matilda Aitchison, who lived there, became the proud parents of a daughter they called Ivy. Under her stage name of Ivy St Helier she went on to become a prominent stage and film actress as well as a composer and lyricist. At the height of her fame she starred in Noel Coward's operetta Bitter Sweet (1929) and later, with the rising popularity of the silver screen, Sir Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944).
On the opposite side of the street is the Social Security Department building, officially opened by Bailiff Sir Frank Ereaut on 21 July 1977. The building was constructed for the States on the site of Nos 30 and 32. Previously No 30 was home to Cory's Master Cleaners, which was established in 1874 by Robert Cory, whose father James purchased the property in 1876. In the 1881 census Robert is recorded as a qualified dyer employing two men and two boys, and even though the La Motte Street outlet has been long closed, Cory's still operate in Bath Street.
No 32, the other property bought by the States, was known as Stafford House. In 1842 John Jackson bought the property and ran it as a boarding and day school for 'young gentlemen' until his death in 1881, when he left the house to his daughter Lydia.
The Old Bailey courthouse records in London contain a case of threatening letters sent to Thomas Arnold, with demands for money and menaces such as threats of murder. In October 1869 the defendant in the case, Arthur Browne, pointed to Mr Jackson as the letters' author.
Two John Jacksons from Jersey were called before the court before a connection was established to the schoolmaster from La Motte Street. He recalled that Browne had applied for a job before being dismissed after having a fit. Browne subsequently contacted Jackson asking him to subscribe to a dictionary he was writing. He told the court that he had refused, and he denied being the author of the letters. By the end of the trial Arthur Browne retracted his allegation, stating that the letters were 'not Mr Jackson's writing at all; they have been humbugged'. He was found guilty.