Royal Bay of Grouville
This wide sweeping bay – gently shelving and protected from the prevailing westerly winds - was probably the best landing beach in the island and over the years has been heavily fortified. It was generally known as Grouville Bay or La Baie du Vieux Chateau, until 1859, when Queen Victoria, who was so impressed by its beauty when she visited the island, decreed that it should be known as the Royal Bay of Grouville.
In 1453, because of the danger in which islanders found themselves in times of war, King Edward IV asked for and got a Papal Bull declaring the Channel Islands and the surrounding seas ‘as far as the eyes could see’ to be neutral in times of war. This was great as long as everyone recognised the Pope’s authority, but within 60 years Jersey was Protestant, and its nearest neighbour and traditional enemy, France, remained Catholic, so the Bull was effectively a dead duck.
Luckily islanders did more than depend on a piece of paper; they built defences around the bay, including a square tower on a large rock called L’Avarison, about two miles offshore.
Because the foundations of the earlier square tower were already here Seymour is the only round tower that is square!
Seymour Tower was built in the late 18th century. It was probably named after Sir Henry Seymour Conway, the Governor of Jersey from 1772 to 1795. Originally manned by the Militia, in 1797 it was taken over by the British Government, who kept it until 1923, when the States bought it back for £120. The garrison was issued with 12lb of candles every month to signal to the other towers and the castle every half hour.
Along the coast road there are another four of these Conway towers. Today they are all privately owned, and three of them have been incorporated into houses. They were originally known by the snappy names of Grouville No 2 , No 3, No 4 and No 5. Grouville No 2 is also known as Keppel Tower, probably after George Keppel, Earl of Albemarle, Jersey’s Governor between 1761 and 1772. Numbers 3 and 4 are also known by their location, Le Hurel and Fauvic.
In 1851 the slipway at Le Hurel was built and further work, strengthening sea defences in this area, was undertaken in 1862. In February of that year interested parties were asked to submit tenders to build about 330 yards of sloping seawall and associated footings from ‘the wall at Le Hurel to the distance of about 80 feet to the north east of Tower No 4. It would appear that no one was willing to take the job, because the advert was repeated again and the deadline extended to late March.
The Jersey Shipping Register shows that he built 19 vessels here on the beach - five cutters, seven schooners and seven ketches - between 1862 and 1884. However, he was probably responsible for more, because in the 1861 census he gave his occupation as shipbuilder, which possibly means that he was running someone else’s yard. Not bad for a lad who started his working career in his native St Lawrence as an apprentice thatcher, before being enticed to the east by Miss Jane Esther Le Geyt.
On 19 December 1804 the 44-gun frigate HMS Severn was wrecked in the bay during a north easterly gales. She had been damaged a few days earlier, and was proposing to go to England for repairs when she was driven aground about a mile offshore. Sailors from HMS Alcmene managed to get a couple of ropes on to her, which allowed the crew to make it safely to shore. Over the next couple of days her stores were removed, but the ship itself was lost.
Looking back out to sea 200 years ago the island’s oyster fleet would have been active seeking out the wild native or flat oyster. Today the industry has changed and it is the rock or Pacific Oyster that is farmed. This inter-tidal zone is now the home of Chris Le Masurier’s Jersey Oyster Company - the largest oyster growing concern in the British Isles. Recognizing that the bay’s tidal conditions, combined with the shallow clear water, created a natural filtering effect ideal for cultivating oysters, Chris’ grandfather started his aquaculture business in 1973.
In the 1930s a new-style holiday venue was built in the area of Old Forge Lane - Grouville Holiday Camp. A group of chalets was built around a swimming pool and tennis court, and a larger building served as a dining room, bar and evening entertainment centre. Just as today, the 1939 Jersey tourism and agricultural industries were heavily dependent upon foreign labour, and when war broke out in 1939, the camp was requisitioned by the military, surrounded with barbed wire and converted into an internment camp for those German, Austrian and Italian nationals who were working in the island.
In the terminology of the day it was officially known as a ‘Concentration Camp’. This term did not have the same connotation in 1939 as it was to have six years later.
With the arrival of the German army in July 1940, the inmates were released and their places taken by those British servicemen who had been trapped in the island and who remained in the camp until they could be transferred to a PoW camp in Silesia
During the Occupation the Germans found that the coarse sand from the Bay was ideal for making the concrete they needed to build their bunkers and anti-tank walls. Hundreds of thousands of tons of sand were dredged up, brought ashore and then transported on a 60cm railway track built between Gorey Common and St Helier.
Nature has a way of healing herself and today Grouville Bay boasts one of the richest marine habitats in northern Europe. The shallow waters and vast inter-tidal area are the remains of Jersey’s former land connection to the Continent, which was submerged at the end of the last Ice Age.
In 2000 the States of Jersey approved the designation of 31 sq km of the area as a United Nations Ramsar Wetland of International Importance. It stretches from the tip of Gorey Pier to the St Helier tanker berth, and incorporates a wide semicircle of offshore reefs, boulder fields, and mud, sand and shingle banks, interspersed with shallow tidal lagoons and sea-grass beds. It is a marine wilderness in which, to date, 107 species of fish, 57 crustacea, 113 mollusc and 230 seaweeds have been recorded.
Every winter thousands of waders and wildfowl return to the bay from northern Scandinavia and Siberia, to roost and enjoy a rich diet of crustaceans, molluscs and worms.
Beneath the sea, just beyond the castle’s eastern side, permanently submerged 10-metre high shingle banks have formed and are home to bass, black bream, wrasse, rays, flatfish and mullet.
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