Coast: La Rocque

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Coast:

La Rocque


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This article by Doug Ford, a respected authority on Jersey's maritime history, was part of his Coast series for the Jersey Evening Post, and was first published in 2015


Reefs and sandbanks

Situated on the south east corner of the Island, La Rocque looks out onto a sailor’s nightmare of reefs and sandbanks. Rather than taking its name from this rocky aspect, however, it has been suggested that it may refer to a large inland rock outcrop, long since quarried away.

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Despite the notoriously difficult approach from the sea, there has been a fishing 'village' here since at least the Middle Ages. In 1602 States minutes mention the post of supervisor for the haven and fisheries of La Rocque being held by Jean du Parq; five years later two boatmen from the locality were required to take messages to Guernsey.

Apart from some fortifications near the current harbour, the 1795 Richmond Map shows that there was no man-made protection for the boats based here - the fishermen had to haul them above the high-water mark.

After the Napoleonic War ended there were about 40 boats using La Rocque, which was usually regarded as a safe anchorage, apart from in southerly gales. After one of their best boats broke loose and was blown over to Normandy in one of these southerlies in 1824, the fishermen suggested the States should spend £200 building a thick stone wall between the Platte Rocque and the two large rocky outcrops – Le Grognet and La Grande Sambière - to create a sheltered anchorage.

The States considered the plan, but obviously wanted to create a landmark structure, and so decided to add a parapet, and voted £500 for the job. Abraham de La Mare was commissioned to do the work, which was completed in 1827.

Fishing

During the oyster boom in the first half of the 19th century, fishermen from La Rocque were in the thick of it. In 1851 an official report showed that of the 106 local boats involved, 19 were from La Rocque. All of these were strongly-built open fishing boats of less than two tons, and were manned by two men. For the rest of the year La Rocque fishermen were associated with fishing on Les Minquiers.

In 1872 the Jersey Fisheries Survey recorded that there were 30 boats and 60 fishermen from La Rocque, employed from May to August, lobster fishing at the Minquiers. Leaving for Maîtresse Ile on a Monday, the fishermen returned with the week’s catch on Friday.

La Rocque fishermen

When the railway opened in 1873 the journey time to Town was less than 15 minutes. Sensing greater demand, the fishermen asked for the harbour to be extended, but the idea was shelved because of costs. The fishermen finally got their new breakwater in 1883.

The station was situated inland by the church of St Peter, La Rocque, which was built between 1852 and 1853 to counter the attraction of La Rocque Methodist Church, which had been built in 1838.

La Rocque was an active fishing community until the Occupation. In July 1929 Mr Frank Mallet in an interview in the Evening Post, said:

"We'd all been brought up on it - our fathers and our grandfathers were fishermen, and goodness knows how long we'd been sailing to the Minquiers every Monday. And it's the same now, sir, the men who do go still sail. We haven't a motor in the lot of them. Sails are good enough for us. There's the Gallichans; why they're nearly all Gallichans in the fleet today, and I don't know how far they go, for there's always been a Gallichan. We get lobsters and prawns there in the summer and conger when the autumn comes."

Although the Shipping Register mentions Daniel Le Sueur building ships at La Rocque his yard was further along the coast towards Fauvic.

It was not all about fishing and boats; there was the ever-present danger of attack from France. On 13 May 1539 several Grouville landowners promised that they would start to build defensive works between La Rocque and Mont Orgueil, and during the English Civil War, when a small fort was being built at La Rocque, an earlier structure, possibly the 1539 fortifications, was uncovered.

In 1778, when the Conway tower programme started, it was intended that there should be two towers flanking the haven at La Rocque. On 28 January 1780 the Constable of Grouville was ordered to place a store and magazine at La Rocque and Platte-Rocque. When the French landed here in the early hours of 6 January 1781, the tower known as Grouville No 1 (La Rocque) had already been built. Work at Platte Rocque was held up, so it was the guardhouse that the French captured.

Looking out over the sea towards France on a fine June evening in 1940, the war must have seemed a world away until the Luftwaffe decided to test the island’s defences. Just before 7 pm on Friday 28 June, six Heinkel bombers approached from the east, strafing and dropping bombs at La Rocque, before moving on to St Helier and St Peter Port, leaving 57-year old John James Adams, of 3 Harbour View, dead and two of his next-door neighbours mortally wounded. 75-year old Thomas Pilkington, on holiday from Manchester, and 61-year old Minnie Farrell, née Gray, both died of their wounds the following day.

Further reading

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