Coast: Ouaisne

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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 2016

Quieter side of bay

Leaving the more populated western half of St Brelade's Bay, rounding Le Grouin, the traveller comes to the much quieter side of Ouaisné. The name Ouaisné, according to Dr Frank Le Maistre means “an anchorage” although an alternative meaning put forward by Charles Stevens was that it is a corruption of Hocq - headland, and the family name Aisne.


Despite facing south west and being sunny and sheltered, this side of the bay is less popular with beachgoers because, as the tide falls, much of the sand remains quite damp because of the wet scrubland just behind the shoreline. This was La Commune de Bas, an area of sand dune (Les Mielles du Val) and wet scrubland around a large pond known as La Mare - the last natural breeding site of the Agile Frog, the island’s only species of frog.

In the summer of 1942 German occupying troops built an anti-tank wall as far as the slipway, and the shoreline began to be stabilised and the dunes are gradually transforming into heathland.

In the 1780s a Conway tower known as St Brelade’s No 1, or La Tour du Hoinet, was built on the common just behind the natural shoreline. Although the exact date of its construction is not known, it is believed to be quite late, possibly 1789. Like its neighbour, St Brelade No 2, it was manned by 11 men of the 3rd Royal Garrison Battalion and was equipped with a single 18-pounder mounted on its roof. The original first-floor doorway is intact, but an additional later doorway on the ground floor has been blocked and rendered.

During the Occupation it had an anti-aircraft machine gun set on the roof to defend German infantry defensive works against air strikes carried out at low altitude. Today it is painted with four red and white stripes on the seaward side as a navigation mark.


The deserted nature of this side of the bay meant that it was ideal for smugglers to load their contraband on to small fast boats bound for England. Customs records for March 1823 record English boats loading 900 ankers (7,500 gallons) of brandy and gin. Three months later, in June, a Cornish boat loaded 690 casks of brandy and another took a large cargo of spirits.

The pub known as the Smugglers was originally built as a row of fishermen’s cottages in the 1720s. In 1849 the Godfray map shows that they were owned N Blampied, and by the early 1900s they had been enlarged to create the Finisterre Hotel. During the Occupation there was a lightly defended infantry defensive position here called Schmugglerdorf. After the Liberation the building was developed further into a public house and its name was changed to the Old Smugglers Inn.

It was not only alcohol that was lifted from the beach at Ouaisné. In November 1847 Leopold Meerhoff [1] made a daring escape from the Gloucester Street prison, where he was being held as a debtor owing over £600. On the evening of Thursday 28 November, Meerhoof managed, with the aid of an accomplice on the outside, to use a rope to slide down from the roof of the prison into a stable yard in Kensington Place. He was then driven away by carriage to the Ouaisné side of St Brelade’s Bay, where his wife, Augusta, was waiting with a small boat she had chartered from Southampton. Away from prying eyes, Meerhoff was able to make good his escape from Jersey. A week later he was spotted strolling around Southampton and then the trail went cold.

Like most bays around the island, access to the beach was improved in the middle of the 19th century when a slipway (La Montée du Ouaisné) was constructed at the eastern end of the bay. Grey diorite and red granite setts, with roughly dressed boulder kerbstones, allowed fishing boats and vraic carts to be hauled up and down at the water's edge

Archaeologists at La Cotte in the early 20th century

La Cotte de St Brelade

Looming above the slipway is the massive headland of La Cotte de St Brelade. Better known now as the site of a Paleolithic cave dwelling , which could be promoted as the home of the first recorded Jerseymen (and women), the headland is topped by the 18th century La Cotte magazine and battery. Built during the Seven Years War in 1759, its guns commanded the approaches to St Brelade’s Bay. An engineers’ report of 1787 described it as being armed with three 12-pounder guns mounted on a wooden platform. When it was dismantled in 1817 the number of guns had been reduced to two, although the gun platform had been paved with stone.

La Cotte de St Brelade is also known as La Creux ès Fees – Fairy Hollow. It would be a mistake to believe that in the past islanders saw fairies as the twee, diaphanous creatures with wings, which emerged around the time of the Great War. Fairies were seen as supernatural, capricious beings that could be good or bad, or both, depending upon their whims. They inspired fear and were definitely not creatures to be messed with.

The western side of the headland is massively scarred by quarrying, started in at least the 18th century. When the chapel of ease was being built in St Aubin in the 1730s the Gibaut family was transporting the stone from here. Family papers from 1736 record "eight voyages of my big boat to Wayne ...collecting stone (for St Aubin's Chapel)".

By the 19th century the quarry had expanded and the remains of a small, purpose-built jetty can still be seen just beyond the slipway, as can numbers of cut, drilled and worked stone. In February 1844 one of the small stone carrying boats, the Caroline, struck the rocks as she attempted to get away from shore and round the headland with her cargo. Happily for her owner, Mark Walken, the badly damaged boat was patched up and was able to make her way back to St Helier Harbour. She carried on working until 1852, when she was sold to Irish owners who moved her registry to Dublin.

Beyond La Cotte the coastline presents an inhospitable face to passing ships as far as Point Le Fret. The slopes beneath La Commune de Haut (Portelet Common) were called La Vallette es Bettes. Some say that this was because animal carcasses were dumped into the sea here , but others favour another meaning of bette which is seabeet, a type of root crop that could be foraged and eaten. Sea beet is the wild ancestor of the beetroot, and when cooked its leaves are a bit like spinach.

Half way between La Cotte and Le Fret is a sea rock known as La Cheminée Maillardy – Maillard’s Chimney and beyond that is an area of cliffs rather descriptively called Rousses – reddish.

Le Fret means a commotion or to be in a state of agitation and refers to the state of the water below the point. During the Occupation this area was the site of a bunker housing a 105mm gun, a personnel shelter and a shelter for a large 150 cm searchlight.

Running parallel to the shore lie treacherous rocks on which a number of vessels struck as they were attempting the Western Passage. This was the most direct route to St Helier from the west but at its narrowest, between La Petite Grune and the Banc Le Fret, was only a quarter of a mile wide and, as the 1870 sailing directions remarked, the leading marks were difficult to see in misty or hazy weather.

Further reading

Notes and references

  1. Sometimes spelt Murhoff
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