Coast: The Dicq

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Coast:

The Dicq and Greve d'Azette


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Victor Hugo can just be made out standing in front of the Dicq in this photograph, taken by his son Charles in 1853. It is one of the earliest surviving outdoor photographs taken in Jersey


This article by Doug Ford, a respected authority on Jersey's maritime history, was written as the second part of his Coast series for the Jersey Evening Post, but became the first to be published in 2015


Embankment

At the eastern end of Havre des Pas lies the area popularly known as the Dicq. The actual dicq has long gone – it was essentially a seawall, or embankment, built to stop the highest spring tides breaking through and flooding the low lying land behind the coast. It was obviously well built because, during the Great Storm of 1811, when a very high tide combined with storm force winds caused widespread flooding along the south-eastern coast of the island, the Dicq prevented a breakthrough that would have flooded over 4,000 vergees of land around Samares, Les Marais and the Valley of Longueville.

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In 1853 Charles Hugo photographed his father, Victor Hugo, standing in front of it. The famous author was obviously taken with it as he not only made a painting of the ten-foot embankment, but also described it as "...a stone pier lined with large tree trunks planted in the sand, whitened, desiccated, gnawed away, with knots, stiff joints and knee-caps, looking like a row of bones".[1]

The rocky outcrop by the slip was called Le Rocher Bernard, until it became the rendezvous for a number of the French political exiles – the proscrits – in the 1850s, when it was gradually referred to as Le Rocher des Proscrits, and was immortalised by a very dramatic photograph of the most famous of the exiles, Victor Hugo, striking a heroic pose gazing longingly towards the French coast. It would be cynical of me to point out that he wouldn’t have been able to see the French coast from where he was perched, but it was all about politics.

La Montée du Dicq. The Dicq slipway was built about 1860 and is unusual in that it has two branches – one running straight down to the shore is in St Savior, and the other which turns to the right is in St Clement.

Election food contaminated

Victor Hugo was not the only aspiring politician to play games at the Dicq. The parish of St Saviour is notable for its diminutive slice of coastline; most of it is actually taken up by The White Horse public house. It was here that during the January 1791 election for Centenier, things got a little out of hand between the supporters of the conservative Charlot party and those of the liberal progressive Magot party. Following the usual practise, both candidates, Gideon Ahier, the Charlot, and John Godfray, the Magot, paid for a meal and drinks for their supporters. The Charlots dined at the White Horse in an attempt to get the influential landlord to back their candidate. The supposedly liberal Magots fixed the food so that the evening was a disaster, with many of the diners being taken ill.

In their report on the incident the Gazette de I’Ile de Jersey, the Magot newspaper, urged all the voters to support John Godfray. The effect of the incident was to outrage many parishioners, including the Constable, Jean Dumaresq, formerly a strong Godfray supporter, who switched his vote and backed Ahier, who won the election 101 votes to 93.

About 200 yards south east of the White Horse is a 12-foot long piece of granite lying on its side on an exposed bed of peat just above the low water mark. This is the Coffin Rock, but is believed by some to be a remnant of the Neolithic period, a standing stone named as the Menhir de Grève d’Azette. A reminder of the days when the island was larger than it is today, it stands just in front of a new property development – Maison Victor Hugo.

This was the site of 3 Marine Terrace, that Hugo leased from Thomas Rose, a merchant and steam ship owner, who lived with his family in No 2. Rose was a friend of the English artist L M W Turner.

By the end of the century it had cashed in on Hugo’s fame and had been converted into a seaside hotel, Maison Victor Hugo. When Hugo lived there the property with its garden running down to the beach stood by itself. This was the place in which he experimented with table turning (Ouija board) and photography[2].

Beach huts, or bathing machines, at Greve d'Azette

It was here that he wrote his poetry and started on his two major novels Les Miserables and Les Travailleurs de la Mer. The latter, although largely written and set in Guernsey, contains a description of the rocky coast he viewed from his window here.

Sea bathing

Along with other members of the household he used to bathe in the sea; they were quite shocked by the islanders’ custom of bathing naked, Juliette Drouet wrote:

"The two sexes, without positively mixing, are close enough to each other. English customs are against the wearing of bathing costumes. Some French people who insisted on wearing these were booed and almost stoned. Women dress and undress in the open air. Their bathing costumes generally consist of a décolleté shift or linen dress, which when wet clings to the body showing up all the shapes as if one were naked.”

Hugo's friend Auguste Vaquerie described how wheeled bathing huts were dragged down to the waterline by horses. The the bathers would modestly emerge, but if the tide was falling they had to make a quick dash back ‘as naked as truth’.

By the late 19th century bathing of another sort was provided by the Victoria Sea Baths Hotel, situated about 100 yards further along the beach. Here the proprietor extolled the benefits to health offered by hot baths, which he could supply with either hot seawater or freshwater. Both these hotels were closed and demolished in the 1970s to be replaced by apartment blocks.

Why Grève d'Azette?

The name is a bit of a mystery – it could be a simple descriptive name meaning the curving beach as Grève means a beach; and it is thought that Azette might be derived from the assette the curved hammer used by roofers.

La Montée de la Grande Charrière: The slip here, sometimes called Millard’s slip, was built in the 1860s and served as an access point to the shore for the horse-drawn carts that used to come on to the beach to gather Vraic to fertilise the fields.

Further reading


Notes and references

  1. This photograph is of historic importance because it is probably the earliest surviving outdoor portrait taken in Jersey. It is of remarkable quality considering it is over 160 years old
  2. The photographs taken during their stay in Jersey by Hugo, his son Charles, and other members of his entourage, are some of the earliest surviving images taken outdoors in Jersey
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