Jersey's museum, whose main entrance is in Caledonia Place off the Weighbridge, was founded and run for over a century by La Société Jersiaise, although it is now administered by the Jersey Heritage Trust, a publicly funded body established in 1980.
The Société's first museum was at No 6 King Street, a former residence of the island's Governors and Lieut-Governors, which became known as Halkett House. The Société Museum was established at Halkett House in 1878, five years after the organisation's foundation, and remained there for four years. It is by no means clear from the Société's own history what arrangement they had with the Ramie family, who would appear to have owned the house at that time.
The first mention of a museum in the official records of the Société in its annual bulletin comes in 1875, with the offer of coins found at Rozel for 'the museum'. In August of that year a committee, headed by Société president Philippe Langlois, was formed to work towards the creation of a museum and library, and in April 1876 the search was on for 'a suitable room'. Other records indicate that the Société used a room at 6 King Street for meetings.
The Société only had 24 active members at the time and there is no mention in the minutes of its quarterly and annual meetings about how this room was to be funded. The 1877 Bulletin reported that the museum would soon be open and that the committee was actively occupied with the necessary preparations. The bulletin included a catalogue of the museum's initial collection, a note that it had been established at Halkett House, but was only open by appointment.
It is possible that the then owner of Halkett House had offered the Société a room free of charge for its museum, because there is no indication in the accounts of any rent being paid, although this may lie hidden in one of the payments to individuals shown in the accounts. Certainly by 1882, with the membership having grown to 72, but again static, the expense of the museum was beginning to weigh on the Société. It was described as 'a heavy charge on the budget'. Perhaps with the sale of the house by the Ramie family to the Bisson brothers the arrangement with the Société changed.
Other Société documents reveal a payment of £12 for illuminating the premises during the 1881 centenary celebrations of the Battle of Jersey, out of annual income of only £200.
Morier Lane and Hill Street
The following year the museum was transferred to premises at nearby 12 Morier Lane, now part of Halkett Place, where it occupied une salle plus spacieuse. This was not a long-lived arrangement because in 1885 the Société moved its offices and library to 19 Hill Street, although the museum collection remained at Morier Lane. Two years later it was decided to rent the whole house in Hill Street for £40 a year, presumably taking the museum there, although the Société's records are lacking in much information about the early years of the growing collection.
Such was the need for more space that in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, it was decided that a new museum should be built, but an appeal only raised £268 and the project was dropped.
However, the gift of a house fronting on 9 Hill Street and with it's back to the Weighbridge enabled the Société to establish themselves in their present headquarters by 1893, 20 years after their foundation. In the early years at 9 Hill Street visits to the museum were by appointment only, applications being made to the secretary with a fee of 6d. Only six people were admitted at a time, accompanied by the Gardnei, W H Clements, who locked each room as the party left it.
By the time the Société celebrated its centenary in 1973 their accommodation was bursting at the seams. There was no room for meetings, the Museum collection had far outgrown the space available and so there was an urgent need for new accommodation. The States purchased an adjoining building, La Longue Caserne, an eighteenth-century warehouse in the Ordnance Yard, in 1981, and plans were eventually drawn up to build an entirely new museum. It took a number of years, but work eventually started in 1989, and the new building was eventually opened, to great acclaim, in 1992.