Until the appointment of General Sir George Don as Lieut-Governor in 1806, Jersey had few real roads. The perquages had become the property of the King after the Reformation and when Charles II granted them to Edward de Carteret in May 1633 the public of the island lost their main network of roads or tracks.
Until the early 19th century the only roads the Island could boast of were numerous narrow communications winding in and out in an aimless manner, in general "sunken below the level of the land, and flanked on each side by high mounds" in the same fashion as is presented even now by the majority of the by-lanes.
These apologies for roads were divided in all into three classes : Le chemin du roi, with foot walks 16 feet wide between the hedge banks; Le chemin de huits pieds, or cross-roads, 8 feet wide, and Le chemin de quatre pieds, or extremely narrow bridleways, to which may be added sheep tracts, which at that time abounded to a considerable extent — each unpassable in dirty weather, and allowing as a rule, only the passage of one vehicle at a time. Although the towns of St Helier and St Aubin were only some 3 1/2 miles apart, and were within sight of each other, there was no other means of communication between them than by crossing the beach for a few hours a day between high tides.
These matters had not been entirely overlooked by the States of Jersey. One of the principal summer events of the Island in those days was that connected with the law of Branchage. On Midsummer day, with great pomp and ceremony, walks through the parishes took place, conducted by the respective Constables and the 12 principal landowners of each district. These, whose particular duty it was to look after the state of the roads, hedges, and banks, met the Bailiff and Viscount, who were accompanied by three or more Jurats, all mounted, at the parish boundaries, from whence they proceeded with the Viscount at the head.
He carried his staff of office erect, with the base resting on the pummel of his saddle; the law being that if the staff touched a branch of any tree the owner thereof, whether present or absent, was summarily condemned to a fine, the overseer of the parish being under a like penalty if the roads or hedge banks were found in an unsatisfactory condition. To this day two annual Visites du Branchage (albeit not on horseback) are conducted to ensure that the island's roads remain unrestricted.
To the soldierly eye of General Don such a state of affairs was no longer satisfactory, and within a few weeks of arriving in the island he commissioned the start of many of the main roads that the Island now possesses, primarily for the convenience of the marching of his troops. The plan for the roads was not General Don's; it had already been drawn up by the Rev Francois Le Couteur, but Don usually gets the credit.
The roads were to a considerable extent constructed by paid military labour. That from St Helier to St Aubin was the first to be commenced, in the middle of November 1806. After this, other roads were undertaken. Contributions were freely asked and as freely given towards the expense of this work, books for the entries of subscriptions being left by the Governor's orders in 1809 at the three banks then open in St Helier — among which were the Old Bank and the Commercial, established respectively in 1797 and 1808. Bazaars and lotteries were held to support the work. The first prize in the St Aubin's Road lottery out of the £72,000 proposed to be raised in this manner, reaching the handsome sum of £12,000, though the name of the winner is unrecorded.
As might be expected, the completion of these undertakings took several years work (St Aubin's Road, for example, was not opened until 1810), and was not achieved during the residence of General Don.
Old St Helier street names
Most of St Helier's roads which now have English names formerly had French names, many of which are not direct translations. See list.
Featured roads and streets
Numbered streets are shown on the map