Moulin de Debenaire and Moulin à Foulon et à Brais

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This article by Philip Ahier was published in the 1957 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

York Street

The first of the above named mills was originally situated somewhere in what is now York Street (La Planque Billot), as in one of the documents mentioning it there is a reference to Le Douet Billot, the local name for that part of Le Grand Douet.

The building and ownership of a mill belonged either to the King or to a lord of a fief. A document dated 15 September 1548, tells us that The Lieutenant and HM Attorney-General relinquished the ownership of Le Moulin a Bree in St Helier to the attorneys of Jean Esnouf to enjoy the perquisites according to the rights which they held from time past by the lease of Guillemine Debenaire and Jean Poingdestre in right of his wife. (Extract from a Royal Court Roll).

So far as is known, this is the first document dealing with the mill and indicates that the Crown had turned over its rights of ownership to private persons, and further that Guillemine and her husband, Jean Poingdestre, had at one time leased the mill from the Crown.

From the Debenaire family, the Moulin à Foulon later became the property of Pierre de Soulemont, and, on 30 March 1577, in a very lengthy Act of the Royal Court, this personage, described as the proprietor of Le Moulin à Bray, which formerly belonged to Jolhn De Benaire, agreed to allow the water from the mill to proceed to the south-west of the Town, and orders were issued to all owners of houses bordering the stream (feeding the Mill) to clean it out while they were not to divert its course under penalty.

Pierre de Soulemont was a very important person in St Helier in late Tudor days, he was elected Constable of the parish for three terms of office, 1573-1579; 1585-6; 1587-1590. From 1590 to 1605 he was a Jurat and was also Lieut- Bailiff from 1592 to 1594.

By 1579, it was found desirable to shift the site of the mill from Le Douet Billot (in York Street) to La Madelaine (Bond Street). In order that this might be effected, it was necessary to obtain an Act of the Royal Court, which was accordingly done on 14 November 1579.

In this connection Mr.Nicolle mentions no less than five Acts of the Royal Court which deal with the following aspects of mill working, eg, the cleansing of the water in the Douet, permitting the water in the Faux bie, the Town Brook, which had been diverted from its original course to feed the mill, etc. These were dated 1584, 1603, 1604, 1615 and 1677.

Family squabble

In 1608 we read of a family squabble between the brothers John and Hugh de Soulemont, the sons of Pierre, as to the ownership of the mill. The dispute was referred to the Royal Court, but that body decreed that it be valued.

In mid-17th century days, the various representatives of the de Soulemont family seem to have lost interest in the Island's affairs, one of the last of whom left the Island in April 1650 with a number of colonists to colonize New Jersey. Jean Chevalier tells us that the expedition had a. disastrous ending, as it was captured by a Parliamentary vessel.

And now we come to the study of Le Moulin à Foulon and le Moulin à Brais, which stood at the end of what is now Conway Street, almost at the termination of La Muraille de la Ville, a portion of which can still be seen in Commercial Street. It is distinctly marked on a plan of St Helier dated 1691, and, again, on one drawn up in 1700. The mill was a combination of a Fulling and a Malt one. (Brais, Bree, Bray=Malt).

De La Croix wrote:-

"In 1548, Mr. Etienne La Cloche availed himself of the arrival of the Royal Commissioners sent to Jersey by Queen Elizabeth I (there is an error here, for Queen Elizabeth I did not begin to reign till 1558) and bought two perches of land, for which he paid annually by way of rente, two hens, as will be seen from documents which we will reproduce later, in order to build a malt mill and a fulling mill, and obtained, after the erection of the mill in 1579, permission to divert the water which flowed the length of the cemetery and ran the mill."

Unfortunately, De La Croix did not produce any document to prove his statement. As a footnote to page 16 of the above-quoted work, he says:

"In 1663, Edouard de Carteret, Esq., obtained from Charles II, besides the percages, all the land from le Moulin à Foulon belonging to Mr La Cloche to the base of La Montagne de la Ville, which is barren and desert", but a consultation of his work has, so far, failed to quote his authority.

We shall have occasion to refer to this document later on in our study. In the meantime, no doubt due to the unsettled period of the Parliamentary regime in Jersey, there had sprung up another malt mill in St. Helier.

Brewing beer

Up to 1676 Charles Hilgrove had been milling malt and brewing beer for some 40 years previously, and apparently had not been disturbed in his occupation until 15 March in that year. Jean Messervy, the proprietor in right of his wife of le Moulin à Brais, sued Hilgrove before Justice ( the Royal Court) "to say by what right and authority Hilgrove insisted upon using a certain mill in which he mills malt and brews beer and cervoise (ale) for the public to the prejudice of his Mill, besides lacking the right and valid title, seeing his (Messervy's) Mill was erected by Royal authority for the use, convenience and well-being of the Town of St. Helier".

Messervy asked the Court that Hilgrove should not meddle in future with the use of his mill "as the Court will decide".

Hilgrove, on the other hand, argued that he had been in possession of his mill for 40 years. Messervy denied this statement, consequently the Court ordered Hilgrove to furnish proof.

Unfortunately, neither Mr Nicolle nor Mr J F Le Cornu followed up this interesting lawsuit, which must have been settled one way or another. What is definitely known is that in I676 as in 1956, there were two rival breweries. It is conceivable that the monopoly of one brewery in St Helier only was subsequently broken.

In I762, a very important matter engaged the attention of the States; there was no through road from La Grand Rue de la Ville (Broad Street) to the existing quay. Le Moulin à Bree, then belonging to the Rev Charles de la Garde, stood in the way of the construction of the road. It was thought that the Faux bie should be placed nearer the mill and that the latter should be pushed back as far as the land belonging to the States which had been bought for the making of a road.

The States, on 17 November I762, appointed a sub-committee consisting of HM Attorney General and the Constable of St Helier to come to some agreement with the Reverend gentleman regarding the sale of the land required for the making of the two roads (the other one is not mentioned in the Acte des Etats for 7 November I762.

Nothing was seemingly done, for on 1 June 1771, the same sub-committee was appointed to deal with the question of the Faux bie, which conducted the water from Broad Street to the shore and the acquiring of land to make the road proposed by the Acte of I762.

Two roads proposed

The sub-committee duly performed their duty and presented a report to the States on 25 September I776. This report suggested that the two roads be constructed, one between the houses of various people and the mill belonging to Mr de la Garde, and one by the Chemin de la Madelaine (Bond Street). The report was read on that day and lodged au Greffe for more detailed consideration.

The plan evolved by the States did not come to fruition. It was left to the Parish of St Helier to construct the road in 1786, "in order that there might be better access from the main street of the Town (La Grand Rue) to les Mielles". Le Moulin à Foulon was then in ruins and was easily removed. The Parish of St Helier decided to call the new street by the name of Conway, after Sir Henry Seymour Conway, Governor of Jersey from 1772 to 1775.

Since the above was written, I have come across an account of a meeting which appeared as a supplementary article in the "Gazette de Jersey" entitled "Gazette extraordinaire" for 20 September 20 1788.

Reading through the report of the proceedings we get a story of the above mill (but under its name of Le Moulin à Foulon et à Brais) from a different angle but which makes the study thereof more complicated than ever.

In 1788 there occurred a lawsuit over the ownership of some land above this mill. The Parish of St. Helier maintained that the property in question belonged to them but Philip and Thomas de la Garde (sons of the Rev Charles de la Garde previously mentioned) argued that it was theirs. The dispute went before the Royal Court and Judgment was given in favour of the parish. The brothers de la Garde decided to appeal to the Privy Council.

A parish assembly was summoned on 10 September 1788, when the Constable informed the meeting that the Privy Council had asked the officials of the Parish to reply to certain questions.

Documentary evidence

The evidence given in support of the ownership of the land by the parish is not relevant to my purpose, so I proceed to give extracts from the speech made by Mr Anley in favour of the de la Garde brothers. He produced a good deal of documentary evidence in favour of their ownership of both the mill and of the disputed lands - the following are interesting:

  • An Acte of the Royal Court dated 14 November 1579 recited that Etienne la Cloche had taken land from the Commissioners of Queen Elizabeth on condition that he built there a fulling mill and a mMalt one, and that it took the place of one which had formerly been situated in a locality of the town which was most inconvenient to the townspeople. The newspaper report added this mill in 1788, near the then Cattle Market, was in ruins.

Here then is the evidence which De La Croix did not produce in toto in his "Ville de St. Helier." Advocate J F Le Cornu went astray as to the date, mentioning 1577 instead of 1579.

  • On 18 July 1663 Charles II had granted the percages of Jersey together with many uncultivated lands, etc., (recited in full in the above mentioned newspaper report) to Edouard de Carteret, in recognition of the services his father had rendered to the Royalist cause in the Civil War. This evidence was produced in a French translation from the original Latin and it appeared that the disputed area was part of these "uncultivated lands".

So De La Croix's statement is vouchsafed.

  • On 20 July 1667 Edouard de Carteret granted the lease of these lands to Amice, Edouard and Elie Pipon.
  • On 20 April 1701 George de la Garde, Constable of St Martin, took possession of the mill. He married Anne Pipon, the daughter of one of the above, Elie Pipon. Later, by family arrangements with Arnice and Edouard Pipon, George de la Garde became the sole proprietor of the lands in question.

So from this series of ‘’contrats’’, it is clear that the Moulin à Foulon and the disputed land in 1788 belonged to Philip and Thomas de la Garde, two of the sons of the Rev Charles de la Garde previously mentioned.

Proceedings abandoned

It was then decided at this parish assembly after what had been exhibited to it, that the Constable and Procureurs should abandon all legal proceedings against the two brothers.

"The Assembly nevertheless signified its approbation of the manner in which the Procureurs had behaved in the affair. Before the discovery of the title deeds proving the property to be that of the brothers de la Garde, it was generally held that the above land belonged to the parish and that there had been some talk of disposing of it. More¬over ,the assembly directed the Constable to vote in the States for the abandonment of the appeal to the Privy Council, in order to set the minds of the brothers de la Garde at rest."

Some interesting facts emerge from the above newspaper report:

  • There is no corresponding account of the above proceedings in the Actes de la Paroisse de St. Helier, nor is there any reference to this lawsuit and a possible appeal to the Privy Council in the Actes des Etats.
  • Although the speaker in the parish assembly upholding the rights of the de la Garde brothers to the land, quoted the Acte of the Royal Court dated 14 November 1579, whereby Etienne la Cloche was permitted to build a mill near that land and "remuer et echanger un moulin qui auparavant etait retire dans un endroit fort incommode aux habitants de cette ville", yet the continuity between Etienne la Cloche's title and Edouard de Carteret's having those uncultivated lands is not too clear.

The story of these two mills presents a problem to topographers. It can be asked: Did Le Moulin de Debenaire ever cease working after it had been decreed by the Royal Court that the fulling and malt mill be shifted to what is now Conway Street? I am inclined to think that it did not. The fact that Charles Hilgrove was brewing beer and ale in I676 in another mill (" lacking the right and valid title") and had done so unmolested for 40 years, suggests that he had 'cocked a snook' to Messervy's claim to brew beer in the la Cloche Mill.

Some sort of confirmation of this hypothesis is to be found on the I69I plan of St Helier, on which appears an undesignated black rectangle marked above the Prison, which stood in what is now Charing Cross. That area was indicated by a kind of scalene triangle in the I700 Plan, only broken by the Grand Douet passing through.

Whether my hypothesis be right or wrong, the problem of these mills is as yet “wropt in mystery”.

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