Pictorial history of St Helier Harbour from 1850 to 1973
Using images selected from our substantial collection of pictures of St Helier Harbour, we trace its development during the period between the completion of the basic structure, bounded by the Victoria and Albert Piers, in the middle of the 19th century, through the abandonment, at various stages, of projects to increase its size in the 1850s to the 1870s, up to the time when work would re-start on expansion in the 1970s.
To understand how the harbour development which was completed by 1850 was arrived at, it is necessary to look at what had happened, and been proposed, a few years earlier. This is a plan of the harbour drawn up in 1843, but showing how it had been two years earlier. What were then known as the South Pier and North Pier had been built by the States, together with the privately financed Merchants Quay, creating a harbour significantly bigger than the previous English and French Harbours, either side of La Folie, which was then known as the Old Quay, but all of this dried out for several hours around low tide, and thoughts were already turning towards further expansion
Work on a new pier to the south of the existing harbour was already under way in 1843 when the eminent English engineers James Walker and Alfred Burges were commissioned to produce plans for a further enlarged harbour, and they proposed removing the outer arm of the old South Pier, and widening and extending the narrow North Pier, which had been built between 1790 and 1815, towards it to create a new harbourmouth. The original Old Quay would be extended to twice its length, with a lock between it and the north pier, turning what would eventually be known as the Old Harbour into a wet dock, stretching up to the Weighbridge. Walker and Burges' plan shows, as a dotted line, an alternative idea for a second new pier to the west.
As this 1854 drawing shows, the States chose the more far-reaching of Walker and Burges' plans and opted to leave the existing piers alone and create a new outer harbour, bounded on the south by the new South Pier and on the west by what would become the Albert Pier. The south pier had been started in 1841 and was ready in time for the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846, being renamed the Victoria Pier in honour of the first monarch to pay an official visit to the island. Her consort was less than impressed, and asked why Jersey persisted in building its harbours on dry land. A year later work started on the second new pier, which would be named the Albert Pier in his honour.
No sooner had the Albert Pier been completed than plans were afoot for further developments in the harbour. They were probably prompted by the realisation that for much of the day the majority of area of the harbour contained by the new pier was dry and inaccessible to incoming vessels, as was the Old Harbour between the New North Quay and Commercial Buildings. The north pier was also too narrow to be a fully functional commercial quay. Plans were drawn up to enclose this upper harbour area, with a lock to allow access at appropriate states of the tide, while providing a basin where vessels could remain afloat. There were also intended to be two separate dry and wet docks, one accessible from the inner harbour, one from the outer basin, and a narrow passage through from the Albert Harbour to the Old Harbour, the upper end of which would also be turned into a wet dock.
This picture, by a Mrs Slater, one of the earliest female photographers whose work in Jersey survives, was taken in 1860, or soon after, and shows the La Folie area of the original harbour, with the French Harbour in the foreground and the long, thin, North Quay lined with sailing vessels in the background.
Jersey's shipowners and merchants were not happy with the facilities at the harbour and in 1860 the Chamber of Commerce commissioned plans for a radical solution to the lack of space and problems with access at low tide. They proposed the construction of a new jetty from Elizabeth Castle, linked to the shore at West Park by a viaduct, to provide access at all states of the tide to moorings which would never dry out. But these plans were not supported by the States.
This is how the harbour looked in 1866. The most notable feature is that the Old Harbour in the foreground stretches almost to the Southampton Hotel on the corner of the Weighbridge and Esplanade. The original public weighbridge, which would remain there for another 11 years, can be seen between the hotel and the harbour.
Having rejected the Chamber of Commerce proposals, the States sought further recommendations for the expansion of the harbour in the late 1860s, and eventually, from 42 submissions, they chose the project put forward by Sir John Coode, which involved the construction of a large new harbour basin outside the existing harbour, contained by concrete and granite quays to be built from Elizabeth Castle and La Collette. In 1872 there was a grand ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of the castle quay, which was soon completed and remains to this day. However, work on the La Collette arm was beset with problems, and after large sections had been washed away in successive winter storms, the whole project was abandoned in 1877.
This plan of the Coode project was published in an engineering journal in 1877, ironically at about the same time that the States were deciding not to proceed any further with the construction of a new harbour. The plan describes the existing harbour as 'tidal' and shows the two long arms of the new harbour, one at the top starting from Elizabeth Castle and complete by the time the plan was published, and the other from La Collette, which was never completed after twice being severely damaged by winter storms.
This plan, which is essentially a copy of the 1872 Chamber of Commerce plan, is dated 1879, suggesting that, even though it does not show the completed new jetty from Elizabeth Castle, the abandonment of the Sir John Coode project caused the less ambitious earlier proposals to be resurrected. However, it this was the case, there was no political support, and all thoughts of expanding the harbour seem to have been abandoned for nearly a century. The only work which would be carried out between 1880 and 1973 would be alterations to the internal layout of the existing harbour.
This photograph taken in 1875 by Ernest Baudoux shows exactly how narrow the original north quay was. When built it formed the outer wall of the harbour and, as such, was built with a narrow working platform and a high wall to the seaward side to provide protection from wind and water
This picture was dated 1890 when it was sent to us, but it must be considerably earlier, because it shows the Old Harbour in the foreground, stretching well beyond the line of the end of the Albert Harbour to the right. It is difficult to tell if the new public weighbridge is out of frame on the right, or yet to be built, which would date the photograph to earlier than 1877, but in any event it must have been taken before the upper end of the Old Harbour was filled in during 1884. Further study reveals that the Albert Harbour, created behind the old North Quay when the new North Pier, later renamed the Albert Pier, in honour of Queen Victoria's consort, is empty in this photograph. There are no ships on the new pier in the background, and nothing on the back of the North Quay, although that is to be expected because until its widening, it had a high wall on the side that had been open to the sea. Because there are no ships anywhere in the Albert Harbour and no sign of any activity on the new outer pier, we now believe that this picture may have been taken as early as 1853, when the Albert Pier, as it was renamed six years later, was completed.
Another view of the top of the harbour looking out over the roofs of Commercial Buildings shows the Old Harbour at its original length, and no sign of the new public weighbridge, so it must date to before 1877. This photograph was taken by Ernest Baudoux.
This picture shows a pile of rubble accumulating at the top of the Albert Harbour. It must have been taken in about 1884, when work started on reclaiming an area behind the weighbridge to allow a shed to be constructed on the North Quay, out of shot on the right. This triangular area of land can be seen put to use in the next two images. This work was completed and then there was a gap of about two years before work started on extending the pier along its full length
This picture shows the North Quay in the middleground with the Albert Pier behind. A section of the North Quay can be seen to have been demolished - the first stage of the project to widen the quay along its whole length. A comparison with the next three pictures, which we are examining further, calls into question their sequence and exact dating
This picture was taken in 1886 and shows on the left the area of land reclaimed by infilling the top of the Old Harbour two years earlier. In the foreground is the Westaway Monument, commemorating an act of bravery during a shipwreck in 1875, and behind it the new public weighbridge built in 1877. Beyond this it can be seen that work has yet to start on widening the full length of the North Quay
This picture can be dated between 1886 and 1887, and shows that work has started on widening the North Quay at its landward end. Eventually the quay would be enlarged to about three times its original width throughout its whole length, enabling warehouses and passenger terminals to be built, and large cranes to be installed to load and unload cargoes.
Great Western Railway's Roebuck and Reindeer berthed alongside each other on the New North Quay at the turn of the century. Now that the quay widening had been completed, there would be a 30-year gap before any further changes were made to the harbour layout, and these would diminish the size of the area devoted to shipping