The island changes

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Before St Helier Harbour was built ships were unloaded at the water's edge
The near doubling of Jersey's population from 28,600 in 1821 to 57,020 only 30 years later produced the most dramatic change imaginable in what had hitherto been a largely French- and Jèrriais-speaking farming community.Indeed, the growth had started earlier in the century with 6,000 added to what had previously been a reasonably static population in the 15 years up to 1821.

Farm workers

The 1821 census shows that 40 per cent of households were engaged in agriculture, the remainder being involved in varying forms of trade and commerce. Outside of Saint Helier the proportions were reversed, with nearly 60 per cent of the inhabitants of the country parishes working on farms.

English immigrants

Then came a dramatic influx of immigrants from England, and they were to settle mainly in St Helier, causing the island's capital to expand rapidly from a relatively small settlement concentrated mainly between the Harbour and King Street, to cover most of the flat plain from the coast to Rouge Bouillon, spreading out through Havre des Pas in the east and towards First Tower in the west.

The first wave of English immigrants were Army and Navy Officers, demobilised on half pay after the peace with France. They were attracted by Jersey's climate and relaxed tax regime and could afford to live reasonably comfortably on their reduced salaries. Together with their families they may have accounted for some 3,000 new residents, but after their arrival the population growth became self-perpetuating.

News spread rapidly of a beautiful island with a delightful climate. Rents were low and the cost of living cheap; taxes were virtually unknown. This had much to do with the island's tradition of honorary service. There was no need to raise money from taxation when judges, the police and the Militia were all unpaid.

By 1840 it appears that there were 15,000 English residents.

Clothing and fashion

The immigrants needed to travel backwards and forwards to England and they needed to be supplied with the goods they were used to, and for which there had hitherto been no real demand in the island. A contemporary writer noted that "it was an uncommon occurrence for a Jersey farmer to lay out any money on dress; most of the articles of his clothing were not only woven at home, the knitting needle being in such constant use, and nearly all made of worsted, but were either made up under his own roof, or at a very small cost by female tailors".

Fashion was not something which concerned the working classes in Jersey, and in the 17th century when some began to take an interest in their appearance they had been put firmly in their place by legislation "to remedy abuses in the dress of the lower classes, as well in excess of clothing, as in lace and silk hoods, above their condition" and belonging "only to the rank of ladies".

Another early 19th century writer remarked on the changes taking place, at least in the town: "The dress of all the inhabitants at St Helier's and its environs, is now nearly that which is common in English towns. With the men, fashion seems to claim little attention; while among the fair sex there appears to be a general attempt at rivality, which descends even to those that are employed in domestic offices."

Steamship services

The English immigrants would have nothing of such restrictions and soon cheap but fashionable clothing began to arrive on the new steamship services inaugurated in 1824. By 1840 the growth in the number of ships plying the cross-Channel routes was remarkable.

A painting by P J Ouless of the steamship Ladybird off St Helier

Southampton to Jersey

The Atalanta left Southampton every Tuesday and Friday evening, returning from Jersey every Monday and Thursday. The Lady de Saumarez left Southampton every Monday and Thursday, returning every Wednesday and Saturday. There were also connections twice a week to St Malo and Granville.

Weymouth to Jersey

The mail packets Wildfire, Fearless and Dasher provided a twice-weekly service on this route

Plymouth to Jersey

The Sir Francis Drake left Plymouth every Thursday evening arriving in Jersey the following day and returning the same afternoon via Guernsey and Falmouth.


A number of inns and boarding houses were opened to accommodate visitors who took advantage of the regular services and many of these were attracted to settle in the island, which needed more workers to cope with such challenges as expanding the harbour to cope with the demands of steamship owners, develop the island's road network, build houses to accommodate the newcomers, and in due course to develop the whole infrastructure which the island's newfound affluence demanded.

For a long time demand for accommodation exceeded supply and rents were consequently high. In 1840 the town consisted of some 1,000 houses and two separate parts began to develop, one around the existing developed area surrounding the Royal Square and the other to the north. There was no overall plan and houses were scattered all over the place. The traditional Norman architecture which had served Jersey well for centuries was replaced with Georgian and Regency styles. Houses were built of brick with tiled roofs rather than stone with thatch. New houses had rendered walls and many dressed granite exteriors of existing properties disappeared under stucco because that was what fashion demanded.

Not only were fine individual houses constructed in St Helier and the country parishes, but magnificent crescents and terraces as well.

Small windows and gloomy interiors gave way to mujch more pleasant accommodation. Streets were surfaced with granite and pavements were constructed. Shops which had been gloomy and forbidding were succeeded by light, airy and inviting emporia, and gaslight ensured that the town was easier to navigate at night.

English replaces French

Although the newcomers settled largely in St Helier, their influence was to spread throughout the island, however, and among the many changes, probably the most significant was that French began to be supplanted by English as the dominant language and the numbers of people speaking the Jèrriais which had been the island's principal language for centuries went into a steady decline, so that today there are but a few dozen for who it is their everyday language.

It was a gradual process, of course, but by the turn of the century, the States, whose business had been conducted exclusively in French, made the use of English optional (not without initial opposition) and progressively the "new" language took over from the "old". Family records show that couples who had been baptised with French names gave their early children French names, too. But as their families grew, English forenames were introduced and the father and mother were becoming known by the English equivalents of their own names. Anne Marie rapidly gave way to Mary Ann and Jacques to James.

A contemporary writer remarked on the variations in Jèrriais spoken in different parishes "so that there are more dialects in the language of Jersey than in the ancient Greek. If more encouragement were given, Jersey would be in a few years, in every respect, as it should be, an English island".

Typical ladies' fashions of the 1850s

Social life

One contemporary writer clearly thought that the English influence on Jersey's social life was entirely undesirable:"Only a few years since, among even the higher class of natives, there were chiefly familiar sociable visitings, and the females were plainly apparelled: now expensive dinners attract the gentlemen, detaining them rrequently far beyond the 'midnight hour', and a perpetual round of dressed balls, and card parties, invite the ladies. These amusements, circumscribed within proper bounds, we do not cynically mean to condemn; but when indulged without due restraint, they become injurious in both a public and a private sense.

"Were these gratifications, if such they are deemed, confined to that circle of inhabitants alone, the evil would not perhaps be so greatly pernicious; but the fascinating principle descends to the inferiour orders; among these we see, in one sex, a predilection for the same convivial enjoyments; and, in the other, a style of visiting, a sort of equality in dress, and even an affectation of all the whimsies of fashion, with those above them".

Clearly ordinary Jerseyman and woman, whose lives had been supressed by the ruling classes and the church for many centuries, were starting to enjoy a newfound freedom.

Separate communities

That is not to say that the local population was mixing to any great extent with the recent arrivals. Several writers at the time spoke of a significant gulf between the two communities and certainly the politicians of the day were not inclined to meet the demands of their new constituents who found many aspects of island life inferior to what they had known in England. This led one political agitator, Abraham Le Cras to demand all manner of changes, and to pursue his case to the Privy Council. Despite two Royal Commissions finding largely in his favour, it was to be some years before the States started to introduce the changes to the islands political and legal system which Le Cras demanded.

Political change

But changes did come, and in 1935 the election of Jurats, then the most powerful members of the States of Jersey and the Royal Court, was extended from the elders of senior families to all ratepayers. In 1857 the first election of 14 Deputies (one from each country parish and three from the town) took place, to open up the States, which had previously consisted of 12 Jurats and 12 Rectors, all appointed for life, and only the 12 Constables elected for three-year terms. But significant as the changes may have been, they did not dramatically alter the nature of the island's parliament, only three of the reformers succeeding in joining its numbers.


Not only did the English newcomers impose their language on their adopted island, but also their own currency. In July 1835 English currency was made legal. Twenty-six livres tournois the old French currency, was declared equal to £1 sterling. But the change was not accepted any more rapidly than such moves have been elsewhere and five years later goods were still being priced in livres but paid for in pence, so the States decided to mint their own coins. At 20 sous to the livre, there were 520 to the pound, so the sou equated to a halfpenny, and there were thus 260 pennies to the pound, rather than 240, and the new pennies were stamped 1/13th of a shilling. It was to be another 36 years beform the English figure of 12 pennies to the shilling was adopted.

But however their earnings were counted, ordinary workers still only earned two shillings a day, and as the price of bread climbed, the people because uneasy until in 1847 a mob descended on the town mill demanding cheaper bread. A large, angry crowd chanted 'Cheaper bread or Pellier's head; Cheaper flour or Pellier's last hour' in a reference to the miller of the day, then broke in and stole two wagons of flour. Special constables were sent in by Constable Pierre Le Sueur, but the Lieut-Governor had to order his troops to restore order. The States then for the second time ordered bread to be sold to the poor at below cost price.

A 19th century parish banknote


The Jersey Savings Bank was founded in 1834 and opened its doors the following January in a room in the Broad Street house of Mr Durell, one of its founders. By 1840 there were a number of banks, most of which were associated with larger banks in England, ssuch as De Lisle and Co, enabling visitors to draw money on their accounts back home. They included Caesarea Bank in Bond Street, Old Bank in Hill Street, Commercial Bank and Jersey Banking Company in Broad Street and the Jersey Mercantile Bank in King Street.

But changes from French to English currency, shortages of coins and other problems led a contemporary writer to describe the banking system as "of a mixed, and of a very anomalous character; indeed it can scarcely be said to be founded on any system at all. In Jersey the States do not contribute to the paper currency, yet some of the parishes issue their notes" and "individuals not unfrequently issue notes for the payment of private debts: it need scarcely be observed that this kind of paper has not much of the public confidence".

The Jersey Eastern Railway reached Gorey in the 1870s

Services and facilities

A growing population and the technological advances of the Victorian era brought many improvements. In 1845 Constable Pierre Le Sueur ordered the construction of a network of sewers to prevent sewage being discharged into the brooks running through St Helier. This was to help bring under control epidemics of malaria, dysentry and cholera. In the summer of 1832 there had been an outbreak of cholera, which affected 784 people and took 341 lives.

Many town properties had wells, but those closer to the sea were contaminated with salt water. The introduction of deeper boreholes in the mid-century improved the situation considerably, but many people had to get their water from street pumps, and it was not until 1870 that the Jersey Waterworks Company was established to provide a mains supply fed from a reservoir built in St Lawrence. The same year saw the introduction, under the same management, of a railway line from town to Saint Aubin, and three years later a line was established from Gorey to Grouville, and ultimately to Gorey.

Public baths were situated in Bath Street and offered "hot and cold, with either salt water or fresh, and shower baths from seven in the morning till ten at night: the charges are moderate. Sea bathing was slow to catch on, and a further attempt was made in 1840 to introduce bathing machines at Grève d'Azette.

The Methodist chapel which replaced the Royal Crescent theatre when it burned down. Today the chapel has gone as well
A theatre was built in the middle of the new Royal Crescent in Don Road, but burned down not long after and was replaced by a chapel. Reading rooms gave access to English newspapers and a steady stream of local publications came and went during the course of the 19th century.

Crime and punishment

Attitudes to crime and its punishment began to change significantly in Victoria times. Although the death penalty was to remain in use until after World War Two, the last public hanging on Gallows Hill at Westmount, where the execution of condemned criminals had taken place from time immemorial, took place on 3 October 1829, the condemned man known as Jolin. The pillory was used for the last time on 11 November 1836.

At this time conditions in the prison at Charing Cross were attracting much criticism. A Prison Board was established and work started on a new House of Correction near the hospital. It was described in an 1840 report as "a handsome building, in an airy situation; the cells for the male criminals are on the ground floor, each nine feet square. A space under an arcade is allowed them for exercise, and they have a common room, with a fire during the winter. Half the upper story, with a separate staircase, is for the female criminals. The debtors occupy the remaining half of the top floor. The criminals are never fettered during incarceration."

Gouray Church on Gorey Hill


The demands of the growing population had already caused churches to be built at St Aubin and Gorey to supplement the 12 parish churches, whose services were largely conducted in French, althouh by 1840 the Town Church was offering an English service on Sunday afternoons. The new Chapel of Ease in the Parade, All Saints, offered services in both languages, but St Paul's, in New Street and the garrison church of St James's only used English. Two French independent churches were built in town and Zion, Baptist and Salem chapels which used only English. The Roman Catholic churches in Hue Street (English) and Castle Street (French) were soon joined by a number of Wesleyan Methodist chapels.

The town of St Helier was not the only area to see rapid growth in population. Gorey changed almost overnight from a small fishing hamlet to a bustling township, fuelled by the oyster industry, which attracted many hundreds of workers to the island before over-fishing caused the bubble to burst later in the century.


Most foodstuffs which could not be grown in Jersey were imported from France rather than England, and meat is described as being in plentiful supply, somewhat cheaper than in England, but not of a quality which compared favourably with English towns. Tea and coffee were cheaper than in England, and sugar, which did not attract a tax, was about half the price.

Fruit brought in from France was of good quality and in good supply. Cognac brandy cost seven shillings a gallon and best port was just over £1 for a dozen bottles.

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