What happened to the St Martin tower?

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Grouville Tower No 8


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The tower known as Grouville No 8, which disappeared in the 1870s, for reasons which have never been properly explained, actually lay in the Parish of St Martin


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Several of the towers built on the orders of Jersey's Governor, General (later Field Marshal) Henry Seymour Conway, who was horrified at the state of Jersey's defences when he first came to the island in 1778, six years after his appointment, are no longer standing.

Tower No 8

Some were blown up by the Germans during the Occupation, others fell victim to the weather, but why Tower No 8 at the north of Grouville Bay is no longer there, and exactly when it disappeared, has long been something of a mystery.

Before attempting to unravel that mystery, it is as well to point out that, although the tower is always referred to as Grouville No 8, it did not, in fact, stand in the Parish of Grouville, but just across the border in St Martin.

It is also sometimes erroneously referred to as Grouville No 6, because the other Conway towers in the Royal Bay of Grouville are numbered 1 to 5. However, the two defensive installations which were already in existence on Grouville Common when the coastal towers were built, Fort Henry and Prince William's Redoubt, were assumed to carry the numbers 6 and 7.

A detail from a watercolour of the tower

William Davis

The definitive work on the coastal towers - The Coastal Towers of Jersey was written by William Davies and published by La Société Jersiaise in 1991. He barely mentions Grouville No 8, other than to explain why it is not known as No 6 and to describe its disappearance as an 'unsolved mystery'.

"...with apparently nothing on record as to why or when. It appears on the Godfray map of 1849 and it is plausible that it was demolished to make way for the Jersey Eastern Railway Company's line to Gorey in 1872 or thereabouts. It is a fact, though, that although the railway line passed close by, it was not necessary to demolish the tower on that account. It is odd, to say the least, that no record of its demise so comparatively recently appears to be extant, and raises another mystery in the elusive saga of local towers."

Davis was partly right and partly wrong. Certainly there was no need to demolish the tower to make way for the railway line in 1872, because the line then ended at Gorey Village Station, a few hundred metres short of where the tower stood. When the line was extended north to Gorey Harbour in 1891, the track was laid very close to where the tower stood and it appears from evidence which has now come to light that it was demolished some 20 years before the line extension as some sort of safety measure.

Wikipedia

The entry in Wikipedia's article on the eastern railway erroneously suggests:

"Destroyed, possibly to make way for the construction of a railway station at Gorey Village."

Jersey Heritage walk

A Jersey Heritage walk leaflet notes:

"This bay has a perfectly aligned ‘523 paces apart’ series of Jersey Round Towers. Once there were eight positions here, including Fort Henry and Prince William’s Redoubt. The final tower,

Grouville Number 8, is believed to have been demolished to make way for the railway".

The National Archive holds a plan apparently dated 1877 showing the site of No 8 tower, a copy of which we have now obtained. It is strange that a plan would have been drawn up then, by which time the tower was almost certainly no longer standing.

land was reclaimed north of the slipway to allow the railway line to be built

Location

The drawing at the top of the page, which has recently been obtained as a high definition image by Jerripedia, was included in William Davis's book. It shows clearly that the tower stood on the shoreline, just to the south of the slipway which gives access to the beach opposite Beach Road. At first sight the tower appears to stand where a row of cottages known as Margaret Cottages were built in the 1990s, but it is actually slightly to the south of that, where Beach Hotel was built, and the foundations of the tower, covered in concrete, can still be seen there.

That places the tower inside St Martin, but in the Grouville millennium book Giles Bois writes that the tower straddled the parish boundary, a little further south.

He says that the tower's platform was copied by the architects who designed Longbeach Apartments, but casts doubt on whether one of two identical platforms in the design was the original.

"It is thought that the tower was demolished for fear that the vibrations from trains would make it tumble on to railway land (it was some distance from the acutal track, by as much as its height), or that it had somehow been seriously damaged and was removed as a precaution. It has also been suggested that it was demolished to make way for a shipyard but, as there was a large shipyard nearby, and as the platform was left intact (into the 1880s or '90s) this is not very likely, especially as its date of demolition was rather late in relation to the period of shipbuilding activity."

We are grateful to Giles Bois for providing us with a copy of the plan, referred to below, showing the location of the tower, and a photograph (in the gallery below) of the remnants of the tower's base, forming part of the sea wall.

Colonel Bland's plan of the tower's location, close to, but not on the route of the railway track. The plan shows Gorey Village Station on the left, a shipbuilding yard below it, and the position of the circular tower in the centre. Click on the image to view it full size
Another plan of the tower's location held by the National Archive

Railway line

The States approved the construction of the Jersey Eastern Railway from St Helier to Gorey in 1871. The railway was started in response to a petition by the inhabitants of Gorey, who were jealous at the establishment of a railway in the west of the island. The States passed an Act authorising the construction of the Gorey railway on 31 March 1871 and Royal Assent was received a year later. On 6 April 1873 the Jersey Eastern Railway Company was registered. It had permission to construct a railway from Snow Hill to Gorey, and on to St Catherine, but the final leg was never started.Indeed, it was not until 1891 that the line reached Gorey Pier.

But it is the original intention which, in conjunction with a plan of the tower now held by The National Archive, which seems to be the clue to the tower's fate. The plan drawn by Edouard Loftus Bland, Colonel Commandant the Royal Engineers in the island. On it he has inscribed: "Tower demolished by WO order 25 May 1871".

What is not clear is whether this inscription means that the tower was demolished on 25 May 1871, or the order to do so was given then and the tower was demolished some time after. Whichever is the case, the tower had certainly gone by 1880, more than ten years before the railway track was extended.

From the earliest days of planning for the railway, the intention was always to continue the line to Gorey Harbour, and ultimately to St Catherine's Breakwater, although this section was never carried out.

Land sold

Jersey's railways, from St Helier to St Aubin and then Corbiere in the west, and to Gorey in the east, were planned and constructed in something of a hurry, and the land on which they were laid, either Crown land or public land, was not always acquired by the operating companies, certainly at the outset. The land on which No 8 Tower was built was sold by the Crown in 1905 to Compagnie de Chemin de Fer de L’Est. After the railway ceased operations in 1929 some sections of land on which the track had been laid reverted to public ownership, including the stretch from Gorey Harbour to Gorey Village Station, which is now a promenade. A property known as Brook House was built on the land on which No 8 Tower had stood. This subsequently became Beach Hotel and is now private apartments.


Pictures

Although photographic studies of coastal views were quite common in the 1860s, there appears to be no surviving photograph of Tower No 8, certainly not from close-up. It seems that it might be possible to identify the tower in the first picture in the gallery below, on the very far left of the image, but this might be wishful thinking, because this picture has been variously dated at 1860 and 1880, either ten years before the tower was demolished or ten years after.

The picture next to it in the top row shows Gorey Village Station with a path to the seaside of the railway track. The tower stood on the line of this path to the left of the flagpole.

Gallery

This letter from the Lieut-Governor to the States in 1902, indicating that the British Government wanted to sell the towers they owned at the time, strangely mentions No 8. The tower no longer existed, but perhaps the War Department still owned the site on which it had stood
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