42, Fountain Street

From the Evening Press, Friday, January 22, 1943. 'History Hidden in an attic storeroom: Quaint old business house in heart of St Peter Port.' Now Bella Delicatessen.

One of the most interesting business houses on the island is for disposal. Not only is the history of the business at present conducted therefrom of interest in itself, but history is engraved into the very walls and foundations of the house.

No 42, Fountain Street, has been known as the leading wool shop, with an excellent connection in stationery and fancy goods carried on in the other half of the double fronted premises, by many thousands of islanders who have been attended to by the pleasant and obliging proprietors, the Misses A and M Gardner, during the last 44 years.

Prior to that date the two shops were run as separate businesses, the one by Mr Webber, who conducted a dye works, and the other by Mr Wardley, father of the present proprietor of the Rectory House printing works.

Mr T B Banks, a bookseller, of High Street, who will be remembered by many of the middle-aged and older generations of islanders, then took over the stationery department as a branch of his own business, but after a year or so sold out the interest to Miss A Gardner who had, in the meantime, proved an efficient manageress on his behalf. Joined by her sister these two ladies have continued to devote their energies to the conduct of both departments, although they have always found time to give to any deserving charity or good works, which they will both be long remembered in Guernsey. That the building itself is of unique interest is proved by the fact that such an authority on our island as the late Miss Edith Carey had frequently visited it for research purposes and had described it to the Misses Gardner as a ‘real bit of old Guernsey.'

Prior to the building of the markets in 1822 it was possible to shake hands with the neighbours on the opposite side of the road from the upper storeys of No 42, but as the houses on the one side of this thoroughfare disappeared, so were those on the other rebuilt, and their facades receded into the more geometrical line we know today. Later, further alterations were made and the top storey was taken off No 42, whilst No 44 was completely rebuilt, as may be seen in possession of the Misses Gardner.

The building as it now stands has been in existence for 107 years, as is indicated by the date on the indoor pump which shows the initial s ‘JDJ’ 1836, the property then belonging to the family of de Jersey. But although alterations have been made by the present owners, who have built accommodation for an extensive show-room on the ground floor, it is in the rear of the building that most interest centres.

Here access to the store-rooms which were used as workshops for the dyeing business referred to is obtained by two steep ladders leading up to the approximate level of the foundations of St Barnabas Church. And that that church is built upon solid foundations is easy to be seen, for the walls and background of these stores are actually hewn out of the living rock.

This in itself is interesting, but even more so is the portion of curved wall built of stone and masonry, which is superimposed onto the rock referred to and now serves to support the roof of this part of the premises.

Without a doubt this wall was a bastion or other portion of the ‘Tour de Beauregard’ itself, or at least of one of its outbuildings or appurtenances.

Just what part of the Tower looked down upon and protected the lovely valley that ran where busy Fountain Street now lies, in the days when the walls of the ‘city’ extended only about as far as the present cold storage premises, we cannot say. Perhaps there may be charts or maps in existence which would give some idea of the extent of the ramifications of this fortress, and explain how part of its ruins come to be used as a prop for the ordinary tiled roof of a storeroom.

If there is any reader who knows these premises and can throw any light on the history of their origin, we should be glad to hear from him or her. Meanwhile, we agree with Miss Carey’s verdict, and trust that it may be many years before we lose this ‘real bit of old Guernsey.’

This article may have been written by journalist Basil C de Guérin, as it is to be found in one of his Cuttings Books of the period, in the Library collection.