Guernsey people

By Frank Feather Dally. Guernsey folk love a good funeral.

The townspeople generally speak English, though with a false accent, nor have the more enlightened and educated attained the pure English pronunciation. The language of the country people is the old Norman French considerably corrupted, so as to form an inharmonious compound and most incomprehensible patois, frequently interlarded with English words perverted into bad French. A countrywoman, seeing a little boy very uncomfortably stuck between two rustics in a gig, exclaimed, ’Ah, mais v'la done un poure petit chap drollement posturai.’

The generality of the natives have the appearance of French people, whose manners and customs they seem to inherit from their Norman extraction. Poor and parsimonious in their living and dress, even their domestic utensils and implements of husbandry are all in the old French style; their means, however scant, secure them from every want; nor food nor raiment tempt them to extravagance. An economical soup, prepared from a compound of grease and cabbage, chiefly supplies the one, and neither pride nor fashion imposes any needless expense on the other. We must except from this category the daughters of the middle class of farmers, some of whom, with an inordinate love of finery, parade the streets and loiter about the comers in the most over-dressed style throughout the market-day, in sad and unseemly contrast to their honest mothers in their plain Guernsey garb, and whom they may be frequently seen accompanying to and from the town, in their ridiculous attire, in vehicles about as elegant as an English dungcart.

A strange peculiarity amongst the natives of this island is their morbid taste for funerals. Not satisfied with numerous relatives, whose name is ‘legion,’ those of the humblest sphere swell the line of followers to the grave to the utmost possible extent; and the result is that these cavalcades, with their straggling and unconcerned attendants, who may be frequently met chatting and joking on their solemn errand, rob the ceremony of all its mournful and befitting attributes. Among the higher classes the same infatuation prevails, and needlessly-expensive funerals are ranked among the follies of the day, as involving many a family in inconvenient and excessive outlay.

A curious custom prevails throughout the island: every cottage and farmhouse has, in one corner of the common sitting-room, what is termed the lit de fouaïlle or green bed, being a strong frame with boarded bottom, raised about eighteen inches from the ground, and covered with dry fern or peahaulm, on which the women knit or sew during the winter evenings: and on festive occasions, such as vraicing feasts, it was customary, above this lit, to suspend a canopy as well as the seat, which was tastefully decorated with flowers and fern-leaves, the whole well lighted up and presenting a picturesque effect while enlivened with music, dance, and song.


Frank Feather Dally wrote An Essay on the Agriculture of the Channel islands, which was published around 1860 by Stephen Barbet, 25 High Street, Guernsey. Far more than its title suggests, it covers all aspects of life in the islands. See Channel Islands Pamphlets X, in the Library.