High Street East; more reminiscences of the 1860s

From the Evening Press, Monday, December 9, 1940. Part Two. 'In the first article the shops from Smith Street to Church Square on the right hand side were dealt with; today we take the return journey, examining those premises which then occupied the east side of the street.'

Continuation of Old High Street from the 1860's onwards; recollections of a Guernsey lady.

'The district surrounding the Town Church has probably altered more in the last 80 years than any other part of the island. I can remember the alterations as they came about gradually, and I must admit they have all been improvements as, although sentimentalists who were not alive when I was a child may deplore the passing of the quaint old buildings, I am sure that modern sanitation and hygiene bring advantages which more than compensate for any loss we may have sustained.

I have already mentioned how the Town Church itself was almost swamped beneath an encroaching growth of tenements and buildings stretching almost up to the porch of the North Door, which can still be seen in old prints of Church Square or High Street at the time, but this was not all. Even the South and East sides of the Church were built around until it almost seemed to be smothered in a sea of houses. This all originated no doubt in the habit of building close to the central-meeting place of the Town, which was of course the Parish Church.

Many people, younger than myself, can still remember the house which stood where Church Hill joins Fountain Street to the Coal Quay and the Albert Pier. This house actually adjoined the Church and the shop facing uphill towards the bottom of Horn-street (as Cornet Street was known then), was occupied, until demolished, as licensed premises by Mr Harry Baigent and then later by Mr Jory, of the Charcuterie. The back (or front, whichever one chose to call it) faced on to the Quay and was kept as licensed premises by Mr Stroobant until his death, when it was run for many years by Mr Jack Young.

Between Mr Stroobant and the Albion Hotel were two more houses, the three occupying the site where the seats and telephone box now stand. These consisted of the Church of England Temperance Society's Café and the People's Café, kept for many years by Mr Le Patourel, who was verger of the Town Church. There was a quaint kind of arcade that projected beyond the last building and was approached down two or three steps from the High Street end and was much appreciated by successive generations of island youths who used to turn somersaults over its railings.

Again, there were dwelling houses where the open space now stands at the west gable of the Albion Hotel. These were destroyed by fire, I believe, and never rebuilt, their place being taken by a rather depressing shrubbery surrounded by heavy wooden railings, until these were removed in turn, to make way for the more appreciated seats seen today.

Cow Lane

I do not remember Cow Lane being used for the purpose which gave the street its name, as the Quay and the old Harbour were built before my time, but I do know that when my father first came to Guernsey he stayed at a house in the Pollet from which steps led down to the beach, where the States Offices now stand. The shop now occupied by Messrs Le Lièvre's, Ltd., and the one next door, making the corner of Quay Street, where Mr Downton had a draper's shop for many years, were occupied in my young days by Mr Robin, a grocer, though with no connection with the larger firm up the street, and Mr Dupuy, respectively. Mr Dupuy was a barber, and the father of the two chemists who later became so well known for the Eau-de-Cologne manufacturing business which, if I remember rightly, was originated in this shop. On the Quay side of these houses was Mr Russell's cider store, which stood beneath the Albion, in the shop where Mr Laker is today, and then two hotels, the Alexandra and the Hotel de l'Europe. The side entrance to the latter was up the steps in Quay Street, which are still there today.

Above Quay Street

Beginning High Street proper was the Victoria Hotel in which I remember an outbreak of fire one November 5th, though it was of no great consequence. Next came Mr Angel's tobacco shop, the factory connected with which was situated at the top of Berthelot Street. One of my earliest recollections is in connection with this shop outside of which for very many years was a life-size wooden effigy of a kilted Scotsman in the act of taking snuff; an accepted feature of most shops in that trade in those days.

What I remember most vividly, however, was the nightly visit of the lamplighter, who brought his ladder over his shoulder to reach the street light that projected from the wall between Mr Angel's shop and the next door. Although gas was then in use, the lamplighter carried a lamp from which he lit a spill or match, and afterwards there was always the thrill of watching him slide down the ladder to earth again.

Next door to Mr Angel came Messrs Dorey and Rougier, drapers, and adjoining was Mr Torode, a military tailor. Later on this business was amalgamated when Mr Rougier carried on on his own account. Then came Mr Alfred Agnew, whose draper's shop was considered the most 'classy' business of the town, and was patronised by all local society.


Still keeping up the reputation of High Street as the home of drapery, Mr Bishop next occupied two shops, one of which contained two small-paned windows and the other a larger single front. Over these premises was conducted a Social Club, patronised by the younger bloods of the island, who congregated on the pavement of High Street to watch the world and his daughters go by. Indeed, so popular became this spot as a rendez-vous that the crowds began to interfere with business in the adjoining premises, so the proprietor had manufactured long strips of iron, sharply spiked, which were placed on the broad window ledges of the shop-front to discourage its use as a resting place by the local 'mashers.' The shop, which still projects into the street, was kept by Mrs Wallace, a stationer, until after taken over by Messrs Torode and Nicolle as the inevitable drapers.

A 'live wire'

Where Mr Fuzzey's music shop is now was then a tobacconist, Mr Bidmead, and next door was Mr Stephen Barbet, a stationer and bookseller and one of the 'live wires' in business of those days. Mr Barbet was a keen yachtsman and also had a flair for advertising. I can remember, on my way from school, stopping to mingle with the crowd around his shop window where he displayed private telegrams sent to him with the latest news of the Franco-Prussian war. This was indeed initiative in those days when even the local newspapers had no service of news by telegraph for the benefit of readers.

Barbet's was later bought up by Staddon and Grigg, and after a few years by Mr F B Guerin, who remained there for many years. I remember hearing that when the latter took over the Almanach which bore his name for so long until it was amalgamated with the 'Press' Directory, one of the first features of this publication, which was discontinued, was the so-called 'daily weather forecast,' for the ensuing twelvemonth. This action caused storms of protest, many otherwise responsible members of the community complaining loudly that they had always relied on this 'valuable information' as a guide when fixing picnics, school treats, and similar entertainments for the forthcoming summer.

Next in the street was Mr Carré, general draper and tailor, until his two sons, H and F Carré, commenced business on their own account in the Arcade, when the tailoring was discontinued. The doorway, which was the only entrance in those days to the Old Bank, is now the side door of the same premises, the frontage then being occupied by a jeweller's shop kept by Mr Le Lacheur.

Barter's Hotel

Then came Barter's Hotel, later converted into a stationer's shop for Mr Steele, who was succeeded by Mr Millington. The latter moved further up High Street, where he established the business subsequently bought by Mr Strickland, and then by Mr T B Banks, and the premises were taken over by Mr Cohen as a tobacconist, where he remained for many years.

The Commercial Bank was then, as now, one of the street's most imposing buildings, and above it was Mrs Bodley, a milliner, whose shop was later occupied by Mr Edgar Dupuy, the chemist, who later moved up to Smith Street. Hereabout there was also a boot shop kept by Mr Burwood, and Mr Jehan kept a drapers where Martin's Ltd now stands. The side door of these premises led to Captain Grace's house and sail-making stores, which were known around the world.

Next to Mr Millington came Madame Chofin, a French milliner, who was also one of those who came to the Island from Jersey with Victor Hugo. Later on, Mr Gray moved in here from Smith Street and his business is still being carried on to this day.

Above Pier Steps

On the other side of the North Pier Steps was a shop owned by Mr Hutchinson, a draper, who was succeeded by one of his assistants, Mr Mauger. The shop was later divided into two and occupied by Mr Baker, a hairdresser, and Mr Bachmann, the jeweller, who later moved down to the corner of the Arcade.

The building which was the home of Sir Isaac Brock and is now occupied by Messrs Boots Ltd, was then two separate houses, the first of which was the Royal Yacht Hotel, and the other, the offices and dwelling of Mr Henry Crousaz, a wine and spirit merchant.

Where Etors' has stood for many years now, the Misses Domaille conducted a dairy produce business, and next door to them, in the same prominent position as it occupies today, was Mr Cumber, the chemist, in whose employ was Miss Sharshaw, a well-known lady about town.

This brings me at last to the end of my tour of the High Street and though I am glad to think that your readers have enjoyed these reminiscences, I am afraid they are not as complete as I should like them to be. Perhaps others who can fill in any gaps I may have left will write in and point out my mistakes. I shall be glad indeed to hear of them and to refresh other memories of those old days.'

Brawls frequent

'Have you any other recollections of your life in your early days which would strike our readers of today as strange?'

'Yes. For instance, I don't think anyone would like to see the Town revert to the disorderly scenes which were common nightly then. Street fights between the garrison and the civilians, and between the stone-workers and anyone or everyone who would oblige them, kept the Town Police force busy. This force consisted of four men, Messrs Roberts, Flambé, Sarchet and one other, but they were of course assisted by the Constables of the Parish whose job was no sinecure in those days. Drunkenness was rife then, too, and was the only recreation of many who entirely lacked education, as well as of others who ought to have known better. On busy nights the police used to run their captives up to jail by trucks to which their bodies were strapped. Another distressing sight of those days was to see paupers taken to hospital in a long covered basket if they were too ill to sit upright in the official sedan chair.

All shops were heavily shuttered at night to protect their windows and the contents. Some of these are still in use, but there were many quaint types of shuttering then. Many wound up from below ground, and often assistants would wait till an unsuspecting customer was crossing 'the danger-line' before beginning to wind and a surprised window-gazer would find himself straddling a shutter that threatened to raise him to the roof and wedge him there.

Many local 'celebrities' still stand out in my memory such as John Trump, the Town Crier, and his brother-in-law, Bird, who I believe assisted him. My final recollection must be of one great occasion in my life when I saw Queen Victoria and Prince Albert driving down High Street during the Queen's second visit to the Island.'