The Legge Report, or King's Survey of the Channel Islands, 1680

Sue Laker, our Deputy Chief Librarian, tells us about a wonderful book, of which a magnificent facsimile has been donated to the Library by the publishers. The beauty and interest of the illustrations alone make it well worth a look.

Pages from the original Report and a portrait of Thomas Phillips (he's the one with the red silk) can be found in the National Maritime Museum. Phillips died in a ship off Guernsey in 1693 following a spectacular raid on St Malo, just after this portrait was painted.

The King's Survey of the Channel Islands was commissioned by Charles II in 1679. The report was a comprehensive account of the state of defence, harbours and civil jurisdiction of the Islands. The Survey was timely. The political situation was troubled: Charles II, under-funded by successive Parliaments had pursued a covert pro-French, pro-Roman Catholic foreign policy in return for subsidies from Louis XIV.

By 1678 Anglo-French relations had cooled and Parliament voted supplies to Charles to enable him to pursue war with France. In Guernsey, defences had been poorly maintained and the damage wrought to Castle Cornet by the lightning strike of 29 December 1672 had yet to be rectified.

The Survey was entrusted to George Legge, (1647-91), the Lieutenant-General of His Majesty's Ordnance and Governor of Portsmouth, (1673-82). Ennobled as the 1st Baron Dartmouth in 1682, Legge held many civil and strategic appointments including that of Admiral of the Fleet under King James II. The Survey, which Legge presented to the King on the 8th January 1680/1, included accounts of the demography, history and constitution of the islands. Fellow luminaries in the field of military engineering were: Sir Bernard de Gomme, the 'Engineer in Chief of all of the King's Castles,' who had just supervised the repair of fortifications at Portsmouth, and Thomas Phillips (ca. 1635-93), Master Gunner, surveyor, and engineer, who had served under Legge previously.

Phillips' draughtsmanship transformed a military summary into an artistic masterpiece. Among his illustrations are prospects of the Island of Alderney and Cap de la Hague, a panorama of St Peter Port with a ruined Castle Cornet, and drawings of forts and inlets. Details of the armaments in Guernsey were recorded by Richard Leake, Master Gunner of England and Store Keeper of His Majesty's Ordnance. Comprehensive as it was, the Report on the State of Guernsey and Jersey was completed in only eight months.

An incomplete original of the King's Survey is held in the Royal Court. Our copy, donated by award-winning Clear Vue Publishing Partnership Ltd., is now in the Library and can be viewed on request. A copy of the publisher's illustrated brochure may be dowloaded at Extraordinary Editions.

An account of the interesting history of this manuscript, which was lost at sea with the wreck of the Gloucester on its way back to England, and then found by some fishermen, copied, and restored, so that the once-soggy original is now in the National Maritime Museum ('the Royal Court made a liberal bid for it in an auction in 1932,1 but the Museum was prepared to buy it at any cost, and they got a bargain at £90'), is given by S. Carey Curtis in the Report and Transactions of the Société Guernesiaise, 1932, pp. 276 ff. A partial copy exists at the Royal Court, and a full copy, intended for the King, in the British Library. The new volume incorporates illustrations from all three versions.

1 See Cuttings from Curtis Collection, p. 74, for a report of the auction. 'The thirty-three large drawings alone were worth much more ... These papers and drawings were the chief items in the portion of the library sent by Sir Richard Sykes from Sledmere. The library of his great ancestor, Sir Mark Masterman Sykes, was sold over a century ago.'