Old Guernsey place names

The Star, June 15th, 1915. Not entirely accurate!

An official announcement which appeared recently in The Star, amongst other prohibitions, said, ‘no boat shall, either by night or day, enter Vaux Bêtes Bay.’ To the general reader, the situation of the bay in question is practically unknown, therefore it may be of interest to him and to others to know that Vaux Bêtes Bay is better, though not so poetically known, as Telegraph Bay.

This is not the only place on the coast with whose old Guernsey name the public are not familiar. Les Petils Bay at the Vale, near Fort Doyle, up to a few months ago, when it was mentioned in connection with a right of way case or something of the kind, was unknown to the greater part of this generation.

Who knows where ‘La Fontaine-ès-Boeufs’ is, or could point out its situation? It is quite close to Fort Doyle on the west side.

We have seen in the newspapers that the Natural Science Society once made an excursion to ‘Le Creux aux Chiens.’ Who knew of its existence till then? But we must admit it is a most inaccessible spot, as it is situated at the foot of a cliff near St Martin’s Point.

Who, too can tell where the ‘Creux des Normands ‘or the ‘Creux des Avrétins’ are situated? The first is near Mont Chouet, at the Vale, and the second in the neighbourhood of La Corbière. Then we have La Baie des Amarreurs, also unknown to many persons. It is situated at L’Ancresse, not far from the Convalescent Home.

‘Saline Bay,’ at Grandes Rocques, is better known, but it is usually called ‘Cobo Bay,’ of which it forms only a portion. Not far from here, to the east, is ‘Port Soif,’ another bay at Grandes Rocques, but practically nameless to those who picnic there in the summer.

Who has heard in late years of ‘Le Creux de la Morte Femme’? Few, we believe, and yet hundreds of persons pass it every day during the bathing season. It is a Creek, cutting deeply in to the cliff, now partly filled by the Road which extends to La Vallette.

We have mentioned ‘La Fontaine-ès-Boeufs’ at the Vale, but not very far from it is ‘La Banque des Moutons.’ Almost opposite is the islet of ‘Homtolle.’ In Perelle Bay ‘La Chapelle Dom Hue’ may be found by those who know how, although no trace of the Chapel remains.

Stonecutters with their yellow buttons

Does anyone who speaks of the South Esplanade ever dream of calling it by its original name, ‘Le Gallet de Heaume,’ a famous place in olden days where ‘le bout de l’an’ (distorted in to ‘boodlo’) was burned on the 31st December, or imagine that what today is designated as the’ Long Store’ was anciently known as ‘Les Mares Pirouins’, which was the site of the Guernsey ‘Vauxhall or ‘Cremorne Gardens’ of the 18th century?¹

‘Ah!’ said an irate parent to his daughter, when she came home with the milk in the morning, ‘J’pense que t’a etaï toute la niette au Mares Pirouins dansant d’auve les stonecutters à jaone boutons!’ Who the stonecutters were who sported yellow buttons we have never heard, but the incident in connection with the Mares Pirouins was related to the writer when a boy. On the west side of Clarence Battery, the bay which exists there is known as ‘Cow Horn Bay,’ but its real name is ‘Jaonnet.’

Going back to the west of the island, at Portinfer, or Port Soif Bay—one name synonymous with gretaheat, and the other with intense thirst—we find ‘Le Nic au Corbin,’ which still has an evil repute at night, owing to a man many years ago having committed suicide there. In this bay the ‘Will-o’-the-wisp’ used to be seen, but like other ancient institutions, it has departed.

In the town parish we have ‘Les Camps Collette Nicolle,’ never called by that name now, but ‘Green Lanes.’ ‘La ruette Marie Gibaut Cornet,’ called Fuzzey’s Lane, and ‘Ruette Contrée Croix,’ Bartlett’s Lane.

‘Profonde Rue’ is St James’ Street ; ‘Rue Marguerite’ is New Street , and ‘L’Hyvreuse’ christened afterwards the ‘New Ground,’ and in the 60s of last century ‘Cambridge Park,’ in honour of the visit of HRH the Duke of Cambridge to Guernsey.²

Several road names have been altered after Royal visits here. ‘La Pierre Percée,’ is Prince Albert’s Road ! ‘La Petite Marche’ is ‘Queen’s Road,’ and La Grande Marche,’ King’s Road. ‘Wesley Road’ is now Victoria Road; ‘Les Godaines’ is George Road ; ‘La Route des Pageots’ is ‘Brock Road’; ‘La Rue des Forges’ is Smith Street, ‘Rue des Pettevins’ is now Pedvin Street; ‘Place de la Trinité’ is ‘Trinity Square’ or Triangle. ‘Haut Pavé’ is ‘Mill Street’ and ‘Ann’s Place’ was ‘La Chasse Vassal’; ‘Le Mont Gibel’ goes now under the name of ‘Tower Hill.’

Not only have street names changed, but some thoroughfares have disappeared. For instance all those by-ways which existed near the Town church and which were swept away when the Bonded Stores were erected about 40 years ago. The site of Upper Le Marchant Street is now the Royal Court garden, on the South Side of St James’ Church. ‘Salter Street’ is only a memory, which, however, is perpetuated by a plate bearing that name which is affixed against a house at the Salerie. Many people remember when there was a real thoroughfare here, although a short one, and boasted of two houses. Another small thoroughfare existed near the Piette. Here two houses stood opposite Mrs Wilkin’s licensed premises and were built on an embankment which actually stood on the beach.

When the upper New market was erected many old houses were pulled down, and with these a well-known lane, and short cut from Bordage to Market Street disappeared. What it was called we do not know.

There was once a street in the town called Rue Tanquoël, but where it existed no-one seems to know. Among the oldest buildings in the town is ‘La Plaiderie,’ which gives its name to the adjoining site. This is the old Royal Court House which was used for the dispensation of justice up to about the year 1798. It is in perfect preservation, but is now used as a store. ‘Sic transit’ etc. It was also in older days called ‘La Cohue.’

Another thoroughfare which has long been condemned conducted up to about 100 years ago from ‘Burnt Lane’ or ‘Ruette Braulée’ towards Mill Street, but well to the back of this street, then it ended in a flight of steps by means of which one could gain access to New Town, and ended close to where ‘Panorama House’ in Little St John Street, now stands. Although few people are aware of the fact that the steps are in splendid preservation and may be seen from the yard adjoining the Ozanne Memorial Hall.


¹ J P Warren, in Rep & Trans Soc Guern XIV (1948) p. 262, '... the drainage ... issued into the sea near the Longstore and Les Mares Pirouins (by the gas works and the field used for circus shows) on the south side of Hougue a la Perre.'

² In a letter in the Library collection of 1 August 1818, written to H L Routh, Harriet Dobrée gave vent to her feelings about the new street names: 'The streets are all labelled to my great mortification as it unGuernseyfies us. Smith Street is always the same, also Forest Lane, but the profonde rue is promoted to St James' St., the Bailiff's Saumarez St. the next St. John's, the third Grange Rd. & Câtel, ninety-nine steps changed into Constitution Steps and les Côtes to Rosemary Lane.' Forward then to 1964, when F Jackson, retiring president of the Société Guernesiaise, made this point: 'One feature which originated with this society can be seen in the Town at any time. That is the naming of the streets in French. In 1948 the Albion Hotel was cleaned and repainted. Until that time a metal plate bearing the words 'Rue des Vâches' had been fixed to the North wall, but was not replaced. That was a very small indication of what was happening here in the post-war years. The island was gradually losing its French characteristics, and as it became more anglicised, it became less interesting; so I asked our President at the time, Dr Symons, if I might contact the Town Constables with a view to having the streets named in French as well as English. Mr Victor Creasey, the senior constable, was quite in agreement with the idea. Nothing could be done immediately as tin plate was in short supply, but we had not long to wait before we noticed that the French names were in place. During the past year or so this good work has been continued in the country parishes where many roads now bear their old French names clearly printed.' He goes on to urge the members to give French names to their houses, preferably the one the house or site had previously. [Report and Trans. p. 428.]