Old High Street from the 1860s onwards

Recollections of a Guernsey lady, Evening Press, December 2nd, 1940. Part One.

'The Town was a very different place 80 years ago. Let us start at the top of High Street and walk down the top of High Street and down the right-hand side as I remember it. Of course, all the people I can think of may not have been in business all at the same time, but no doubt their names will bring back memories to others as old as I am.

I can distinctly remember learning to write the date 1860 in my copy-book at the Misses' de Garis' school in Le Marchant Street, but nothing earlier than that, so let us take that as the background, as it were, of these reminiscences.

The corner of Smith Street and High Street was then occupied by Greenslades in my young days, although later the business was sold to Mr Henry Jones, brother of Mr William Jones, proprietor of the Soap Factory. When Mr Jones sold out to Messrs Le Riche's, he left the island and subsequently conducted a very successful ship-breaking business in England.

Below Greenslades came the archway which, of course, is still as it was in the days when I used to pass beneath it on my way to the school, the back door of which led from Lefebvre Street through a beautiful garden which even then it was unusual to find in the centre of a town, and which I understand is still there.

The first shop below the arch was kept by a Mr Worley. This was a china repository and as such was continued by Captain Noel and later, for very many years, by Mr Le Couteur.

Then came a shop, the windows of which were always a delight to gaze upon. It was kept by Mr Beghin, grand-uncle of Mr Louis Beghin, of the Boot Stores. Old Mr Beghin was one of those supporters of Victor Hugo, who preferred to share their hero's exile when he was turned out of Jersey, and the shop was stocked with the highest class boots and shoes of French manufacture. Also featured were ornaments and artistic articles most beautifully made.

In a recess next door was to be found Huxster's, a confectioner, a business later owned by a Mr Bray and then Mr Smith, and subsequently Le Riche's Tea-rooms.

Between Huxter's and the alley which still exists were two shops destined to be destroyed by fire and completely gutted before being rebuilt as they stand at present. These shops were occupied by Mr Maguire, a shoemaker, and first of the family so well known in later years in connection with the dental profession, and by Mr Gregory, who sold baked apples, groceries, etc. The latter was succeeded by Mr Arscott, who sold pianos and music, but removed to the Arcade after the fire, when Mr Barringham removed into the rebuilt premises.

Below the alleyway were two drapers. The first was Mr Turner, then followed Mr Crousaz, father of ex-Jurat W de P Crousaz, a general outfitter, who specialised in beautiful linens and materials for costumes.

Here memory fails to recall the name of the proprietor of the shop now occupied by Messrs Dick's, but next door came Mr Cyder, another draper, in the premises later occupied for many years by the Pioneer Clothing Co.

Between this shop and the bottom of Berthelot Street were two more business establishments. Colonel Giffard's ironmongery, later that of Mr J T Lainé, and then that of Mr Rex Agnew; and upon the corner of the two streets, Mr Taudevin, a tinsmith. This latter was a quaint old building with a long, small-paned window, and two high steps leading in to the darkness of the interior. After alteration to these premises they were occupied by Messrs Dorey and Potter, drapers, the number of whose competitors was not as excessive as might appear when the amount of clothing worn by both sexes, but especially the ladies in those mid-Victorian days, is considered.

Where the Savings Bank now stands was Mr Russell's store. What the merchandise consisted of is not remembered now, but I can still see in my mind's eye old Mr Desperques, the storeman, carting heavy sacks about the place, so most likely it was grain and forage.

Then came a shop full of memories of childhood. This was Mr Henry's toy shop, which business was bought by Mr James Barbet, and carried on until comparatively recent times by his daughter, Miss Ellen Barbet, a lady well known for her philanthropy and good works throughout the island. The same premises are now occupied by Messrs Dubras' Ltd.

Licensed premises kept by Mr Le Quilbecq, formed one corner of High Street and the Arcade, and the opposite corner was the site of Mr Robins' celebrated cheese and grocery shop, which shared with Greenslade's the honour of being the island's leading grocer.

Mr Robin's son continued the business and married a sister of Advocate Gallienne. A daughter was the celebrated authoress, Miss E Gallienne Robin. Eventually Robin's grocery store was purchased by Mr Elliott, father of Messrs Charles and Arthur Elliott, who has previously come to the island and bought the business of Mr Bucktrout, tobacco manufacturer and wine and spirit dealer.

Continuing down High Street, the shop now occupied by Morton's Ltd, was in those days opened by Mr Thomas Grigg, who came form Jersey to open as an art dealer and picture framer, succeeding Mr Collenette, a jeweller. This shop was remarkable for its massive front door, which was heavily laced with iron bars and studded with brass nails. Next below was a queer little shop to enter which it was necessary to go down a step. This was used as a branch of Messrs Dorey and Rougier's larger drapery establishment on the other side of the street, until it was taken over by Mr Grigg, who remained there for many years. Employed by Mr Grigg from boyhood was Mr Thomas Gaved, a well known figure in the old cycle-racing world who, on his employer's death, carried on the business successfully in his own name at premises in the Arcade.

Next down the street came Mr Jordan's boot shop, which was afterwards occupied by Messrs De Carteret and Le Patourel, the popular firm of men's outfitters for many years. This shop and the one above it are now incorporated in Mr Beghin's Boot Stores.

Practically the only shop on this side of the street which remains to day in unbroken succession of the same family is that of Messrs Mourant, the present proprietor being Mr Frank Mourant, grandson of the occupier of the days under review, whose business still holds the same predominant position amongst drapers and men's outfitters as it did then.

Where the Old Gate House still stands facing the icy blasts that whistle up Quay Street from winter's north-easterly gales, was a branch of Mr Taudevin, though the goods sold were very different. Here the stock was of hand-made articles decorated with shells, together with pictures composed of dried seaweed. It was an occasional afternoon's pleasure as a small child to be allowed to accompany Mrs Pope, the artist responsible for these creations, on her excursions to La Valette to garner the correct species and size of weed to be dried and treated for this purpose.

Beyond, almost under the shadow of the Town Church, was a café or eating house ,though the proprietor's name is forgotten, and then, making the bend of the recess to the Arcade Steps was Quick's boot shop. This was for very many years an island landmark, and Mr Quick and his son, who later carried on the busines, were both well-known figures in many island institutions.

On the opposite side of the opening to the steps was the back door to Trembath's Restaurant, the main entrance to which was facing the Central Arcade. It was a popular rendez-vous and continued as such under the successive management of Mr Taylor and Mr Matthews.

Now, as to the rest of Church Square, it is almost impossible to describe it to-day with any hope of reconstructing its landmarks. All those known to people of my age have vanished, and the wide open space seen today bears no resemblance to the huddle of houses that clustered about the little lanes that could not properly be called streets even then.

Before the Bonded Stores were built there was a narrow street running between the overhanging tenements from about where the Fisheries now stands to approximately the present position of the pump. In one of those dark dwellings it was reputed there dwelt a witch, a story which sped tiny feet on any errand which took them that way. Even the pump itself, now so long a well-known landmark, was in those days situated on the other side of the road at the top of Cow Lane, from which it was removed just 50 years ago.'

'Have you any recollections of outstanding events concerning any of the shops you have mentioned?'

'Yes. I remember the fire that destroyed the two houses occupied by Arscott and Maguire, which was a terrible sight. The hand-pump was still in use then, and the hose was laid down the Pier Steps in to the Harbour where, fortunately, the tide was high enough to use.

There was another fire, though not actually in High Street. This was in Ferguson's Yard, halfway up Berthelot Street, and a shed which caught fire threatened Brouard's grocery store in the Arcade. The fire engine in those days was kept in the old slaughter house, which was alongside the Picquet House, but I do not remember whether they brought it up Berthelot Street or down from Newtown to get at the seat of the flames.

One more experience I recollect and then my reminiscences of the other side of High Street must wait for another day. I well remember the earthquake which shook the island, though I cannot recall the exact year in which it occurred. I was sitting in my armchair and this was lifted up and shaken, while the whole house rocked below and above me. It was a terrifying experience, though fortunately, most people, including myself, did not realise the cause until it was safely past.'

For continuation, see Part two: High Street East. See also: Review of the High Street, 1824.