St Peter Port, 1831

27th April 2015

From Samuel Lewis' Topograhical Dictionary of England &c, 1831.

St. Peter-port, or the Town parish, lies about the middle of the eastern coast. The town has of late years been much extended in several directions. It seems to have been formerly confined to the range of houses running parallel with the sea, from what is called Glatney to the upper part of Cornet-street.

The extent of St. Peter-Port, along the coast, from the upper part of Cornet-street to the end of Long-store, is little short of a mile and a half; and, including the New town and the Hauteville, it is about three miles in circumference. In the High-street most of the old houses have been removed, and the width greatly increased. The town, generally speaking, is well paved, and some of the streets, though narrow, have foot-ways. The streets in the Upper or New town, and the Hauteville, are straight, and the houses large and well-built, especially Saumarez-street. Owing to the improvements that have been effected in the roads, a great many English carriages are kept.

Among the improvements the widening of Fountain-street, which is advancing rapidly towards completion, may be styled the most important. This street, although the principal road of communication between the harbour, town, and country, was originally only ten feet wide, which has been increased to thirty feet, and the buildings, consisting of dwelling-houses with shops, are little inferior in appearance to any in the most modern streets of London, while they surpass them in point of solidity. Pipes are now being laid down for the introduction of gas into the town. The assembly-rooms, built by subscription, in 1780, are situated in the market-place, and are supported on stone arches; the ballroom is very extensive: the public meetings are generally held here. A library was established in 1819, under the patronage of the Governor, and the Bishop of Winchester; in the reading-room are periodical publications, but no newspapers. The theatre, situated in New-street, is neatly fitted up: a company of comedians from Exeter visit the island, generally in October, and remain till Christmas. At the top of Smith-street stands Government House, a neat building, the residence of the lieutenant-governor. The church of St. James, the new college, and Castle Carey, which stand in the highest parts of the town, form very striking objects from the roads and harbour. Castle Carey was erected in 1829, at a cost of £4000; the style of its architecture is castellated English; it is two stories in height, exclusively of the basement and centre tower, or turret, and is one of the greatest ornaments to the island; it is situated near a small public park, called the New Ground, but has very little land attached to it, whence it has been denominated Castle-Lackland.

There are upwards of thirty handsome villas in the immediate vicinity of the town, substantially built of native granite since 1815; and within the last ten years, upwards of four hundred houses have been erected in the town, at an expense of £200,000. Doyle's column, erected in honour of Sir John Doyle, stands on the heights between the bays of Fermain and Moulin-huet: it is about one hundred feet high from the base to the top, and two hundred and fifty feet from the level of the sea, and is ascended by a winding staircase; the gallery is surrounded by an iron balustrade. The new town stands so high that, from the level of the market-place, the side of the ravine is ascended by a flight of a hundred and forty-five steps, to the top of what is called Mount Gibel, the Moorish name Gebal being supposed to have been given to it by the Sarragozans, who invaded the island in the time of Edward III., and since corrupted into Gibel, with the addition of the French word Mont.

About a quarter of a mile from this spot are the public walks, or New Ground. This plot of land, containing about eight English acres, was purchased by the parish more than half a century ago, and one-half of it laid out in groves; the other, which is a smooth lawn, is set apart as a military parade. The vegetable market is held under the assembly-rooms, and in the open square adjoining. The principal market day is Saturday. There is a space assigned in the market-place for pork and veal, from each of the ten parishes, which is sold to the public by the farmers, on Friday and Saturday: all the weights are of brass, and marked to prevent imposition. Fish, fruit, and vegetables of excellent quality, are exposed for sale every day in the week. The butchers' market-place was constructed in 1822: adjoining it a new fish market has recently been erected, which is not excelled by any in the United Kingdom, with the exception of that of Liverpool: it is one hundred and ninety-eight feet in length, twenty-two feet wide, and twenty-eight in elevation, entirely covered over, and lighted in a very tasteful manner by seven octagonal skylights, beneath which there are Venetian blinds for the purpose of ventilating the building. The fish tables, forty in number, are all of polished marble, each being supplied with fine spring water. The total cost of Fountain-street and the fish market will amount to £ 57,216. An extensive slaughterhouse has been erected near the beach, in which all the cattle are killed: this edifice, which is of blue granite, is so judiciously constructed, as to prevent any annoyance arising from it to the town, the filth being conveyed to the beach through a pipe, and washed away by the tide at high water.

The living is a rectory, rated in the king's books at £ 12, and in the patronage of the Governor. The church, dedicated to St. Peter in 1312, is of more elaborate architecture than any other in the island; it consists of a nave, two aisles, and a chancel, with a tower in the centre, surmounted by a low spire. The porch on the northern side is very handsome: the pillars which support the arched roof are of granite, and on the walls are several beautiful marble monuments of modern date: it has lately undergone a thorough repair, under the direction of Mr. John Wilson; the pews are all new, and made of Dutch wainscot. The garrison services, and the evening service, are performed in the English language. There are two chapels of ease, one called Trinity chapel, situated in County Mansell, built in 1768, and in which the service is performed in French; the other, situated in Manor-street, is called Bethell chapel: it was built in 1791, and purchased, by an order from His Majesty's Council, in 1796, as a chapel to St. Peter-Port. St. James' church was built by subscription, expressly for the performance of the church service in English. The government is vested in elders, and the minister is paid by the congregation: it is nevertheless subject to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester, and contains one thousand three hundred and thirty-four sittings, four hundred of which are free. There are places of worship for Baptists, the Society of Friends, two for English Independents, three for French Independents, and one each for French Methodists, Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, and Unitarians; and there is a Roman Catholic chapel, the congregation of which consists exclusively of Irish and French. The free grammar school, founded by Queen Elizabeth, has lately been rebuilt, at an expense of £12,000. It is called 'The Royal College of Elizabeth,' and is a fine and imposing pile of building, in the later style of English architecture, one hundred and seventy-seven feet in length from north to south, and sixty-six feet wide from east to west. It consists of a public hall, fifty-four feet by twenty-seven, and twenty-two feet and a half in elevation; seven school-rooms of lofty dimensions, each thirty-four feet by twenty-two and a half; a library, and spacious accommodation for the principal and his boarders. The centre tower, which contains the library, is one hundred feet high, with four side towers of sixty feet each. The corner stone was laid the 19th of October, 1826, and the edifice was finished in 1830, after a design by Mr. John Wilson, architect to the States. From the centre tower there is a very extensive view of the sea, of the adjacent islands, and the coast of France, as well as of the surrounding country. The institution is endowed with certain lands and rents, which, with the school-house, gardens, and meadow, adjoining, are estimated to produce to the master upwards of £300 per annum: the mastership is in the presentation of the Governor; every boy born in the island is entitled to admission, and, including the boarders, most of whom are English boys, there are upwards of one hundred and fifty scholars. In 1636, Charles I, at the request of Archbishop Laud, endowed, with an estate comprising houses in London and lands in Buckinghamshire, which had escheated to the crown, a fellowship in each of the colleges of Jesus, Exeter, and Pembroke, in the University of Oxford, for natives of Jersey or Guernsey, who have also the benefit of five scholarships, founded by Dr. Morley, Bishop of Winchester, in 1654, in Pembroke College, three for Jersey, and two for Guernsey.

The town hospital was erected in 1741 and 1742, in consequence of a general meeting of the parishioners to take into consideration the state of the poor. Until then, the poor of the parish had been periodically relieved by pecuniary donations, arising from certain rents appropriated or bequeathed for that purpose, and from sundry collections at the church doors, aided, as they had been of late years, by the proceeds of a general rate. The rents above-mentioned were transferred to the new institution, and the whole placed under the management of a treasurer and other gentlemen annually chosen by the parishioners. This institution combines the objects of an hospital and a workhouse, or house of industry; and, though originally designed for parishioners only, has generally amongst its inmates a number of strangers, who, owing to bodily infirmity, or some other substantial reason, cannot be removed to their own parish or country: it serves also as a temporary asylum for such sick strangers as are under the care of the constables, and due attention is rendered them until they are thought in a proper state to quit the island. The arrangements throughout are excellent, the inmates receiving every attention and comfort their situation requires; spinning, weaving, and various other branches of industry are carried on. There is a Magdalene ward, in which females of loose morals are kept, and who are not allowed to have any communication with the other inmates; persons afflicted with mental derangement have also separate apartments. The female children, whose number exceeds fifty, are educated, until the age of fourteen, under the personal inspection and daily attendance of some of the principal ladies of the island, after which they are received as servants in respectable families: the boys are educated until of the same age, when they are apprenticed. The building, which was considerably improved and enlarged in the years 1809 and 1810, is very commodious, with an open space of ground in front, a court-yard behind, and two gardens nearly adjoining. A National school for boys and girls has also been established in the town, in which about one hundred and forty boys and eighty girls are educated.

In 1274, the inhabitants represented to the justices of assize sent from England to the island, that a stone pier projecting into the sea, between the town and Castle Cornet, would be very useful to commerce; in consequence of which, in the following year, an order was obtained from Edward I, whereby the governor and the principal inhabitants were authorised to build a pier, and to levy, for the term of three years only, a small duty on ships coming to the island, towards defraying the expense. In violation of this order, however, the duty was not only raised by the governor for the term of three years, but was continued by him after that term, and by his successors, without their commencing the work for which it was levied, until the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when the commissioners sent to the island, placed the power of collecting the petty custom in the hands of the bailiff and jurats, and ordered them to lay it out under the inspection of the governor, by which means the south pier was begun about 1570. Sir Thomas Leighton, who governed the island in 1580 and for forty years after, was a great benefactor to the work, as was also Amice de Carteret, who was lieutenant-governor and bailiff of the island in 1608. The northern end of the pier was begun in the reign of Queen Anne, when the islanders suffering considerably by the storms, for want of a pier to the east and north of the harbour, made voluntary contributions for the erection of the north pier; and the whole work has been improved from time to time: it extends to the eastward about four hundred and sixty feet, curving inwards at the extremities, which leave an opening about eighty feet wide. The length of the south pier is seven hundred and fifty-seven feet; and they form a spacious basin, into which vessels of considerable burden can enter at high water.

Castle Cornet, a fortress by which the harbour is defended, stands on a rock a little to the south-east of the pier: it is of very remote antiquity, and is supposed to have been originally constructed by the Romans. When the island was invaded by the French, in the reign of Edward I., this castle fell into their hands, and they kept possession of it for some time. It is so well defended by batteries on all sides, that, though accessible from the town at the ebbing of every spring tide, when the intervening sands are left quite dry, it has often been successfully defended. In the reign of Charles I, it withstood a long and vigorous siege, being held for the king by Sir Peter Osborne, the lieutenant-governor, in opposition to the town, then under the influence of the parliament, who had vested the government of the island in the twelve jurats: the castle being closely blockaded, and their provisions exhausted, the garrison at length surrendered on honourable terms. A dreadful accident happened here on the 29th of December, 1672, from lightning communicating with the magazine, which blew up with a tremendous explosion, destroying a great part of the castle, and in particular some handsome new buildings, then recently erected at considerable expense by the governor, Viscount Hatton, who, together with his family and some other persons, was residing at the time in a part of the castle thrown down by the shock: several persons were killed, among whom were Lady Hatton, wife of the governor, and the Dowager Lady Hatton, his mother. Formerly the governors made this castle their place of residence, but it has ceased to be so for many years, and is placed in the care of a guard of soldiers and certain officers ; it is an isolated castle, very ancient, and of a triangular form : in spring tides, at low water, it may be reached on foot. There are embrasures pierced for seventy-six pieces of ordnance; it commands the several channels of entrance to the town, and looks into St. Peter's Port.