Swan song in St Saviour's Valley18th October 2023
"Homes that will vanish under island 'lake'. How the families face the future. Problem for a mother of eleven." From The Weekly Press, 1938
Soon water will fill up the large valley in St Saviour's. Even houses will vanish under the 'flood'. Here is an Evening Press interview with the householders and a review of their plans for the future.
The St Saviour's Reservoir area is a hive of industry these weeks, clearing away rubble and earth from the basin over which in the time to come the great cement dam will tower, retaining the water till it assumes a like-like appearance in the valley above, enveloping in its area farmhouses and cottages.
On the western side the caterpillar wheeled crane excavator is dipping its huge scoop, gathering a ton of soil in each 'scoop' up the side of the embankment of the main road.
Across the road, workmen are engaged in working the power drills which pierce into the rock and so enable it to be quarried out and removed to the site of the new road, in the process of making higher up the valley.
Six motor lorries are plying the day long from this area to the new road. Each lorry makes some 36 journeys a day with rubble and soil, the loading taking only some three minutes.
Above the actual area on either side there are notices in red which read: 'Danger: Beware of blasting'.
Never has this part of St Saviour's seen such industry, nor work completed so rapidly. It is a lesson how modern engineering methods expedite the work - the Pharaohs would stand amazed!
Residents and the future
In all the big transformation and the artillery of power drills, there is an undertone of regret in the valley farms and quiet houses, and we heard the minor notes in this great Symphony of Change.
LE NEUF CHEMIN
Knocking at the door of the fine old house known as Le Neuf Chemin, standing at the corner of the road 200 yards froom where the dam will span the valley, we found Mr and Mrs F D Robin at home.
In her cosy little parlour, Mrs Robin, who was Miss S R de Garis, of Le Grand Douit, St Saviour's, said that this property was that of the heirs of the late Mr A J Robin, her father-in-law. They had resided at Le Neuf Chemin since their marriage, 23 years ago, and thier two sons, Messrs F de G and R J Robin, were born. Above the hill Mr F D Robin was building a house, into which they would move in the near furture, for it was now nearing completion.
Other properties of the heirs of Mr A J Robin (who was Dean of the Douzaine) were La Vieille Rue, where Mr A J Robin had resided, and the house La Mabelle, situated on the hillock at the side of the house.
Le Neuf Chemin house is picturesquely situated, and it seemed difficult to visualise the lake waters coursing over this till it became, in fact, a submerged village. Mrs Robin has a series of beautoiful paintings in oil sof old farmhouses and beauty spots of Guernsey: she was a student at the Guernsey Art School for seven years. All this will have to be moved from the low road to the new house at the top of the road, a distance of a quarter of a mile away, and standing on the apex of the mound separating the twin-forked valley.
AT LA MABELLE
La Mabelle house is a home for a party of workmen engaged in the reservoir works, and is let to Mr Bideau. Here the men sleep and they have thier meals provided near the scene of their labour.
Looking for a new home
Meet Mr and Mrs A Le Corre, who reside in the little cottage behind Le Neuf Chemin farmhouse. The cottage and five vergees of land they rent from the nephew and heir of the late Mr F Lenfestey, M Juinot, of Angers, France, whose interests in Guernsey are represented by Mr J W Ozanne, écrivain.
Mr and Mrs Le Corre came to Guernsey from St Brieuc in 1905, and have been residing in the cottage for the past eight years, working the land and the two glasshouses. Frankly, they do not know what to do, for they have not found a house yet into which they can move. Mr Le Corre is aged 64 years, and Mrs Le Corre in 63. Naturally at this late period in their lives they do not like the prospect of a change of residence.
Family of 13
Ascending the road by the side of the minor fork in the valley, we came to that fine old estate of La Vieille Rue, with its long series of farm buildings, all beautifully situated and well-kept.
In the yard we came across a group of tenants - all gave the same name. And then we found the house was tenanted by a Mr and Mrs C Sweet. Mr Sweet is a labourer working at St Martin's.
With her motherly eye on her little brood at home, Mrs Sweet cheerfully admitted to a family of 11 children: Charles, 16 years of age, was at work; Olive, 15, was helping her with the housework; at school were Priscilla, 12; Ruby, 11; John, 9; Sheila, 7; and Brenda, 6. Then at home were Barbara, 4; Basil, 3; George, 2, and Kathleen, aged 7 months, in her mother's arms.
And so this 'baker's dozen' occupy this fine old farmhouse on its last term as a place of human habitation.
Mrs Sweet, who was Miss L Fletcher, of Pedvin Street, is rather harrassed about hte question of another house. 'We have tried for a States house, but have had no luck yet. However, something will have to happen soon now,' she added a little wistfully.
In one family for four centuries
We walked up the road and then branched across the summit of the mound dividing the two valleys till we reached that fine old estate of Le Mont Varouf, a property in the Mansell family for nearly four centuries, and inherited by Mr Mansell A Paint from his mother, who was a Miss Mansell.
This farmhouse and its buildings dates back, it is reputed, to 1100, and here reside Mr Mansell A Paint's family: Mr and Mrs Mansell Paint and Master André Paint; Miss Coralie Paint, Mr Neville Paint, and Master Donald Paint.
Mr and Mrs Mansell Paint and son turned from Mackay, Queensland, Australia, last year, and Mr Paint is a canvasser for the Guernsey Produce Agency.
Mr Paint took us over the farm. The house is built on the edge of the embankment of the main branch of the valley, and it is expected that the waters of the reservoir lake may lap the edge of the house and farm buildings. Of the farm some 28 vergees have been required, comprising the house and the fields on the lower levels, leaving 38 vergees still to the farm. The family understand that they may remain in possession of the house until the end of 1939.
A house of long history, it as many treasures. There is an old cider press in the cider press house which is likely to form an exhibit in our Island Museum. The granite trough has a circumference of 38 feet, and, as a thing apart from the cider press proper, has been placed in one of the upper fields.
Mr Mansell Paint informed us that the cider press had been in use until 1880. It is a relic of the time when cider was the natural drink in farmhouses - cider brewed from Guernsey-grown apples when practically nothing was known in Guernsey's hubandry. By the side of this perfectly proportioned circular granite trough is a stone bearing the family crest.
So in these various places, known of old, the waters are to roll, and the families are singing their swan songs, wondering what changes will sweep over the lands when the descending streams find the barricade of the dam below, and, gathering surface and depth, spread over the sites of the then demolished homes of their fathers and forebears.
For more information abou the reservoir: see https://www.water.gg/history
QRGS October 1947, 3 (4) p. 11-13, Walter H Morgan, 'The St Saviour's reservoir'
Trans. Soc. Guern. 1947 p. 143, Walter H Morgan, 'St Saviour's reservoir' (illustrated; Morgan was the States Waterworks Engineer at the time)
B C de Guérin scrapbook H (staff)
Guernsey Evening Press Weekender No. 490, 25 November 1989, 'The building of the reservoir', by John Neale