Victor Hugo and Guernsey: Hugo's workmen

5th July 2017

An interview with, and the obituary of, 'the oldest man in the island,' Thomas Mauger Gore, carpenter and builder, who helped Victor Hugo realise his vision at Hauteville House and especially at Hauteville II, Juliette Drouet's house in Guernsey. Obituary from The Star of Tuesday March 6, 1928, interview in the same newspaper,  July? 1927. Part of the Victor Hugo and Guernsey project.

'Mr Fr. Leconte (died St Peter Port 28 January 1908,) told me this:

[A quarryman had come to Hauteville House to ask VH for money to replace tools that had been 'stolen' from him.]

L'homme:—Pour lorsse, Mossieur Victor Hugo, je suis-t'un hônête ouverrier que je travalle ben dur dans les carrières. Et véyez come le monde est mauvais au jôr d'aujourd'hui. Ils m'ont volé mes outils dans la carrière. Tous mes outils. Je puis pus travailler. Pus gagner pour mouê, pour ma fame, pour ma vieille mère, pour mes éfants. (Il avait un nombre prodigieux d'enfants). Je sommes tous pardus. Tous mourir de faim. Je sommes quasi morts. Ah! suis-t-y malheureux! (Redoublement de pleurs).

VH:—Calmez-vous. Votre peine me touche. Je suis moi aussi un travailleur.

L'homme, inquiet:—Vous travaillez dans les carrières, Môssieur Hugo?

VH, avec dignité:—Je suis un travailleur de l'esprit.

[Hugo takes the man to De La Rue's hardware store, buys new tools. Hugo returns to his lookout, a happy man. The quarryman goes straight down to the pawn shop.]'

[A Bourde de la Rogerie, Victor Hugo à Guernsey: Avranches, 1944, p. 12.]

See also Charles Hugo on Victor Hugo’s Guernsey workmen

Mr Thomas Gore

Interviewed by French visitor

In the account of Hauteville House which appeared in The Star of the 11th inst., reference was made to Mr Thomas Gore, of Victoria Road, who had been employed for a considerable time by M Victor Hugo in putting up the oak furniture which had been collected by the great poet in various parts of the of the island. One of the visitors who had come especially from Paris in connection with the transfer of Hauteville House to the City of Paris was M Emile Willème, a representative of Le Petit Journal, who having been told of Mr Gore, decided to see him. This he did and related the interview he had with M Gore in the following words in Le Petit Journal of the 18th inst.:

After the goûter which had been offered to the guests by the members of the Hugo family at Hauteville House, and before embarking on the Ailette on our way back to France, I spent part of the time in seeing Mr Gore, Victor Hugo's cabinet maker. This was comparatively easy notwithstanding my ignorance of the English language, for thanks to Madame Perrot, of Trinity Square, who is an agent for Le Petit Journal, I was informed how to find him. At the top of Victoria Road, I was admitted into a house of very prepossessing appearance. Soon appeared Thomas Gore, an aged man of frank and open countenance. He had the appearance of a well-to-do blacksmith, to which he added a partriarchal smile.

'He is a little hard of hearing,' remarked his daughter, 'and cannot see without glassses; but he goes to town every day, notwithstanding his age. He is the oldest man in the island.'

'Ninety-seven,' said Mr Gore.

'Ninety-five,' whispered his daughter in my ear. 'But we do not contradict him.'

Mr Gore than handed me a frame which contained the protraits of Victor Hugo and Madame Drouet, each of them autographed.

'A Tom Gore, en témoignage de son zèle et de son bon et habile travail,' were Victor Hugo's words.

'Au brave Monsieur Gore,' were those of Madame Drouet.

'Tom Gore,' remarked Mr Gore, 'was the name which he was pleased to give me. He said that this abbreviation brought us together and that it sounded best.'

It certainly was more romantic, and the pleasantness of the sound explains the choice of 'Tom Gore' and which has ... remarked Mr Gore, 'was given me by him as a token of my thanks for what I had done. That from Madame Drouet was for another reason: Madame Drouet lived in another house, a little further down the street. One day, when this lady was in France, a fire which occurred in her house did some damage to the place, and after I had assisted in extinguishing the fire, I closed up the place to prevent unauthorised collectors—if there were any—although our islanders are most honest. For this Madame Drouet thanked me.'

'I suppose,' said I, 'you have done a very great deal of work for the master.'

'A great deal,' replied Mr Gore. 'I was only about 20 years of age, and I was active and able, so it was said, and he at once took me into his service. He left nothing to chance, although he himself worked without special plan, for he was always guided by his fantasy. He possessed much old woodwork which he purchased here and there; but other pieces he had sculptured himself. Then he would have one piece placed here, and another placed there. 'Shape one; cut up another, but see that they agree,' he would say. 'You, he would add, 'Fix this one like this.' He would occasionally accept my advice: but he would always insist on having done what he required in his own way. Nothing was ever fixed without his presence or otherwise only after his formal instructions.' 

 'Yes! I spent many days at Hauteville House,' continued Mr Gore, 'and M Hugo was so kind. Do you know that once a month he gave breakfast to twenty poor children, and at Christmas his door was open to everybody. One walked in and about the house, and he offered every one who came cakes and refreshments.'

'But the chair of the absent ones, which has a chain stretched across its arms, used to frighten some people. At a certain period of the year he had the tables turned around; then it was said that the spirits were chained in the arm chair. You can imagine that people used to say all sorts of things anbout the chair. But it was not through malice, but absolute fear, for Victor Hugo, whom everybody said had a princely appearance, but why, I can hardly say, inspired the sympathy and best wishes of all in Guernsey.'

Then Tom Gore escorted me to the door, on the way pointing out three pieces of Chinese lacquer, representing acrobats at work. 'These pieces of lacquer were presented to me by Victor Hugo,' said Mr Gore proudly.

A few minutes more were spent in conversation, in which Mr Gore spoke of the poet's grandchildren whom he had known when they were only children. Then a hearty handshake and we parted, Mr Gore's last words being, 'I am highly pleased to have spoken about the good Monsieur Victor Hugo, to a man from France which he had taught me to love.' 

Death of an old inhabitant

Mr Thomas Gore passes away in his 96th year

A very familiar figure in St Peter Port will be seen no more, for we regret to announce that Mr Thomas M Gore passed away yesterday afternoon at his residence, 96 Victoria Road, at the advanced age of 96 years. Latterly he had been failing, but as his health had been fairly good, his friends believed he still had a good chance of adding considerably to his age. But on Wednesday last he suddenly collapsed, and died very peaceably yesterday afternoon.

Mr Thomas Mauger Gore was born on October 14, 1832,¹ and was for many years in the employ of the late Mr John de Putron, of Havilland Street, as a carpenter. Then he went into business for himself and by the excellence of his work, which was always under his personal supervision, obtained a very large clientèle. He also carried out a great deal of work for the States, all that was required in carpentering and painting to be done in the Markets and States property in Founrtain Street being usually entrusted to him. For a considerable number of years the task of preparing the Royal COurt room and in the New Market Hall North for States meetings was always carried out by Mr Gore. He was in the Royal Guernsey Militia, East or 1st Regiment, when the foundation stone of the Harbour was laid in August, 1853, and could well remember when Queen Victoria came to Guernsey for the first time in 1846.

When M Victor Hugo came to the island in 1856 (sic) and was carrying out the work of restoration and furnishing the interior of Hauteville House with ancient furniture that he had picked up in various parts of the island, Mr Gore carried out an enormous quantity of work in the house, practically all of which can be seen to this day. The undertaking occupied him for several years, and won him the esteem and admiration of Victor Hugo, who presented him with many curios which were Mr Gore's cherished possessions.

Mr Gore retired a good many years ago, during which time he lost his wife and then one of his two daughters in 1925. Mr Gore was one of the few remaining inhabitants of Guernsey who could remember when 'Cow Lane,' underneath the quay and leading to High Street, existed, and through which cattle which were landed on the bed of the old harbour were driven into the country to recuperate, after what had often been a long and rough passage from France and Spain. Mr Gore recollected well when the mail steamers at high water passed between Castle Cornet and the land, and when passengers were landed from or embarked in boats on a rock, which was known as the White Rock.

Practically speaking, Mr Gore had never been ill in his life, his good health continuing almost ot the end, and when long past his 95th year he would take a walk every morning through town, and then rest for a while at the Charroterie Mills and Flour Store in the Bordage. here he would smoke a pipe and return home for his noon-day meal. To have seen him walking at a steady pace through town one would never, unless one was aware of it, have imagined that he was verging on 100 years of age. He possessed a wonderful memory, and it was a treat to hear him speak of the time when he was young and of the changes which had been made in the town during his life.

Mr Gore leaves an only child, a daughter, to whom we tender out sympathy in her affliction. We believe that she is the last of a Guernsey family in the island who bears the name of Gore.

See The Guernsey workman, by Charles Hugo.

¹Thomas Mauger Gore was one of eight children born to a tailor, Henry Gore, of Hauteville, and Elisabeth Carteret Le Fevre, daughter of Guillaume and Rachel Le Fevre. His father Henry Gore, born 5 March 1799, was the son of Harry Gore (12 March 1759-8 September 1825) and Marie Mauger (22 November 1758-22 February 1842,) who married at St Martin's 11 August 1791.  Harry Gore's father, the first Henry Gore, who would have been born around 1725, came from England to Forest parish. The family of his grandson, Henry Gore the tailor, lived early on at the Pied des Vardes, and used chapel for worship. Thomas's youngest brother, William, was also a carpenter; he died in 1909, 'died and lived at the Town Hospital.' It would appear that Thomas Mauger Gore married twice; firstly in 1857 at the Sion Chapel to Betsey Tardif, daughter of famer Daniel Tardif of St Martin's, by whom he had five children, and then to Betsey Le Poidevin (1830-1908) by whom he had a daughter born in 1875. Of the five children by his first wife, it should be noted that three died in the 'Victor Hugo period' of his life: Emily, born 1858, died in 1862; Thomas Henry, born 1863, died 1864, aged 20 months; and Francis James, b. 1864, died in 1864 at 8 months of age. Poor Betsey herself died at their home in the Charroterie in September 1864, of consumption, aged only 30. Thomas Mauger Gore and Betsey Tardif are recorded as living in Havilland Street, at Hauteville, and Park Street. Two of their daughters survived, Ellen, born 1859, and Alice, born 1861. Ellen, a dressmaker, and Alice, a milliner, never married and lived and worked at home. It was Ellen who outlived her father. Thomas had Emily Elizabeth by his second wife in 1875. She married Charles Milton Jory and had two children who survived to adulthood. Thomas Mauger Gore is buried in Candie Cemetery in the same plot as many of his family.