Article from David Godley regarding Jersey, Channel Islands

The following text is from David Godley of Long Branch (Toronto).

Jersey, Channel Islands

By David Godley

David Godley photos

The Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark) became part of Normandy when they were annexed by Vikings in 933. In 1204 King John ceded Normandy back to the French but the Channel Islands chose to stay in the British Isles on condition they were autonomous. That’s the reason Jersey is a tax haven today. Although a dependency of the United Kingdom, it is neither part of  the UK or the European Community.

Invasion of Normandy

As the Channel Islanders point out, it is they (together with Normandy) who invaded Britain and not the other way round. However Britain invaded the Channel Islands after world War II after it had been occupied by the Germans from 1940 to May 9 1945. May 9 is Liberation Day, a public holiday and a very big deal. The Central Square is named Liberation Square. The most prominent statue is of a family waving a large flag depicting the liberation.

Being the sunniest part of the British Isles, Jersey may seem like a perfect retirement location. However there are strict limitations to become a permanent resident. You either have to have millions of pounds or qualify through long temporary residency. Financiers who lose their job or even divorcees may be voted off the island if they do not have the necessary qualifications.

Jersey cows

The most scenic time to visit UK is in May. The same goes for Jersey with its small scale landscape filled with well blossomed fresh green trees, roadside flowers and beautiful warm-climate gardens. Agricultural fields are the backdrop containing Jersey Royal potatoes and Jersey cows. The 5 mile by 8 mile island is riddled with narrow lanes some of which have been converted to green lanes where cyclists and pedestrians have priority. Walking is rewarding especially along the rocky coastline interspersed with golden beaches.

Old walls and sea defences

Buses fan out from the capital, St Helier, to the rest of the island just as in Malta and Madiera. A car is not necessary and if you wish to get an overall feel of the island there is a circular bus tour with good commentary on the island’s history.

Many buildings are constructed from beautiful orangy-brown granite. Lots of old walls, sea defences and paving are also local granite. The stone, from a single island quarry, has been used in modern buildings too to help maintain an overall vernacular.

Although the overall tenor of the island is picturesque, you have to first overcome the shock of a large power station on the St Helier foreland and several inappropriately tall towers. In a way it is opposite to New Jersey. The latter has one or two attractive areas but the rest of the state is ugly Americanised development where money trumps marvel.

New Jersey

New Jersey was a present for the Carteret Family from King Charles II after Restoration. Philip Carteret was Governor of Jersey when the king spent 4 months there after Royalist defeat and before he made it to France.


The island’s coastline is a museum of fortifications. The mediaeval castle at Mont Orguiel is on a headland overlooking the sea towards France which is only a few miles away. It is postcard pretty with a Georgian terrace forming part of the main street of the town of Gorey at its foot.

Elizabeth Castle was built, starting in 1594, to guard St Helier Harbour. It was occupied by Sir Walter Raleigh who was Governor in the very early 1600s. He lived in the castle and named it after Queen Elizabeth I. Like Mount St Michael in Normandy and Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, there is a causeway which is dry at low tide.

Conway towers

Around the island’s coast many Conway towers, somewhat like Martello towers. Both were used to fend off Mr Bonaparte. Governor Henry Conway planned them and there were 22 at the time of his death in 1795. Jersey’s round towers are unique, mostly made of granite and round with tapering three storey walls. They have machiolations – projecting structures at the top floor allowing defenders to protect the tower’s base. It was another 16 years before the British realised how effective they were and started building Martello towers on the south coast of England.

Napoleonic Wars

The Regent Fort, constructed on and around a large hill in St Helier, dominates the surrounding town. It was built during the Napoleonic Wars and completed just in time for the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo!

In the 1960s Jersey wondered if they could make more use of the large flat area on top of the fort. The citizens made a daring move which challenges the architectural integrity of the site by building massive recreation facilitie. The modernistic swimming pool is no longer in use. The conference rooms and major recreation facilities including a room devoted to pole dancing (and this is not the polka!). A multi-storey car park is attached to the vertical ramparts and contains public elevators from street level. The leisure centre is still underused.

Jersey Lily

Jersey Lily is not a species of flower but the island’s most famous daughter. A great socialite and actress, she was the Prince of Wales concubine before he came to the throne in 1901 and after he had 6 children with his wife, Queen Alexandra. He built a love nest for their dalliances (Red House in Bournemouth) which Lily designed. She thought it a better investment than jewellery.

She also (separately!) had affairs with Prince Louis of Battenburg, Prince Philip’s grandfather and the Earl of Shrewsbury whose antecedents include Bess of Hardwick caretaker of Mary Queen of Scots.

Jersey Zoo

Jersey Zoo was the attraction I had wanted to see since youth. I had read “My family and other animals” by Gerald Durrell in my preteens and followed up with all his animal adventure books including “A zoo in my luggage” He eventually emptied his trunks in north Jersey. The gardens, with smaller animals only, specialise in saving species from extinction. There emblem is a dodo.

Jersey cows are the most exported breed in the world. They are docile and adaptable to many climates including the tropics. They were initially bred for meat but this changed (out of necessity during the Napoleonic wars) to milk producing animals. Jersey cows used to be imported to English estates for their aesthetic qualities. Now they are revered for their high butterfat content milk. There orangy-brown coats are a perfect match for the colour of the local granite.

David Godley May 2014

[End of text from David Godley]


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