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Bradshaw’s Guide

A descriptive guide to Guernsey

Lies thirteen miles west of Jersey, seven west of Sark, and fifteen south-west of Alderney. The chains of rocks lying east and west between these islands and the coast of Normandy appear to be the remnants of an ancient connection with the mainland. It is of a triangular form, about nine miles long and six in its greatest breadth, its circumference, following the sinuosities of the coast, being about thirty-nine English miles. The southern shore of the island, and a small part of the eastern, is a bold and continuous cliff, rising from the sea perpendicularly to the height of 270 feet. The land slopes gradually to the north, till it subsides in a low flat, not much above the level of the sea; this is the most fertile part of the island. Half a dozen brooks, the greatest of which has not a course of more than three miles, descend into the bays. The island is wholly of granite formation, and the soil which lies between its clustered rocks is an accumulation of decomposed syenite.

Arrival of a boat at St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

Nearly in the centre of the east side of the island is a long curve or irregular bay, in which lies the town of St. Peter’s Port. As St. Heller’s, in Jersey, has its rock in the harbour with Elizabeth Castle, so St. Peter’s Port has its rock with Castle Cornet. Both formerly were the residences of the respective governors of the islands.

Like Mont Orgueil, Castle Cornet is a very ancient fortification, and many are the stories of its memorable sieges recounted in the local histories. The castle is at present in a tolerable state of repair, mounts some cannon, and is garrisoned by a regiment of soldiers; but though there are some good houses and strong works within, it is not, in the modern acceptation of the word, a formidable fortification.

Nothing can be more charmingly picturesque than the town of St. Peter’s, seen from the water. It is built on the slope of an eminence, with the houses overtopping each other; and on approaching after sunset, the various lights from the windows give it a brilliant appearance of illumination. Of late years the town has been considerably extended, and now may be said to include a circumference of about three miles. In the older part the streets are narrow, steep, and crooked, flanked by substantial but antiquated dusky mansions, but the environs abound in pretty villas, and as far transcend the expectation of the tourist as the town may seem to fall below it.

The new town occupies such an elevated position that from the level of the market-place the side of the ravine is ascended by a flight of 145 steps, to the top of what is called Mount Gibel. About a quarter of a mile from this spot are the public walks, or “new ground.” This plot of and, comprising about eight English acres, was purchased by the parish about 70 years ago, and is laid out partly in groves and partly as a grand military parade.

One of the principal “lions” of the town is its Fish Market, one of the most striking edifices of the kind ever erected. It is 198 feet in length, 22 feet wide, and 28 feet high, the whole being entirely covered over and well lighted by seven octagonal sky-lights, beneath which there are Venetian blinds for the purposes of ventilation. The double row of slabs, that extend the whole length of the building, are chiefly of variegated marble, and are supplied with abundance of fresh water. The total cost of Fountain-street and the Fish Market amounted to nearly £58,000. Turbot, cod, and mullet are in abundance, and of excellent quality, at well as amazing cheapness.

The Butchers’ Marketplace, adjoining, was erected in 1822, and under the Assembly Rooms is the Vegetable Market, both commodious and suitable to the purpose. The prices are slightly lower than in London. The poultry consumed in Guernsey is chiefly French, very little country produce being brought to market. A glance at the average prices will not be uninteresting: Turkeys sell at from 3s. to 4s.; fowls, 2s. 6d. per couple; geese, 2s. 6d. each; Guernsey eggs, 8d. to 1s. per dozen, and French eggs, from 5d. to 6d.

There is a neat theatre in New-street, and some assembly rooms, built by subscription, in the spacious ball-room of which the public meetings are generally held. At the top of Smith-street stands Government House, a neat building, the residence of the Lieutenant Governor. From the roads and harbour, the church of St. James, the new college, and Castle Gary, which stand in the highest part of the town, form very striking and commanding objects. Castle Gary was erected in 1829, at a cost of £4,000, and is two stories in height, exclusive of the basement and centre tower or turret, but from the little ground attached to it the whimsical appellation of Castle Lackland has been appropriately bestowed.

Doyle’s Column, erected in honour of Sir John Doyle, stands on the heights between the bays of Fermain and Moulin-street. It is about 150 feet high from the base to the top, and 250 feet above the level of the sea. A winding staircase inside affords access to the gallery, which is surrounded by an iron balustrade, and commands a varied and extensive view.

St. Peter’s church is of a more elaborate architecture than any 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; granite pillars support the arched roof, and on the walls are some exquisitely beautiful marble monuments. The garrison service and the evening service are performed in the English language. There are also numerous other places of religious worship, appropriate to the tenets of every other denomination.

Elizabeth College — a fine building, standing on an elevation behind the town, with a spacious area around it beautifully laid out — was founded and endowed by Queen Elizabeth, in the year 1563, who assigned eighty quarters of wheat rent for its support. For nearly three centuries this institution existed in little more than its name, but means were successfully adopted, in 1824, to place this admirable institution on the footing of a college. The course Includes Hebrew, Greek, Latin, divinity, geography, history, mathematics, arithmethic, and French and English literature, for £12 per annum, to which, for a small additional sum, may be added the Spanish, Italian, and German languages, music, drawing, fencing, and drilling.

Another excellent institution in the town is the hospital or workhouse, which is admirably managed, and has been, since its erection in 1743, for the destitute a refuge, and for the young a seminary for instruction.

The harbour is formed artificially by a long pier, and there is a good roadstead near the village of St. Martin, where a great number of vessels take shelter during gales. In his excursions through the environs, the visitor will be struck with the superior neatness of the cottages of Guernsey, as compared with Jersey, and remark with interest the universal passion that prevails for flowers. On the front of most of the cottages may be seen, trailed up, splendid geraniums, and amongst the other flowers cultivated, we must not forget the far-famed Guernsey lily, the pride of the island, and the favourite of every gardener and cottager who has a bit of garden ground. The Guernsey lily is a native of Japan, and was said to have been originally introduced into the island by accident. A vessel having some roots on board was wrecked off the coast here, and these being washed on shore, germinated, grew upon the beach, and were soon after universally cultivated and admired.

Of the salubrity of the Guernsey climate there can be no doubt, as well from the restorative effect produced upon invalid visitors as from the general health and longevity enjoyed by its inhabitants. It is considerably warmer than the southern coast of Devonshire in all seasons, without, however, being more humid, a character which it has rather undeservedly acquired. The heat of summer is tempered by a gentle sea-breeze, and, like all other maritime situations, the cold of winter is mitigated by the caloric imparted to the atmosphere from the surrounding ocean. Frosts are neither severe nor durable; indeed, whole winters often pass away without a single fall of snow. The luxuriance of the various exotics, which flourish at this season unguarded, afford unequivocal evidence of the mildness of the climate. The white double rose camelia blooms abundantly in the month of November, and orange-trees endure the winter with only a slight covering of matting occasionally thrown around them.

The island is easily examined. The northern extremity is narrow, bare, and ugly, a large portion of it having only been reclaimed from the sea a few years ago. The most attractive natural scenery is to be found on the southern and south-western sides; and though it is neither so productive nor so luxuriantly wooded as Jersey, the island is far from being destitute of beautiful localities. Fermain Bay, Petit Bo, and Moulin-Huet, are all three worth a visit, but will certainly not compare with the bays in Jersey. Some interesting Druidical monuments were discovered in the year 1812, having been till that time covered by heaps of sand. Some antique vessels and remains of human bones were found within, and there is also an obelisk of Celtic origin, but without inscription. The best way to see the island to advantage is to make a pedestrian journey round it, doubling the headlands, and skirting the cliffs in every direction.

The bulk of the people of Guernsey maybe divided into two classes — the middle and the labouring, or rather the tradespeople in the town, and the country people, who are very hard-working and abstemious. The jury is unknown in Guernsey: all judicial power is vested in the bailiffs and the jurats, but there is a right of appeal from the Royal Court to the Privy Council. The rate of living is very reasonable, and the hotels are, with the boarding-houses — which are generally preferred by visitors who stop more than a few days — exceedingly liberal in their entertainment and reasonable in their charges.

Not one of the least advantages of the Channel Islands, and of Guernsey in particular, as a place of residence, is the prevailing custom, which exempts from local taxation strangers not possessed of real property in the island, and not carrying on any trade or profession. With the exception of a small duty on spirits, there is an utter absence of all imposts on imported goods, and the visitor is neither plagued with passports nor delayed by the annoyances of a Custom-house scrutiny.

The population of the island is about 30,000, and the annual mortality, as appears from the latest registration in 1847, was only one in about eighty-five. In 1846, the effective strength of the militia was estimated to be about 2,600 men, from sixteen to forty-five years of age, and these are divided into four regiments and an artillery battalion.

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