Where was the Hotel de Ville?

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Where was the
Hotel de Ville?

The scene at the Harbour on 9 October 1850 as the ss South Western arrived on the Victoria Pier

Mike Bisson traces the history of St Helier's first town hall

Where was this function held?

Ancient chapel

This magnificent picture, which was published in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise in 1965 is captioned "Oct 9, 1850. The Ancient Chapel, also known as the Hotel de Ville, formerly in Don Street, used at various times for religious services, municipal and social gatherings." There is no reference to a Hotel de Ville, which is French for Town Hall, in any of the recent major histories of Jersey.

However, The Rev Alban E Ragg's Popular History of Jersey, the chapters of which devoted to the 18th century are the most comprehensive and valuable record of that period in the island's history, does give a clue. "Amongst other important matters and events that took placing during the office of this noted Governor (General Don) the most prominent are perhaps the building of a chapel in Don Street for the combined use of the French and English Wesleyans in 1807, this being the first Dissenting place of worship erected on the Island (afterwards, however, on the separation of the two bodies, who then respectively moved to more commodious edifices in Wesley Street and Grove Place), converted into, and for many years known as, the Hotel de Ville. The first Methodist chapel in Jersey was built on the corner of King Street and Don Street in 1790.

The definitive work on the Methodist Church in Jersey, R D Moore's Methodism in the Channel Islands, itself largely a translation of an earlier French work, records: "A Methodist Chapel was just as much needed in Jersey, but to obtain it was a harder task because of the hostility of the authorities. Between £300 and £400 had been subscribed in 1780 but information had been received (from the Dean) that the States would oppose the plan. This proved to be the fact: the Royal Court refused to register the contract of sale to the Methodist Society on the ground that it knew no such body.

Eventually Abraham Jean Bishop, one of the most devoted of the Methodists, on 30 December 1790 bought a house situated in the yard of 22 King Street (then la rue de Derriere'), which also had an entrance in Don Street. The price was £400, of which Brackenbury paid more than half. The Bishop family added about £105, and thus, with the necessary alterations made, the Methodists had a place of their own which served them for twenty-four years."

Ragg is normally very reliable on dates, and his building date of 1807 does not quite fit with the Methodist history's record of the church opening in 1813 ("Don Street, St Helier, 3 January 1813, Preachers: H Mahy, A Ollivier, W Pearson.") - normally buildings of this type went up much faster in this era. Either way it would appear that the new church was built on a different site to the old one. Wesley Street and Grove Street churches, which would eventually replace the Don Street church, opened, respectively, in 1827 and 1847. It seems that the English Methodist community left for Wesley Street and the French community continued to worship at Don Street, because Abraham Le Cras' 1934 Guide to the Island of Jersey, notes that it held two daily services in French. Today's Town Hall, which has a large Assembly Room, but somewhat smaller than that shown in the picture above, was opened in 1872, so it appears that the old Don Street Methodist Chapel served as a Hotel de Ville from 1849 to about 1872.

Which building?

But is the hall pictured here actually the Hotel de Ville. Historian Marie-Louise Backhurst suspects not. She says that there is a picture at La Société Jersiaise of the old chapel being demolished and that the windows do not match those shown in this picture.

"I think that the picture is of a meeting of the Municipality to welcome a French delegation; I believe that it has incorrectly been labelled with it taking place in the Hotel de Ville. The original Methodist chapel was demolished in 1922 and was in among the buildings owned by the Voisin family (originally I think it may be there because Jeanne Bishop, daughter of Abraham, married a Voisin, and Abraham would have been instrumental in building the chapel)."

This fits with the address of 22 King Street, which is immediately next to the Voisin's department store and is now occupied by Clarke's Shoes. It does not make the corner with Don Street, but presumably the property was an l-shape behind the corner property. Voisin's has an entrance further up Don Street, so presumably the second chapel was build somewhere in this area.

Mrs Backhurst notes:

"The chapel was certainly used as the Town Hall; previously meetings were held in the Town Church, then later in pubs and hotels." [1]

French visitors

The occasion was certainly a welcome for a visiting French delegation. There is another picture from earlier in the day showing the paddle steamer ss South Western arriving at the Victoria Pier from Granville with the pier packed with people waving and cheering its arrival.

In the picture above, each of the portraits on the wall between the windows has a Union Flag and Tricolore hanging on either side and the banner at the far end has the words 'Angleterre', 'Union' and 'France' on it.

Mystery solved

Having originally discovered only the pictures on this page without the accompanying article, Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson has now located the missing page which suggests that the building featured was indeed the former chapel in Don Street. The pictures and article were from the 1965 Société bulletin and the article consisted of a summary of a report in the Chronique de Jersey of Saturday 12 October 1850 and official records of the three-day visit to Jersey of officials of Granville and Avranches and the National Guard between Wednesday and Friday of that week.

A footnote to the report notes that the 'ancient chapel' in which the banquet took place was in Don Street, opposite the former Oddfellows Hall, and was occupied by John Tregear, merchant, for many years.

The article was as follows:

"After the arrival of the visitors on Wednesday morning, 9 October, by the ss South Western, they left the Victoria Pier in carriages for a country drive in our pretty rural parishes. The weather was fine and the visitors were agreeably surprised to find on the 'Rock of Jersey' good roads, beautiful villas, green meadows and picturesque views; but that was not all, as they received a hospitable welcome in both east and west of the Island.
"On arrival at the Parish of St Peter they were received at the entrance of the Parish Hall by the Rector (the Reverend Le Hardy) with Constable Simon and officals; these gentlemen invited the visitors to partake of refreshments in the Municipal Hall, and the Reverend Le Hardy spoke words of welcome and friendship.
The French visitors arrive at St Peter's Parish Hall
"The visitors then made their way to the Port of Gorey where an equally friendly reception was held at the British Hotel. Here they were received by the Chef de Police. They then returned to St Helier.
"At about 4 pm they all met in the Royal Square, and an hour later, headed by their Band they proceeded to the Banquet Hall, the ancient Chapel in Don Street. Unfortunately a certain amount of confusion reigned. Lieut-Colonel Edward Sullivan, Commandant of the 5th Regiment Royal Militia of Jersey, presided and five toasts were honoured, but because of the prevailing noise neither the speeches of the Honourable M Bouvallier, representing the people of France and Mayor of Avranches, or that of M Boniface, Mayor of Granville, could be heard.
"Vice-presidents at the Banquet were Captain and Adjutant E Nicolle of the 5th Regiment and Captain J P Ahier of the 4th Regiment Royal Militia of Jersey."
"The Commissaires were Col Marett, Seigneur de la Haule; T H Pipon, Seigneur de la Hague; W G Dumaresq; D d'Auvergne-Dumaresq; H M C Kingsley; Capt Dixon (Gros Puits); J Bowden; John Sullivan.
"The next day, Thursday, the principal civil and military authorities attended lunch at the Temperance Hall, to which they had been invited by the Constable, Advocate Pierre Le Sueur, and the four Centeniers of St Helier and the Temperance Society. Speeches were made by J M Nicklin, president of the Sons of Temperance, the Mayor of Avranches, representing the People of the National Assembly of France, the Mayor of Granville and the Constable of St Helier.
"After the lunch the authorities then went to the Royal Court, where the Assise d'Heritage was being held in the presence of the Lieut-Governor and his staff officers. After the cveremony the Mayors of Granville and Avranches and some of their compatriots were introduced to the Lieut-Governor, the Bailiff and the Jurats of the Royal Court. A visit was then made to the Galerie Le Capelain, where paintings excited their admiration; the Public Library and the Arsenal of St Helier.
An 1834 map of St Helier shows clearly the position of the Methodist chapel. There are two churches in the top centre of this section of the map, the one on the left being the original St Paul's Church, with its entrance on New Street and to its right the Methodist chapel, which became the Hotel de Ville. THe building is certainly behind No 22 King Street, but some way behind it, beyond the town brook which crosses the upper section of the map from right to left.
"In the evening the visitors had been invited by Abraham de Gruchy, merchant of King Street, to dine at his residence, Langley House, St Saviour; after this dinner they went to the United Club where a champagne party was held in their honour. The Reform Club had also invited several officers of the National Guard to an afternoon reception.
"On Friday morning about 11 am the visitors reassembled in the Royal Square, they then formed a procession to the Quay where the South Western was waiting to take them back to Granville. On arrival at the Victoria Pier a halt was made, and Lt-Col Sullivan made a presentation to M Valesqui, Commandant of the National Guard of Granville. This was an English flag bearing the inscription 'The 5th Regiment of the Royal Militia of Jersey to the National Guard of Granville, Oct 1850'. Embarcation followed, with 'hurrahs' from the Jersey crowd answered by those on board the boat, which then left for Granville. "


Jerripedia editor Mike Bisson is pleased that the identity of the location of the banquet has been confirmed and says that it sounds as typically alcohol-fuelled occasion as any gathering of islanders and their cousins from the Cotentin Peninsula he has ever experienced.

He notes that the 1850 visit and the importance attached to it shows that only 69 years after Jersey was last invaded by its much larger neighbour, it clearly had its own version of Entente Cordiale 54 years before the UK got around to it.

Further information

Further information keeps coming to light about the Hotel de Ville. The Methodist Chapel and land in Don Street was acquired by Charles Louis Poingnand on 3 March 1849. The property was bordered on the south by the town brook and the east by Don Street, which definitely places it on the west side of the street.

And a close study of Elias Le Gros' 1834 map (right) of the town of St Helier reveals exactly where the chapel was situated, some way further up Don Street and away from King Street than other records suggest.

According to late 19th century almanacs, the Hotel de Ville was operated by Mr Poignand as a 'place of entertainment' some time after the parish of St Helier had ceased to have need of its facilities because the new Town Hall had been completed.


Newspaper records

Information about the Hotel de Ville keeps coming to light, and further research in 2021 established that the black-and-white pictures above were copies of original colour paintings by Jersey artist Philip Ouless who was commissioned to record what was clearly a very important visit by the French delegation in 1850

Ouless painting of a second grand meal at the Hotel de Ville

Notes and references

  1. Parish notices in newspapers in the early 19th century confirm that the Hotel de L'Union in the market square, later the Royal Square, was the venue for parish meetings
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