Coast: Havre des Pas

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Havre des Pas


This article by Doug Ford, a respected authority on Jersey's maritime history, was written as the first part of his Coast series for the Jersey Evening Post, but never published


Early harbour

What I find fascinating about the seaside is that much of what we take for granted today would have been regarded as unusual by people in the past. To the modern eye it is hard to recognise Havre des Pas as a harbour and yet, sheltered by La Collette and Mount Bingham from the prevailing westerly wind, this is exactly what it was – one of the very early 'harbours' serving St Helier. In 1585 Servais Le Vavasseur dit Bois was given the job of collecting the taxes on wine and spirits from incoming ships.

In the 17th century it had the only pier fit for large vessels. This was a lucky thing in 1643, at the beginning of the English Civil War, for the Parliamentarian Lieut-Governor, Major Lydcott and his family, because when Sir George de Carteret landed in the island, he was able to slip away to the safety of England from this pier. In 1680 Colonel Legge described the pier as being 346 feet (about 103 metres) long and able to accommodate ships of between 50 and 100 tons safely. By the end of the century the pier was falling down and, by 1737 a map shows it to have disappeared. The beach was used by small boats for fishing and bringing in seaweed for manure and fuel.

This small corner of St Clement’s Bay took its name from the small medieval Chapel of Notre Dame des Pas, which stood on the south eastern slopes of the Town Hill. Its dedication referred to a natural outcrop of rock, which supposedly contained a footprint (French Pas) of the Virgin Mary. As can be seen from a painting by Scottish artist George Heriot, [1] the original chapel was very similar to the one at La Hougue Bie. When he painted the chapel it was being used to hold services for the English speaking Methodist soldiers of the garrison.It was demolished in 1814 when Fort Regent was being built.

One of the most daring and fortunate men to stroll along the beach at Havre des Pas must have been Jurat Aaron de ste Croix, who, in December 1809, was walking along the beach when he saw a ship in distress heading for the rocks. He immediately got four of his workmen and set off in a small open boat to board the vessel. The boat turned out to be the Calista of London[2], carrying a cargo of coffee and sugar, which had been captured by the French. Addressing the crew in French, they gladly accepted his offer of help as they were not sure of their precise whereabouts, but were astounded when he sailed her into St Helier Harbour, where he claimed her as a legitimate privateering 'prize'.

Havre des Pas shipyards. In the foreground is Thomas Bisson’s yard, and beyond that the vessel on the stocks is being built in the Allix yard

Industrial revolution

In the 19th century this beach was one of the centres of the industrial revolution in the island. No dark satanic mills or factories though, because in Jersey the industrial revolution took place on the beaches, where ships were built. These shipyards were very transient affairs - a fenced-off area in which were a wooden slipway, a couple of sheds to store gear in, a saw pit and a steam box; they often only existed as long as it took to build the ship. Altogether there were twelve different shipbuilders operating at Havre des Pas at different stages during the 19th century. Altogether about 90 vessels, largely cutters and schooners, were launched here. The two best known builders were Matthew Philip Valpy, operating 1838-65, and Francis Allix, operating 1846-77. Small houses were built for the workers.

It was in one of these in Marett Lane that renowned yachtsman and benefactor T B Davis was born. His father sometimes worked in the ship yard, as did his grandfather who lived in nearby Limpet lane. T B Davis (1867-1942) first went to sea from Havre des Pas as a nine-year-old boy on his uncle’s boat Try Me.

As well as ships, ropes were made at Havre des Pas; as early as 1760 George Rowcliff had a rope walk there, and he was followed by Deslandes, de Ste Croix and Jerrom and Son in the 19th century.

When the French politician and writer Victor Hugo came to the Island in exile in 1852, his mistress, Juliette Drouet, followed. While Hugo and his family stayed in Marine Terrace, Drouet and her maid stayed at various properties in Havre des Pas: first at Nelson Hall, overlooking one of the shipyards at the front and a ropewalk behind; then in February 1853 she moved next door to the Green Pigeon public house, both opposite Fort d’Auvergne, before finally moving to Maison du Heaume at the foot of South Hill in 1854.

By the late 1880s building wooden ships was a thing of the past. Havre des Pas was now a tourist destination. One of these tourists was the young composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934), who in July 1890 stayed in the small Ceylon House. He wrote to his friend Edvard Grieg, the Norwegian composer:

"Jersey is a very beautiful place and there is good bathing. I have lodgings near the beach and am also doing some work."

Someone who came as a visitor and who would have played on the sand and swum in the sea at Havre des Pas was a five-year-old T E Lawrence – Lawrence of Arabia. In 1893 the family came to Jersey from their home in Dinard so that when his baby brother was born he would be a British citizen and would not be required to do French National service.

The distinctive balconies of the Ommaroo Hotel

The Prince’s Hotel is named after a former landlord, Mr Prince, rather than an outburst of loyalty to the Crown. It may be built on the site of an earlier hotel, which was open at Havre des Pas in 1835. It delighted in the name of the Crown and Punchbowl and was kept by 'the bonny widow Coutanche'. One of the features of this hotel was “...a spacious balcony overlooking the widow’s little garden, commanding a beautiful prospect of the sea and the promontory of La Collette, where the newly erected Tower seems to fling defiance to the billows of the sea”.

Over the road where the Fort d'Auvergne Hotel now stands was La Garde du Havre des Pas. This was originally built as a guard house in 1756, and then a low wall and a gun platform were added in 1786. Its 18-lb cannon had a range of about a mile and a half. It was named Fort d’Auvergne after Major-General James Dauvergne (1726-99). It was finally demolished at the end of the 19th century and a house, which became the hotel, was built on the site. During the Occupation the hotel was requisitioned by the Germans for use as one of the five officers' clubs in the island.

Further along the beach is the magnificently named Ommaroo Hotel. This is an Anglicised version of a Maori word Oamaru, the name of a town in North Otago, New Zealand. It was built as two private houses, 1 and 2 Ommaroo Terrace, in 1866. It only became a hotel in 1916 when the two buildings were joined up. Its architecture can be described as Gothic Revival and is in two distinct parts; granite and stucco. The stucco facade of the eastern half would not be out of place in New England.

Not quite as grand but with an important place in the Island’s Occupation history was the Silvertide Guest House. This was used by the German Secret Field Police, a group who were often mistakenly referred to as the Gestapo by many islanders. (Actual Gestapo agents only came to the Island once.)

The bathing pool

Mention Havre des Pas to most people and they immediately think of the open air pool. Part swimming pool, part lido, this tidal bathing pool was opened in 1895 on an area of foreshore leased from the Crown known as Les Galots. Bathers enjoyed the luxury of being able to change in a circular granite tower connected to the shore by a footbridge. Over the years extra facilities were added and the pool was especially popular in the 1920s and 1930s. The opening of the indoor swimming pool at Fort Regent in 1972 saw it being used less, and beginning to look run down. A States funded refurbishment scheme in 2000 included a new bridge link, new cafeteria, changing facilities and a new terrace overlooking the pool.

Further reading

Notes and references

  1. George Heriot, the artist, is often confused with his cousin, who had the same name, and was a Canadian Army officer, possibly born in Jersey, but probably also in Scotland
  2. History of the Calista
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