Several of the towers built on the orders of Jersey's Governor, General (later Field Marshal) Henry Seymour Conway, who was horrified at the state of Jersey's defences when he first came to the island in 1778, six years after his appointment, are no longer standing.
Tower No 8
Some were blown up by the Germans during the Occupation, others fell victim to the weather, but why Tower No 8 at the north of Grouville Bay is no longer there, and exactly when it disappeared, has long been something of a mystery.
Before attempting to unravel that mystery, it is as well to point out that, although the tower is always referred to as Grouville No 8, it did not, in fact, stand in the Parish of Grouville, but just across the border in St Martin.
It is also sometimes erroneously referred to as Grouville No 6, because the other Conway towers in the Royal Bay of Grouville are numbered 1 to 5. However, the two defensive installations which were already in existence on Grouville Common when the coastal towers were built, Fort Henry and Prince William's Redoubt, were assumed to carry the numbers 6 and 7.
The definitive work on the coastal towers - The Coastal Towers of Jersey was written by William Davies and published by La Société Jersiaise in 1991. He barely mentions Grouville No 8, other than to explain why it is not known as No 6 and to describe its disappearance as an 'unsolved mystery'.
- "...with apparently nothing on record as to why or when. It appears on the Godfray map of 1849 and it is plausible that it was demolished to make way for the Jersey Eastern Railway Company's line to Gorey in 1872 or thereabouts. It is a fact, though, that although the railway line passed close by, it was not necessary to demolish the tower on that account. It is odd, to say the least, that no record of its demise so comparatively recently appears to be extant, and raises another mystery in the elusive saga of local towers."
Davis was partly right and partly wrong. Certainly there was no need to demolish the tower to make way for the railway line in 1872, because the line then ended at Gorey Village Station, a few hundred metres short of where the tower stood. When the line was extended north to Gorey Harbour in 1891, the track was laid very close to where the tower stood and it appears from evidence which has now come to light that it was demolished some 20 years before the line extension as a safety measure, because it was believed then that the line of the track would be even closer to the tower.
Jersey Heritage walk
A Jersey Heritage walk leaflet notes:
- "This bay has a perfectly aligned ‘523 paces apart’ series of Jersey Round Towers. Once there were eight positions here, including Fort Henry and Prince William’s Redoubt. The final tower, Grouville Number 8, is believed to have been demolished to make way for the railway".
The National Archive holds a plan apparently dated 1877 showing the site of No 8 tower, a copy of which we have now obtained. It is strange that a plan would have been drawn up then, by which time the tower was almost certainly no longer standing.
The drawing at the top of the page, which has recently been obtained as a high definition image by Jerripedia, was included in William Davis's book. It shows clearly that the tower stood on the shoreline, just to the south of the slipway which gives access to the beach opposite Beach Road. At first sight the tower appears to stand where a row of cottages known as Margaret Cottages were built in the 1990s, but it is actually slightly to the south of that, where Beach Hotel was built, and the foundations of the tower, covered in concrete, can still be seen there.
That places the tower inside St Martin, but in the Grouville millennium book Giles Bois wrote that the tower straddled the parish boundary, a little further south.
He said that the tower's platform was copied by the architects who designed Longbeach Apartments, but cast doubt on whether one of two identical platforms in the design was the original.
- "It is thought that the tower was demolished for fear that the vibrations from trains would make it tumble on to railway land (it was some distance from the acutal track, by as much as its height), or that it had somehow been seriously damaged and was removed as a precaution. It has also been suggested that it was demolished to make way for a shipyard but, as there was a large shipyard nearby, and as the platform was left intact (into the 1880s or '90s) this is not very likely, especially as its date of demolition was rather late in relation to the period of shipbuilding activity."
The States approved the construction of the Jersey Eastern Railway from St Helier to Gorey in 1871. The railway was started in response to a petition by the inhabitants of Gorey, who were jealous at the establishment of a railway in the west of the island. The States passed an Act authorising the construction of the Gorey railway on 31 March 1871 and Royal Assent was received a year later. On 6 April 1873 the Jersey Eastern Railway Company was registered. It had permission to construct a railway from Snow Hill to Gorey, and on to St Catherine, but the final leg was never started.Indeed, it was not until 1891 that the line reached Gorey Pier.
But it is the original intention which, in conjunction with a plan of the tower now held by The National Archive, which seems to be the clue to the tower's fate. The plan was drawn by Edouard Loftus Bland, Colonel Commandant of the Royal Engineers in the island. On it he inscribed: "Tower demolished by WO order 25 May 1871".
What is not clear is whether this inscription means that the tower was demolished on 25 May 1871, or the order to do so was given then and the tower was demolished some time after. Whichever is the case, the tower had certainly gone by 1880, more than ten years before the railway track was extended.
From the earliest days of planning for the railway, the intention was always to continue the line to Gorey Harbour, and ultimately to St Catherine's Breakwater, although this section was never carried out.
Further research by Giles Bois in 2022 on behalf of Jerripedia appears to have solved the mystery. He has discovered a plan for the railway at Jersey Archive which this indicates that it was the original intention for the line to pass much closer to where the tower stood:
- "The States’ plan shows the proposed Gorey Station closer to the coast and well north-east of where it is shown on Col Bland’s plan. The proposed location was to be a few yards inland of the tower, by less than the tower’s diameter. Eventually, the station was built further inland at some distance from the tower, to the north-west. On the States’ plan the track is also further south, running from this position further inland and crossing the eventual line of the track just south-east of where the station was actually built. The track passes into the proposed station and through its centre, widening for some distance before it, and exits as a dotted single track line in the direction of Gorey Harbour. The proposed track is shown to terminate just before St Catherine’s Harbour. The track as built ran along the outside of the station (as built) along a platform on its frontage facing the coast and is shown more parallel to the coast than in the proposed plan. Evidently the proposed run of the track was in a direct line from Grouville Station to the harbour and this is reflected to a lesser extent in its actual run, which approaches the coast at a less extreme angle.
- "Clearly, the very close proximity of the tower to the originally proposed position of the station, was the reason for its demolition. The Tower was built in 1779 (there is an instruction for munitions to be sent to its magazine, which was clean and ready for service), so at the time it was demolished it was eight years short of its centenary. Given that after more than two hundred years, the other towers also finished in that year are still in reasonable condition, the suggestion it was in a dangerous state seems unlikely and certainly it was demolished before the track was in service. Most likely its close proximity to the proposed location of the track led the War Office to anticipate that it would become unstable and pose a direct threat to the railway station to be built in its shadow."
Jersey's railways, from St Helier to St Aubin and then Corbiere in the west, and to Gorey in the east, were planned and constructed in something of a hurry, and the land on which they were laid, either Crown land or public land, was not always acquired by the operating companies, certainly at the outset. The land on which No 8 Tower was built was sold by the Crown in 1905 to Compagnie de Chemin de Fer de L’Est. After the railway ceased operations in 1929 some sections of land on which the track had been laid reverted to public ownership, including the stretch from Gorey Harbour to Gorey Village Station, which is now a promenade. A property known as Brook House was built on the land on which No 8 Tower had stood. This subsequently became Beach Hotel and is now private apartments.
Although photographic studies of coastal views were quite common in the 1860s, there appears to be no surviving photograph of Tower No 8, certainly not from close-up. It seems that it might be possible to identify the tower in the first picture in the gallery below, on the very far left of the image, but this might be wishful thinking, because this picture has been variously dated at 1860 and 1880, either ten years before the tower was demolished or ten years after.
The picture next to it in the top row shows Gorey Village Station with a path to the seaside of the railway track. The tower stood on the line of this path to the left of the flagpole.
Notes and references
- ↑ This extension of the line to St Catherine was abandoned