1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Channel Islands

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CHANNEL ISLANDS (French Îles Normandes), a group of islands in the English Channel, belonging (except the Îles Chausey) to Great Britain. (For map, see England, Section VI.) They lie between 48° 50′ and 49° 45′ N., and 1° 50′ and 2° 45′ W., along the French coast of Cotentin (department of Manche), at a distance of 4 to 40 m. from it, within the great rectangular bay of which the northward horn is Cape La Hague. The greater part of this bay is shallow, and the currents among the numerous groups of islands and rocks are often dangerous to navigation. The nearest point of the English coast to the Channel Islands is Portland Bill, a little over 50 m. north of the northernmost outlier of the islands. The total land area of the islands is about 75 sq. m. (48,083 acres), and the population in 1901 was 95,618. The principal individual islands are four:—Jersey (area 45 sq. m., pop. 52,576), Guernsey (area 24.5 sq. m., pop. 40,446), Alderney (area 3.06 sq. m., pop. 2062), and Sark (area nearly 2 sq. m., pop. 504). Each of these islands is treated in a separate article. The chief town and port of Jersey is St Helier, and of Guernsey St Peter Port; a small town on Alderney is called St Anne. Regular communication by steamer with Guernsey and Jersey is provided on alternate days from Southampton and Weymouth, by steamers of the London & South-Western and Great Western railway companies of England. Railway communications within the islands are confined to Jersey. Regular steamship communications are kept up from certain French ports, and locally between the larger islands. In summer the islands, especially Jersey, Guernsey and Sark, are visited by numerous tourists, both from England and from France.

The islands fall physically into four divisions. The northernmost, lying due west of Cape La Hague, and separated therefrom by the narrow Race of Alderney, includes that island, Burhou and Ortach, and numerous other islets west of it, and west again the notorious Casquets, an angry group of jagged rocks, on the largest of which is a powerful lighthouse. Doubtful tradition places here the wreck of the “White Ship,” in which William, son of Henry I., perished in 1120; in 1744 the “Victory,” a British man-of-war, struck on one of the rocks, and among calamities of modern times the wreck of the “Stella,” a passenger vessel, in 1899, may be recalled. The second division of islands is also the most westerly; it includes Guernsey with a few islets to the west, and to the east, Sark, Herm, Jethou (inhabited islands) and others. The strait between Guernsey and Herm is called Little Russel, and that between Herm and Sark Great Russel. Sark is famous for its splendid cliffs and caves, while Herm possesses the remarkable phenomenon of a shell-beach, or shore, half-a-mile in length, formed wholly of small shells, which accumulate in a tidal eddy formed at the north of the island. To the south-east of these, across the channel called La Déroute, lies Jersey, forming, with a few attendant islets, of which the Ecréhou to the north-east are the chief, the third division. The fourth and southernmost division falls into two main subdivisions. The Minquiers, the more western, are a collection of abrupt rocks, the largest of which, Maîtresse Ile, affords a landing and shelter for fishermen. Then eastern subdivision, the Îles Chausey, lies about 9 m. west by north of Granville (to which commune they belong) on the French coast, and belongs to France. These rocks are close set, low and curiously regular in form. On Grande Ile, the only permanently inhabited island (pop. 100), some farming is carried on, and several of the islets are temporarily inhabited by fishermen. There is also a little granite-quarrying, and seaweed-burning employs many.

None of the islands is mountainous, and the fine scenery for which they are famous is almost wholly coastal. In this respect each main island has certain distinctive characteristics. Bold cliffs are found on the south of Alderney; in Guernsey they alternate with lovely bays; Sark is specially noted for its magnificent sea-caves, while the coast scenery of Jersey is on the whole more gentle than the rest.

Geology.—Geologically, the Channel Islands are closely related to the neighbouring mainland of Normandy. With a few exceptions, to be noted later, all the rocks are of pre-Cambrian, perhaps in part of Archean age. They consist of massive granites, gneisses, diorites, porphyrites, schists and phyllites, all of which are traversed by dykes and veins. In Jersey we find in the north-west corner a granitic tract extending from Grosnez to St Mary and St John, beyond which it passes into a small granulitic patch. South of the granites is a schistose area, by St Ouen and St Lawrence, and reaching to St Aubin’s Bay. Granitic masses again appear round St Brelade’s Bay. The eastern half of the island is largely occupied by porphyrites and similar rocks (hornstone porphyry) with rhyolites and denitrified obsidians; some of the latter contain large spherulites with a diameter of as much as 24 in.; these are well exposed in Bouley Bay; a complex igneous and intrusive series of rocks lies around St Helier. In the north-east corner of the island a conglomerate, possibly of Cambrian age, occurs between Bouley Bay and St Catherine’s Bay. Tracts of blown-sand cover the ground for some distance north of St Clement’s Bay and again east of St Ouen’s Bay. In the sea off the latter bay a submerged forest occurs. The northern half of Guernsey is mainly dioritic, the southern half, below St Peter, is occupied by gneisses. Several patches of granite and granulite fringe the western coast, the largest of these is a hornblende granite round Rocquaine Bay. Hornblende gneiss from St Sampson and quartz diorite from Capelles, Corvée and elsewhere are transported to England for road metal. Sark is composed almost wholly of hornblende-schists and gneisses with hornblendic granite at the north end of the island, in Little Sark and in the middle of Bréchou. Dykes of diabase and diorite are abundant. Alderney consists mainly of hornblende granite and granulite, which are covered on the east by two areas of sandstone which may be of Cambrian age. An enstatite-augite-diorite is sent from Alderney for road-making. Besides the submerged forest on the coast of Jersey already mentioned, there are similar occurrences near St Peter Port and St Sampson’s harbour, and in Vazon Bay in Guernsey. Raised beaches are to be seen at several points in the islands.

Climate.—The climate is mild and very pleasant. In Jersey the mean temperature for twenty years is found to be—in January (the coldest month) 42.1° F., in August (the hottest) 63°, mean annual 51.7°. In Guernsey the figures are, for January 42.5°, for August 59.7°, mean annual 49.5°. The mean annual rainfall for twenty-five years in Jersey is 34.21 in., and in Guernsey 38.64 in. The average amount of sunshine in Jersey is considerably greater than in the most favoured spots on the south coast of England; and in Guernsey it is only a little less than in Jersey. Snow and frost are rare, and the seasons of spring and autumn are protracted. Thick sea-fogs are not uncommon, especially in May and June.

Flora and Fauna.—The flora of the islands is remarkably rich, considering their extent, nearly 2000 different species of plants having been counted throughout the group. Of timber properly speaking there is little, but the evergreen oak, the elm and the beech are abundant. Wheat is the principal grain in cultivation; but far more ground is taken up with turnips and potatoes, mangold, parsnip and carrot. The tomato ripens as in France, and the Chinese yam has been successfully grown. There is a curious cabbage, chiefly cultivated in Jersey, which shoots up into a long woody stalk from 10 to 15 ft. in height, fit for walking-sticks or palisades. Grapes and peaches come to perfection in greenhouses without artificial heat; and not only apples and pears but oranges and figs can be reared in the open air. The arbutus ripens its fruit, and the camellia clothes itself with blossom, as in more southern climates; the fuchsia reaches a height of 15 or 20 ft., and the magnolia attains the dimensions of a tree. Of the flowers, both indigenous and exotic, that abound throughout the islands, it is sufficient to mention the Guernsey lily with its rich red petals, which is supposed to have been brought from Japan.

The number of the species of the mammalia is little over twenty, and several of these have been introduced by man. There is a special breed of horned cattle, and each island has its own variety, which is carefully kept from all intermixture. The animals are small and delicate, and marked by a peculiar yellow colour round the eyes and within the ears. The red deer was once indigenous, and the black rat is still common in Alderney, Sark and Herm. The list of birds includes nearly 200 species, nearly 100 of which are permanent inhabitants of the islands. There are few localities in the northern seas which are visited by a greater variety of fish, and the coasts abound in crustacea, shell-fish and zoophytes.

Government.—For the purposes of government the Channel Islands (excluding the French Chauseys) are divided into two divisions:—(1) Jersey, and (2) the bailiwick of Guernsey, which includes Alderney, Sark, Herm and Jethou with the island of Guernsey. The constitutions of each division are peculiar and broadly similar, but differing in certain important details; they may therefore be considered together for the sake of comparison. Until 1854 governors were appointed by the crown; now a separate military lieutenant-governor is appointed for each division on the recommendation of the war office after consultation with the home office. The other crown officials are the bailiff (bailli) or chief magistrate, the procureur du roi, representing the attorney-general, and the avocat du roi, or in Guernsey the contrôle, representing the solicitor-general. In Jersey the vicomte is also appointed by the crown, in the position of a high sheriff (and coroner); but his counterpart in Guernsey, the prévôt, is not so appointed. The bailiff in each island is president of the royal court, which is composed of twelve jurats, elected for life, in Jersey by the ratepayers of each parish, in Guernsey by the Elective States, a body which also elects the prévôt, who, with the jurats, serves upon it. The rest of the body is made up of the rectors of the parishes, the douzaines, or elected parish councils (“dozens,” from the original number of their members) of the town parish of St Peter Port, the four cantons, and the county parishes, and certain other officials. The royal court administers justice (but in Jersey there is a trial by jury for criminal cases), and in Guernsey can pass temporary ordinances subject to no higher body. It also puts forward projets de loi for the approval of the Deliberative States. Alderney and Sark have a separate legal existence with courts dependent on the royal court of Guernsey. In both Jersey and Guernsey the chief administrative body is the Deliberative States. The Jersey States is composed of the lieutenant-governor (who has a veto on the deliberation of any question, but no vote), the bailiff, jurats, parish rectors, parish constables and deputies, the procureur and avocat, with right to speak but no vote, and the vicomte, with right of attendance only. Besides the veto of the lieutenant-governor, the bailiff has the power to dissent from any measure, in which case it is referred to the privy council. In Guernsey the States consists of the bailiff, jurats, eight out of ten rectors, the procureur and deputies; while the lieutenant-governor is always invited and may speak if he attends. By both States local administration is carried on (largely through committees); and relations with the British parliament are maintained through the privy council. Acts of parliament are transmitted to the islands by an order in council to be registered in the rolls of the royal court, and are not considered to be binding until this is done; moreover, registration may be held over pending discussion by the States if any act is considered to menace the privileges of the islands. The right of the crown to legislate by order in council is held to be similarly limited. In cases of encroachment on property, a remarkable form of appeal of very ancient origin called Clameur de Haro survives (see Haro, Clameur de). The islands are in the diocese of Winchester, and there is a dean in both Jersey and Guernsey, who is also rector of a parish.

These peculiar constitutions are of local development, the history of which is obscure. The bailiff was originally assisted in his judicial work by itinerant justices; their place was later taken by the elected jurats; later still the practice of summoning the States to assist in the passing of Ordinances was established by the bailiff and jurats, and at last the States claimed the absolute right of being consulted. This was confirmed to them in 1771.

It is characteristic of these islands that there should be compulsory service in the militia. In Jersey and Alderney every man between the ages of sixteen and forty-five is liable, but in Jersey after ten years’ service militiamen are transferred to the reserve. In Guernsey the age limit is from sixteen to thirty-three, and the obligation is extended to all who are British subjects, and draw income from a profession practised in the island. Garrisons of regular troops are maintained in all three islands. Taxation is light in the islands, and pauperism is practically unknown.

In 1904 the revenue of Jersey was £70,191, and its expenditure £69,658; the revenue of Guernsey was £79,334, and the expenditure £43,385. The public debt in the respective islands was £322,070 and £195,794. In Jersey the annual revenues from crown rights (principally seigneurial dues, houses and lands and tithes) amount to about £2700, and about £360 is remitted to the paymaster-general. In Guernsey these revenues, in which the principal item is fines on transference of property (treizièmes or fees), amount to about £4500, and about £1000 is remitted. In Alderney the revenues (chiefly from harbour dues) amount to about £1400.

In Jersey the English gold and silver coinage are current, but there is a local copper coinage and local one-pound notes are issued. Guernsey has also such notes, and its copper coinage consists of pence, halfpence, two-double and one-double (one-eighth of a penny) pieces. A Guernsey pound is taken as equal to 24 francs, and English and French currency pass equally throughout the islands.

Industry.—The old Norman system of land-tenure has survived, and the land is parcelled out among a great number of small proprietors; holdings ranging from 5 to 25 acres as a rule. The results of this arrangement seem to be favourable in the extreme. Every corner of the ground is carefully and intelligently cultivated, and a considerable proportion is allotted to market-gardening. The cottages are neat and comfortable, the hedges well-trimmed, and the roads kept in excellent repair. There is a considerable export trade in agricultural produce and stock, including vegetables and fruit, in fish (the fisheries forming an important industry) and in stone. There is no manufacture of importance. The inhabitants share in common the right of collecting and burning seaweed (called vraic) for manure. The cutting of the weed (vraicking) became a ceremonial occasion, taking place at times fixed by the government, and connected with popular festivities.

Language.—The language spoken in ordinary life by the inhabitants of the islands is in great measure the same as the old Norman French. The use of the patois has decreased naturally in modern times. Modern French is the official language, used in the courts and states, and English is taught in the parochial schools, and is familiar practically to all. The several islands have each its own dialect, differing from that of the others in vocabulary and idiom; differences are also observable in different localities within the same island, as between the north and the south of Guernsey. None of the dialects has received much literary cultivation, though Jersey is proud of being the birthplace of one of the principal Norman poets, Wace, who flourished in the 12th century.

History.—The original ethnology and pre-Christian history of the Channel Islands are largely matters of conjecture and debate. Of early inhabitants abundant proof is afforded by the numerous megalithic monuments—cromlechs, kistvaens and maenhirs—still extant. But little trace has been left of Roman occupation, and such remains as have been discovered are mainly of the portable description that affords little proof of actual settlement, though there may have been an unimportant garrison here. The constant recurrence of the names of saints in the place-names of the islands, and the fact that pre-Christian names do not occur, leads to the inference that before Christianity was introduced the population was very scanty. It may be considered to have consisted originally of Bretons (Celts), and to have received successively a slight admixture of Romans and Legionaries, Saxons and perhaps Jutes and Vandals. Christianity may have been introduced in the 5th century. Guernsey is said to have been visited in the 6th century by St Sampson of Dol (whose name is given to a small town and harbour in the island), St Marcou or Marculfus and St Magloire, a friend and fellow-evangelist of St Sampson, who founded monasteries at Sark and at Jersey, and died in Jersey in 575. Another evangelist of this period was St Helerius, whose name is borne by the chief town of Jersey, St Helier. In his life it is stated that the population of the island when he reached it was only 30. In 933 the islands were made over to William, duke of Normandy (d. 943), and after the Norman conquest of England their allegiance shifted between the English crown and the Norman coronet according to the vicissitudes of war and policy. During the purely Norman period they had been enriched with numerous ecclesiastical buildings, some of which are still extant, as the chapel of Rozel in Jersey.

In the reign of John of England the future of the islands was decided by their attachment to the English crown, in spite of the separation of the duchy of Normandy. To John it has been usual to ascribe a document, at one time regarded by the islanders as their Magna Carta; but modern criticism leaves little doubt that it is not genuine. An unauthenticated “copy” of uncertain origin alone has been discovered, and there is little proof of there ever having been an original. The reign of Edward I. was full of disturbance; and in 1279 Jersey and Guernsey received from the king, by letters patent, a public seal as a remedy for the dangers and losses which they had incurred by lack of such a certificate. Edward II. found it necessary to instruct his collectors not to treat the islanders as foreigners: his successor, Edward III., fully confirmed their privileges, immunities and customs in 1341; and his charter was recognized by Richard II. in 1378. In 1343 there was a descent of the French on Guernsey; the governor was defeated, and Castle Cornet besieged. In 1372 there was another attack on Guernsey, and in 1374 and 1404 the French descended on Jersey. None of these attempts, however, resulted in permanent settlement. Henry V. confiscated the alien priories which had kept up the same connexion with Normandy as before the conquest, and conferred them along with the regalities of the islands on his brother, the duke of Bedford. During the Wars of the Roses, Queen Margaret, the consort of Henry VI., made an agreement with Pierre de Brézé, comte de Maulevrier, the seneschal of Normandy, that if he afforded assistance to the king he should hold the islands independently of the crown. A force was accordingly sent to take possession of Mont Orgueil. It was captured and a small part of the island subjugated, and here Maulevrier remained as governor from 1460 to 1465; but the rest held out under Sir Philip de Carteret, seigneur of St Ouen, and in 1467 the vice-admiral of England, Sir Richard Harliston, recaptured the castle and brought the foreign occupation to an end. In 1482–1483 Pope Sixtus IV., at the instance of King Edward IV., issued a bull of anathema against all who molested the islands; it was formally registered in Brittany in 1484, and in France in 1486; and in this way the islands acquired the right of neutrality, which they retained till 1689. In the same reign (Edward IV.) Sark was taken by the French, and only recovered in the reign of Mary, by the strategy (according to tradition) of landing from a vessel a coffin nominally containing a body for burial, but in reality filled with arms. By a charter of 1494, the duties of the governors of Jersey were defined and their power restricted; and the educational interests of the island were furthered at the same time by the foundation of two grammar schools. The religious establishments in the islands were dissolved, as in England, in the reign of Henry VIII. The Reformation was heartily welcomed in the islands. The English liturgy was translated into French for their use. In the reign of Mary there was much religious persecution; and in that of Elizabeth Roman Catholics were maltreated in their turn. In 1568 the islands were attached to the see of Winchester, being finally separated from that of Coutances, with which they had long been connected, with short intervals in the reign of John, when they had belonged to the see of Exeter, and that of Henry VI., when they had belonged to Salisbury.

The Presbyterian form of church government was adopted under the influence of refugees from the persecution of Protestantism on the continent. It was formally sanctioned in St Helier and St Peter Port by Queen Elizabeth; and in 1603 King James enacted that the whole of the islands “should quietly enjoy their said liberty.” During his reign, however, disputes arose. An Episcopal party had been formed in Jersey, and in 1619 David Bandinel was declared dean of the island. A body of canons which he drew up agreeable to the discipline of the Church of England was accepted after considerable modification by the people of his charge; but the inhabitants of Guernsey maintained their Presbyterian practices. Of the hold which this form of Protestantism had got on the minds of the people even in Jersey abundant proof is afforded by the general character of the worship at the present day.

In the great struggle between king and parliament, Presbyterian Guernsey supported the parliament; in Jersey, however, there were at first parliamentarian and royalist factions. Sir Philip de Carteret, lieutenant-governor, declared for the king, but Dean Bandinel and Michael Lemprière, a leader of the people, headed the parliamentary party. They received a commission for the apprehension of Carteret, who established himself in Elizabeth Castle; but after some fighting had taken place he died in the castle in August 1643. Meanwhile in Guernsey Sir Peter Osborne, the governor, was defying the whole island and maintaining himself in Castle Cornet. A parliamentarian governor, Leonard Lydcott, arrived in Jersey immediately after Sir Philip de Carteret’s death. But the dowager Lady Carteret was holding Mont Orgueil; George Carteret, Sir Philip’s nephew, arrived from St Malo to support the royalist cause, and Lydcott and Lemprière presently fled to England. George Carteret established himself as lieutenant-governor and bailiff. Bandinel was imprisoned in Mont Orgueil, and killed himself in trying to escape. Jersey was now completely royalist. In 1646 the prince of Wales, afterwards Charles II., arrived secretly at Jersey, and remained over two months at Elizabeth Castle. He went on to France, but returned in 1649, having been proclaimed king by George Carteret, and at Elizabeth Castle he signed the declaration of his claims to the throne on the 29th of October. In 1651, when Charles had fled to France again after the battle of Worcester, parliamentarian vessels of war appeared at Jersey. The islanders, weary of the tyrannical methods of their governor, now Sir George Carteret, offered little resistance. On the 15th of December the royalist remnant yielded up Elizabeth Castle; and at the same time Castle Cornet, Guernsey, which had been steadily held by Osborne, capitulated. In each case honourable terms of surrender were granted. Both islands had suffered severely from the struggle, and the people of Guernsey, appealing to Cromwell on the ground of their support of his cause, complained that two-thirds of the land was out of cultivation, and that they had lost “their ships, their traffic and their trading.” After the Restoration there was considerable improvement, and in the reign of James II. the islanders got a grant of wool for the manufacture of stockings—4000 tods[1] of wool being annually allowed to Jersey, 2000 to Guernsey, 400 to Alderney and 200 to Sark. Alderney, which had been parliamentarian, was granted after the Restoration to the Carteret family; and it continued to be governed independently till 1825.

By William of Orange the neutrality of the islands was abolished in 1689, and during the war between England and France (1778–1783) there were two unsuccessful attacks on Jersey, in 1779 and 1781, the second, under Baron de Rullecourt, being famous for the victory over the invaders due to the bravery of the young Major Peirson, who fell when the French were on the point of surrender. During the revolutionary period in France the islands were the home of many refugees. In the 18th century various attempts were made to introduce the English custom-house system; but proved practically a failure, and the islands throve on smuggling and privateering down to 1800.

Authorities.—Heylin, Relation of two Journeys (1656); P. Falle, Account of the Island of Jersey (1694; notes, &c., by E. Durell, Jersey, 1837); J. Duncan, History of Guernsey (London, 1841); P. le Geyt, Sur les constitutions, les lois et les usages de cette île [Jersey], ed. R. P. Marett (Jersey, 1846–1847); F. B. Tupper, Chronicles of Castle Cornet, Guernsey (2nd ed. London, 1851), and History of Guernsey and its Bailiwick (Guernsey, 1854); S. E. Hoskins, Charles II. in the Channel Islands (London, 1854), and other works; Delacroix, Jersey, ses antiquités, &c. (Jersey, 1859); T. le Cerf, L’archipel des Îles Normandes (Paris, 1863); G. Dupont, Le Cotentin et ses îles (Caen, 1870–1885); J. P. E. Havet, Les Cours royales des Îles Normandes (Paris, 1878); E. Pégot-Ogier, Histoire des Îles de la Manche (Paris, 1881); C. Noury, Géologie de Jersey (Paris and Jersey, 1886); D. T. Ansted and R. G. Latham, Channel Islands (1865; 3rd ed., rev. by E. T. Nicolle, London, 1893), the principal general work of reference; Sir E. MacCulloch, Guernsey Folklore, ed. Edith F. Carey (London, 1903); E. F. Carey, Channel Islands (London, 1904).

  1. A tod generally equalled 28 ℔.