History Section

La Société Jersiaise

The History Section

La Section d'l'Histouaithe


Annual Report 2001


During 2001 the History Section was involved in a wide range of interests. Members initiated some matters and others were unforeseen. In all the Section had a rewarding year and the membership continues to increase. We meet on the third Tuesday of each month, usually in the Members Room; new members are always welcome.

Blood of the Vikings

In January 2001 the Section became indirectly involved with a BBC Two production Blood of the Vikings. A prime feature of this five-part documentary was swab analysis undertaken by University College London (UCL), in order to determine where different types of Vikings settled in the British Isles by locating pools of their DNA amongst the present population. UCL allocated 2,500 swabs to the British Isles (including the Republic of Ireland) with an extra 200 for the Channel Islands of which Jersey had 120 and Guernsey 80. Selection was restricted to males only because the Y chromosome factor is relevant to males only and is inherited in an unbroken chain from father to son. Other criteria for persons qualified to donate a swab included a local paternal root of five generations and a name known to have been prevalent in the archipelago before 1331 AD. Approximately 140 of the Channel Islands swabs were readable and could be associated with DNA types covering an unbroken chronology from Palaeolithic times onwards. Viking genes do appear but at the time of going to press we are waiting for the formal report by UCL, which is expected to be published in Nature, the highly respected scientific periodical. We are also aware that UCL is interested in continuing further local analysis in the hope of being able to determine a Norman genetic profile. This project has been conducted locally with La Société Guernesiaise and the joint approach has been both rewarding and enjoyable.

La Hougue Boëte

The horse burial at La Hougue Boëte has attracted the Section s attention. These burials are uncommon and this is possibly the only one known within a wide radius. The burial was discovered in 1911 and for many years was considered to be of Neolithic origin. At least five horses were sacrificed and a more recent analysis of the horses teeth judged them to be modern. As considerable doubt now exists about the burial, the History Section has arranged for one of the teeth to be sent for carbon dating to a laboratory in Oxford. This has been made possible by the generous sponsorship of Lloyds TSB Group, to which we are most grateful. The results of the test are expected shortly.

Field Meeting, Brittany

The major event of the Section was the Field Meeting in Brittany, which took place on 20-23 September. Eighteen members travelled to Saint Malo on September 20th, where they were met by Professor Gwyn Meirion-Jones, FSA, the group leader, Professor Michael Jones of Nottingham University and Madame Catherine Laurent, President of the Société d Histoire et d Archéologie de Bretagne.

Activities began immediately upon arrival with an extensive and very informative tour of Dinan, conducted by Monsieur L.-R. Vilbert, Bibliothécaire Municipal de Dinan. The tour culminated at a municipal reception where the Mayor of Dinan cordially welcomed the group.

On September 21st the party boarded the coach for the first full day of the trip. The first stop was at the Abbaye de Beauport, near Paimpol. Now largely a picturesque ruin, the abbey was a large and flourishing community of Premonstratensian canons from the 13th to the 17th centuries. We were surprised to hear that it had been a major staging post on the route to Santiago de Compostela, as many pilgrims travelled by sea and the abbey had its own harbour to receive them.

The afternoon visit was to the Manoir de Lezhildry in Plouguiel, where the owners. Monsieur and Madame M.T. O Laughlin, had skilfully restored the major part of the house, including a renaissance wing of upper and lower galleries furnished with great taste. We then went on to the Château de Coadélan in Prat, a moated manor house developed in the mediaeval and renaissance periods, with an enormous menhir marking the site of two springs, which feed the ponds and moat.

On Saturday we left early bound for the Château de La Hundaudaye, a Château-Fort of the mediaeval period, curiously situated in a valley. It has almost complete curtain walls connecting great round towers. By mid-morning, we were at the Château de Bien-Assis, the home of Madame de Kerjégou. It had developed from a 14th century hall-house, through renaissance extensions and 19th century restoration into a large and comfortable home. The whole house was furnished with pieces ranging from early dower-chests to cabinets of exquisite Sèvres porcelain and fine silver.

The afternoon brought us to the Château de Hac, dating largely from the 15th century with three superimposed halls of great chambers with an oratory, and herb and rose gardens. Returning to Dinan, we were given a grand reception at the new Hotel Jerzual by the Société d Histoire et d Archéologie de Bretagne and other affiliated organizations, at which gifts were exchanged.

The final day began with a visit to the Manoir de la Grand Cour at Taden, an enigmatic large gatehouse dating from the 15th century. We then visited the Maison de l Artiste de la Grande Vigne, where Emeritus Professor Denise Delouche of the Université de Rennes, gave us a guided tour.

The members of the group are very grateful to Professor Meirion-Jones and Professor Jones for their friendly and efficient conduct of the field meeting.

Autumn lunch-time lectures

These lectures are now a feature of the annual calendar; they are given by Section members and are open to the public. The average attendance to each one was over sixty; the programme was deemed to be another success with many congratulations received by the lecturers.

Yvonne Aston gave a talk on local trade in the latter half of the 19th century; she emphasised that the island must trade to survive and she traced the origin of many well-known firms established during the Victorian period. Mervyn Billot s talk was called Ploughing the furrow where he traced the introduction of the tractor to Jersey and the development of the plough as a consequence. Sue Hardy regaled her audience with tales about Lady Otway, the doyenne of local high society in her day and a lady who took the secret of her age to her grave. Lastly, David Levitt spoke on local sundials in Catching the shadow. He explained why sundials do not (as a rule) show clock time and illustrated his talk with Jersey sundials dating from the 12th century. This generated a great deal of interest in his audience, who gave him the location of sundials previously unknown to him.

The Committee

The Section was sad to lose the services as Chairman of David Le Maistre, who had held the position since 1998; we are delighted that he continues as an active member. Mary Billot remains as secretary and handles our minutes in a most effective manner and to whom the Section remains indebted. Regrettably Roger de Carteret is unable to continue a Correspondence Secretary but the long and dedicated time that he has been involved in this role is much appreciated.

Frank Falle

Honorary Chairman