27th August 1872

Work begins on St Helier harbour

Until work began on St Helier Harbour, visitors arriving on the packet steamer had to come ashore in small boats when the tide was out. Thus, almost quarter of a million pounds was put aside to build a 2400ft breakwater protecting a 3600ft landing stage that, together, would service the steamers year-round, whatever the weather or tide. Further funds would be set aside separately for any works that needed to be undertaken within the span of the new harbour arm.

Work begins

Work had to start before the authorities had managed to get anyone of note to lay the foundation stone. As reported in The Times of 27 August 1872, “hopes are entertained that a member of the royal family will be graciously pleased to visit the island for that purpose. Her Majesty has been memorialized to perform the ceremony of laying the stone, but has declined; and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has expressed his inability to attend for the next few weeks.”

Not to be put off, the States persisted in their efforts to attract the Prince of Wales, in the hope that putting off the ceremony for a few days would give him time to reconsider. In the event, he did not, and the foundation stone was laid by John Hammond, chief magistrate of Jersey, two days after work began.

More than 40 proposals

The States had put aside a total of 600 guineas to pay four professional harbour designers to come up with plans, and also allowed submissions from anyone else who had a bright idea for the reconfiguration of the existing facilities. Although these unsolicited designs would not be paid for they nonetheless received a total of 43 proposals for the new harbour’s construction.

Of the three professional designs that went forward to the second stage of the competition, one was by a Mr Giffard, who somewhat ironically drowned on Jersey’s coast immediately after the announcement had been made. Thus, he would never have known that, ultimately, it was not his but John Goode’s design that was acted upon. It was unusual in that while the exterior was to be finished in granite, its core was a mix of concrete and rubble. Noted The Times on 25 October the following year, in reference to the use of concrete for the construction of the harbour lighthouse, “it is the first, but assuredly will not be the last work of its kind executed in this excellent constructive material”.

A great improvement

Completion of the works could not have come soon enough, with several newspapers of the time commenting on how unpleasant it was to transfer between the steam packets and dry land in anything other than high tide. Somehow this was made worse by being tacked on to an almost inevitably rough crossing between Jersey and the mainland. “Only those travellers who have endured the misery of going onboard the Channel Island steamers by small boats can properly appreciate this change,” commented a journalist in the Leamington Spa Courier of 31 August 1872.


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