A Royal Day Out – Queen Victoria in Gorey

September 2, 1846

Queen Victoria is coming and the Island is on fire. It is a hot night for fireworks, and some fool at Noirmont has set the entire hillside ablaze. The flames rage uncontrolled for hours, burning bright like a wild beacon from Norman days. The sleek Royal Yacht, the Victoria and Albert, is safely anchored far below in the darkness, nestled deep in the black embracing reach of St Aubin’s Bay. The immaculately liveried crew note the fire raging onshore and silently resume their duties. Suddenly the sky above is drenched in light again, as welcoming rockets explode like meteors over the bay. It is eleven o’clock and the royal couple stay out on deck, feasting their eyes on the extravaganza.

Philip John Ouless (1817-1885) artwork. Image source: (c) That Was Jersey, courtesy of Jersey Library and Jersey Archive at www.jeron.je

The hot September morning finally breaks. Twenty-seven year old Victoria awakes to sunlight sparkling over the deep ultramarine waters of St. Aubin’s Bay. The young Queen is astounded by the view; it is as beautiful as the Bay of Naples, she remarks to her husband. Albert, no stranger to the charms of the Neapolitan Riviera, dutifully agrees.

The energy and feverish optimism in the Island is contagious. Delirious crowds surge forward at the harbour, ready to throw flowers before their Sovereign. Parish Constables are fervently adding the finishing touches to magnificent floral arches. Destiny is calling little Jersey, if only for a day. The British Empire is ascending to greatness and the Queen commands the Workshop of the World, where a new era of Progress and Peace is self-evidently dawning. She is Defender of the Faith and Mother of the Nation. And best of all, she is our beloved Duc de Normandie, coming home to her oldest realm and surely its most beautiful Parish.

The Royal carriage is on its way to St Martin now, charging at a gallop through Five Oaks and making good time on the country roads. “It is extremely pretty and very green – orchards without end”, the Sovereign will note in her private diary later that evening.

Queen Victoria at last crosses into our tiny, loyal parish of St Martin-le-Vieux. The Royal carriage speeds downhill through Faldouet, shielded from the hot sun by the natural arch of trees over the road. And as the carriage clatters to a halt in front of Mont Orgueil, cheers erupt like fireworks. The parishioners of St Martin erupt in loud and loyal acclamation: “God Save Victoria!”

The arrival of Her Majesty at Mont Orguiel

Philip John Ouless (1817-1885) artwork. Image source: (c) That Was Jersey, courtesy of Jersey Library and Jersey Archive at www.jeron.je

Text from A Royal Day Out: Young Victoria in Gorey (published in Les Nouvelles de St Martin, May 2014)

The Glass Church – Where the Sand Dunes Met the Potato Fields

 The Glass Church is an astonishing, sublime masterpiece. But in the very beginning, in the place where the mill brook flowed into the open sand dunes of St Aubin’s Bay, there was just an empty field. It was on 17 February 1840 that this was purchased by the Rectors of St Lawrence and St Peter for the fine total of 62 pounds, 8 shillings and sixpence. They had purchased a vergée of land for the express purpose of “building a chapel of ease, to celebrate divine worship following the rites of the Anglican church”.

The fledgling church is mentioned, just in passing as a landmark, in guidebooks from the 1840s. So in the Victorian age before the glass, before the masterpiece, there was just a nondescript chapel with a mixed school attached, to serve the burgeoning community of Millbrook. So let us begin the story of St Matthew’s Church as the headmaster’s logbook opens in the distant Jersey summer of 1894.

Photo Source: The IslandWiki

It was an age of transition. In 1894, the British Empire was at its zenith, but the world was changing fast. This was the year that Gladstone relinquished the keys to Downing Street for the last time. Thomas Spencer decided to join his friend Michael Marks in a new retail venture. Meanwhile, a vigorous Nottingham entrepreneur named Jesse Boot, at the height of his powers, opened a swathe of his eponymous chemists’ stores across the Midlands. Death duties were passed into law on the mainland, the first of the New Liberal social reforms that would eventually transform the old Victorian order.

Steam locomotives, the marvel of the modern world, now snaked across the coasts of old Jersey, Where Victoria Avenue abruptly ended and petered out into the sandy scrubland, Millbrook railway station stood at the heart of the bay, a stone’s throw from the church and the school.

The St Matthew’s school logbook, painstakingly completed by the incumbent head teacher for 26 years, is a treasure trove of insight into the hard times of a scrappy, struggling school, clinging to the skirts of its mother church, striving to educate generations in this harsh land where the sand dunes met the potato fields.

From the forthcoming guidebook to St Matthew’s Glass Church (2015)