Stories of seaweed, love and a new season

By Suzi Austin, Jersey Heritage communications manager

Site gardien Jacques Le Breton working at Elizabeth Castle parade ground. Jersey Heritage
Site gardien Jacques Le Breton working at Elizabeth Castle parade ground. Jersey Heritage

It was an unusual start to the year for Jersey Heritage – the pandemic meant that we began 2021 with all of our visitor sites closed to the public – but it’s been full steam ahead over the past few weeks as we prepare for the new season later this month.

We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back to Elizabeth Castle, Hamptonne Country Life Museum and La Hougue Bie, which temporarily close their doors over the winter months, regardless of pandemics. Our other sites will also be switching from winter opening hours so that from 17 March, all the castles and museums will be open daily.

Although the winter months are a quieter time, work behind the scenes never stops and the Jersey Heritage team has been continuing to care for all the historic sites, open or closed. Cleaning, sweeping, building and mending – there is always a long list of jobs to be done to keep the sites looking beautiful and safe for visitors. The popular Castle Ferries have been out of the water and undergoing their annual maintenance and elsewhere staff have been busy cutting back greenery, repainting woodwork, checking exhibits and hanging new signs.

We’ve also been making sure that our health and safety measures, including one-way systems and traffic lights, are working smoothly so that our sites continue to meet the requirements of Jersey’s Visit Safe charter. It’s vital that visitors exploring Jersey’s history can feel confident that their wellbeing is safeguarded every step of the way.

Staff at the Archive have been busy as well and we were pleased last month to be able to provide two weeks of free access to the fascinating Bailiff’s files from the Occupation years and Liberation, thanks to support from the Association of Jersey Charities. The entire collection of over 3,000 files, comprising nearly 40,000 individual pages, was conserved and digitised over the past year and they are now available on the Archives and Collections Online catalogue.

Heritage Lets

Investment has continued with our Heritage Lets over the past few months. Our unique self-catering properties have proved more popular than ever with Islanders, who have been booking staycations in the historic forts, towers and apartments. Our future bookings for this time of the year are currently at an all-time high and we are delighted with this support.

The properties are scrupulously cleaned in between bookings but the team still found time recently to upgrade some of the furniture at the Radio Tower. Getting two sofas up to the fifth floor of the tower proved to be something of a conundrum. Thankfully, Fetch and Karrie provided a bespoke solution by hoisting them up externally.

Hamptonne

At Hamptonne the team have been gradually ticking things off the list as they prepare to reopen, including creating new steps up to the play area – work that can’t be done when the site is open – and digging beds for Pollinator Project patches, where seeds have been sown for native wildflowers to attract bees and other insect pollinators.

Not so long ago we received planning permission for the new museum building at the site, which will be dedicated to the Island’s farming heritage. We hope to have more news about this soon.

Vraic

Who knew that seaweed would be such a hit! February is the month when traditionally farmers would start collecting vraic from the beaches to fertilise the fields and produce wonderfully tasty Jersey Royals. To mark this, we pulled together stories about the tradition and shared them online via our website and social media platforms, with a lovely response from Islanders and people further afield.

The pandemic and lockdown had already shown us how important our online content is and lots of people seemed to enjoy seeing old film footage of farmers gathering vraic on the beaches; black and white photos from the Jersey Evening Post Photo Archive and paintings and objects from our collections, including a fearsome-looking vraic fork. A few people even had a go at making vraic buns using the recipe we shared.

With everyone out and about enjoying the Island’s beautiful landscape we also used it as an opportunity to highlight some of the seascapes we have in Jersey, where you can find the vraic markers that guided farmers at low tide.

Vraic is a Jèrriais word and with the language being part of the Island’s intangible heritage, it is fantastic to know that there are Jersey French words in everyday use.

Love Island

The rumours are that Jersey might be Plan B for the popular reality series Love Island, should the makers and cast be unable to travel to Majorca this summer. But Jersey was the original ‘love island’ and last month we embraced St Valentine’s Day, and took a look back at Jersey’s history of love.

Stories ranged from Louisa Journeaux’s dangerous flirt with a Frenchman in 1886, when a romantic row in the harbour resulted in her being swept out to sea and ending up in Canada, to memories of the 1960s when Jersey became known as an affordable but glamourous destination for honeymooners.

From wedding dresses and civil partnership suits, to sentimental messages in Victorian Valentine’s Day cards, there is plenty of material around to show that Jersey already has its place in history as the ‘love island’.

Elizabeth Castle

Plans for the renovation of Elizabeth Castle are starting to come together since the approval last year of some government funding to help us get the ball rolling and the project took a big step forward last month when permission was granted for our plans to restore the Hospital Block.

And finally…

Jersey’s heritage made the national headlines again last month with news that a rare Bronze Age spearhead had been found on the beach at Gorey. The spearhead is the largest and most complete ever found in the Channel Islands and dates back to between 1207 BC and 1004 BC. It’s incredible to think that something so old has survived this long and was just waiting to be discovered. Come and see it for yourself at Jersey Museum & Art Gallery, where it is now on display.

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