Probably amongst our present day island agriculturalists there are some who have heard tell of the origin of the Royal Jersey Fluke from their parents or relations. But I believe I am right in stating that the story of their origin has never been written, or published.
It has often been stated that Sir Walter Raleigh, when he was Governor of Jersey from 1600-1603, had brought some potatoes to the Island. I have read in some history book that he was known to watch them grow in the gardens of Government House. But on the other hand, according to many other records, he only spent a few days from time to time on the Island, during the period he was Governor. In an article in the Bulletin of the Societe Jersiaise 1929, by R R Lempriere, it records that he only paid two visits to the Island, one in September 1600, and another in July 1602.
About 60 years ago Hugh de la Haye, a bachelor, owned and had farmed for many years, Bushy Farm, St Helier. This farm is situated on the road leading off to the right at St Andrew's Vicarage, on Mont Cochon. The custom of entertaining one's friends, neighbours and helpers after the Grande Charrue was still at that time one of the occasions when all farmers, on completing their 'big plough' with the aid of neighbours, were invited to the respective farms, where an abundance of good things to eat and drink had been prepared. After the feast came the singing of Jersey French songs with accordion accompaniment, the whole company sitting round the fire, and joining in lustily as each chorus came around.
Many of these old songs were in praise of Agriculture, and high hopes for the coming harvest. These annual rounds of feasting and merrymaking went on all over the Island as each farmer finished his 'big plough'. They were real homely and neighbourly gatherings, much looked forward to after having completed one of the big jobs of the season.
It was one of these occasions at Bushy Farm that Mr De la Haye brought down from the loft during the evening two huge round potatoes. To give some idea of their size, one had 16 eyes. It appears that he was in the habit of picking up anything useful offered to him, and on this occasion at Le Caudey's store on the Esplanade (now Le Rossignol and Rossier), he had been given these two potatoes, which were, due to their enormous size, exhibited on the counter of that office.
At this dinner these two potatoes were cut; the one with 16 eyes into 16 pieces. One eye was damaged in cutting, so that there were 15 pieces left for planting. The number of pieces into which the other was cut is not recorded. These potatoes were planted in a cotil above Bellozanne Valley.
Later, when the time for digging came, Mr De la Haye found that the produce of one of the potatoes were kidney shaped, similar to the present day Royals, and the other had produced true to type round ones. At first he was very surprised, and rather disappointed at having these kidney shaped potatoes, but still interested because it had produced a fine crop and also an early one.
A name is given
These strange, nameless potatoes were exhibited at the office of La Nouvelle Chronique, and were named by someone at that newspaper 'Royal Jersey Flukes', apparently having heard their strange history. Practically all the present-day Royals are derived from that small beginning, different names having been given to them since for various reasons — such as 'Benests' which were originally grown at St Brelade by one Benest — hence their name. Now Parisiennes are also Royals under another name.
How this name was arrived at is an amusing story. There was at that time a plausible old man who wandered around the Island selling quack cattle medicines etc. One day, having taken several nice looking potatoes from one of his customers, he presented them to a farmer in another parish.
After having polished them, he told him how he had a daughter in service in Paris, which quite likely he had, and that she had sent him these very special potatoes. Probably he gave them to some farmer who had purchased some of his wares, anticipating that the gift would bring him more business.
Had Mr De la Haye named them 'De la Haye's', his name would have become a household word, similar to another variety of Royals of more recent days. They were grown at La Fontaine, Grouville, and were of superior quality, and much in demand for seed, being often sold on the 'Bridge by their owner. At that time they did not have a name, but when, in October 1928, they were sold by auction by Mr Maillard the well-known auctioneer of Blanche Pierre, he named them Wakeham's Specials.
Mr T Wakeham farmed at La Fontaine for many years, and is well known throughout the Island.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article the cutting of potatoes into pieces, each piece having an eve. Sixty to 70 years ago this was the usual practice. They were then laid on the floor of the loft, and lime sprinkled over them and left like that until they were required.
Then they were thrown into a cart, and then taken to the field and tipped into little piles in various parts of the field. A potato box not unlike our present-day ones, excepting that it was made of stouter wood, was used to scoop them up from the pile in the field to carry them to the rows for planting.
Bushy Farm after Mr De la Have had left it about 45 years ago, was from time to time modernised, and today is a very comfortable and modern farm both the main house and the stabling are in excellent condition, and fitted with all the up-to-date requirements of a well ordered farm.
Through the courtesy of the present owner, Mr J W Mills, I was able to look over the farm and saw there a stone, probably from the original house — having the initials MLG 1669 inscribed. I also observed that on that road there are several other farms of the 17th century. Overlooking the cotil where these first Royals were grown is Tower Road, where, at Halcyon House, resides Mr R Le Feuvre, and incidentally this farm was built in 1689, so that it would appear that at that period many farmhouses were built in this vicinity. I am indebted to Mr. R. Le Feuvre for much of the information in this article.
On 1 July 1853 Bushy Farm was the scene of a Transport de Justice regarding a path or right of way through the côtil into Bellozanne Valley, and known as La Grande Vallette. In a division of property Mr de la Haye's sister had inherited the côtil, and sold it to Bryant Brothers, who had erected buildings to make bricks.
The court decided that a new path had been built, but that Mr De la Haye had been without a proper path for six months and awarded him £5 and the costs of the action.
Some 49 years ago, the stabling was in front of the house, and of course covered with thatch. Unfortunately this stable was destroyed by fire, and it is recorded that they put a wet sack over the head of the servant girl and sent her in to rescue the animals. This she successfully ccomplished, bringing the cows and horse to safety.
It is interesting to note that in the report of this fire in the Jersey Times and British Press of 13 October 1891, Mr De la Haye is quoted as 'the well known introducer of the Royal Jersey Fluke'.
The new stable was built in the rear of the farm house, and bears a stone HDLH 1891. It appears that the stone for this stable was carted free by his neighbours, a kindly and neighbourly act showing how much they all esteemed their friend and neighbour. Some coins and discs with the names of those helpers were buried in the walls of this building.
Mr De la Have was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, and services were regularly held at his home. Bushy Farm owns an unusual triangular strip of land on the other side of the road, where I understand religious services in French were held on Sunday afternoons until about 60 years ago.
Mr De la Haye died on 2 September 1906, at the age of 71.
- HDLH 1891 - When Hugh de La Haye' outbuildings were destroyed by fire, his neighbours rebuilt them free of charge. This lintel marked the completion of the project