On the coast
Gorey is a village in the north-east of Jersey, lying on a flat coastal plain below Mont Orgueil Castle. It developed in Medieval times when the Castle was the island's main fortress and became important again in the 17th and 18th centuries when a number of shipbuilding yards were established on the waterfront.
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Although St Helier has always been Jersey’s capital and the seat of its government, the centre of power for over four centuries was the main fortification, Mont Orgueil Castle. In the little village of Gorey below the castle a small port was the closest link with the neighbouring coast of France.
Early in the 19th century the village began to grow as hundreds of oyster fishermen moved to Jersey from the south east coast of England. The population of the village doubled in a short time and some 2,500 people were employed in the industry, either fishing or cleaning and packing the catch, and rows of fishermen’s cottages sprang up to house them.
There were some 250 boats bringing back around 12,000 oysters on every trip, and before long the Gorey oyster beds became over-fished. By 1864 the fleet had dwindled to just over 20 boats.
But a new industry developed in Gorey in the second half of the century as shipyards which had been established to build oyster boats, developed to create much larger vessels.
The most prolific boat builder was John Picot, who built 44 boats between 1858 and 1883. Eventually the industry went into decline as wooden vessels were no longer required.
But Gorey continued to thrive into the early 20th century, with its common offering a base for militia exercises, horse racing and other activities, and the Eastern Railway providing an easy means for islanders to reach them. Shipping links with France developed and it was possible to buy a through ticket from St Helier to Paris.
Mont Orgueil castle was built in the early part of the 13th century. Jersey had just become an outpost of King John’s territory, following the recent loss of his lands across the water in France. The keep dates from the time of King John, The Harliston Tower from the reign of Edward IV and the tops of the three narrow towers went up during the German occupation.
During its long history the castle has only fallen into enemy hands twice. In 1461, it was betrayed into Lancastrian hands during the War of the Roses, and during World War II when the island was occupied by German forces.
Sir Walter Raleigh is responsible for the castle’s preservation. In letters to Queen Elizabeth he said that it was ‘a fort of great capacity’ and that ‘it is a pity to cast it down’. If Sir Walter hadn’t made this plea, it’s likely that much of Mont Orgueil would have been recycled at Elizabeth Castle, which was being built at the time.
The Jersey Eastern Railway Company opened for business in August 1873. At that time trains ran from Green Street in St.Helier to Grouville Station, which still stands today, opposite the road that leads to the Golf Club. This station serviced the rifle range and the race course that were situated on the common. Around twelve trains a day ran between St Helier and Grouville.
The line ran profitably for a number of years, but the introduction of buses to the island, in the 1920s made train travel less attractive. In June 1929 the Jersey Eastern Railway Company stopped both its bus and train services, and went into liquidation.
From The Bailiwick of Jersey by George Balleine
Gorey. A townlet that has grown up at the foot of Mont Orgueil. The oldest documents spell the name Gorric (1180), Gorryk (1274), or Gourroic (1331). Gorroie was the eastern of the three Ministeria, which were fiscal divisions, into which the Island was divided in Norman times, the other two being Groceio in the centre and Crapedoit in the west. Since there are a Gouaree and a Gueric in Brittany, it is possible that the name had a Breton origin.
Long before Mont Orgueil was built, when de Carterets, and other landowners, crossed over to visit their insular estates, the hook caused by the Castle Hill made this the obvious landing-place for boats coming from France. In the Extenie of 1274 it is called Portus Gorryk, the Port of Gorey; but not till 1826 were ships given a better protection than a roughly built jetty.
In 1593 a report stated that the castle stood near neither road nor harbour. In 1617 Commissioners declared: "The harbour is not good. In 1685 Dumarcsq wrote: "At the foot of the castle is the most ancient harbour in the Island. There is an old, decayed pier, where such small boats as use the neighbouring coast of Normandy resort."
By the beginning of the 19th century this had decayed to such a point that it had entirely disappeared. J T Serres' painting of the castle in 1802 and Tobias Young's in 1815 show no trace of it.
The castle and the port made Gorey a place of some importance, and in the 17th century a village began to grow up there. By 1669 it had evidently attained a fair size, for, when a cavalry regiment arrived from England, part of it was quartered here, and the inhabitants were ordered to provide beds and stabling. But it was the oyster fishery that made Gorey what it is today. There had always been an oyster-bed not far from the shore. Even prehistoric man liked oysters, for oyster shells have been found in La Hougue Bie.
Throughout the Middle Ages Jersey fishermen had visited that bed unchallenged; but in 1606 the Governor claimed it as Crown property. The Court, however, decided that by ancient custom every islander had the right to dredge there. For centuries this bed had been used only by local fishermen; but early in the 19th century news of it reached the ears of fishing companies in England.
Then the village began to grow apace. A report in 1830 said: "Messrs Alston and Co, Messrs Martin and Co, and six or seven other firms at Sittingbourne, Faversham and other places in Kent employ upward of 250 boats, each manned with six men." There were besides boats from Colchester, Portsmouth, Shoreham, and Southampton. At least 2,000 men must have been engaged in this work, and hundreds of women and girls were kept busy grading and packing the oysters before they were exported to England; 305,000 bushels were sent in 1834. To house this new population rows of cottages were run up, and the present pier was built to shelter the oyster fleet. Oysters were so cheap in Jersey that they were served free at all hotel meals.
Poaching from French
These newcomers were by no means law-abiding citizens, and they soon began to poach on the French oyster-beds off Chausey. The French had never protested against occasional visits of Jerseymen. There were oysters enough and to spare. But when foreign commercial companies began to send large fleets, they were quickly told, "Trespassers will be prosecuted!"
In spite of warnings from Whitehall that they could not expect protection, the poaching went on, and it culminated in a fight. In 1828 the Sunday Times reported; "An unpleasant affair has taken place between English fishers and French vessels-of-war, many lives being lost. About 300 English vessels are engaged in oyster-fishing on the coast of Jersey, and have been repeatedly warned not to approach within a certain distance of the French shore. These warnings have been disregarded, and two French vessels-of-war captured an English boat. On news of this reaching Jersey, all the fishing smacks proceeded to the French coast, boarded the vessels-of-war, retook the English boat, and brought her back in triumph to Jersey. but several boatmen lost their lives, and a number were taken prisoner."
Later these reckless fellows got at loggerheads with the island authorities. To help them, the States laid down new beds in Grouville Bay, but these had to be carefully preserved till they were ripe for dredging. In 1838, however, 120 boats raided the forbidden beds, and when the Constable of St Martin followed, the men snapped their fingers at him. Next day he arrested the ringleaders. Four days later, however, a fresh raid was made; so the Constable appealed for help to the Lieut-Governor, who marched out at the head of the regiment and the town militia. A couple of cannon-balls brought the boats back to port, and 96 more captains were arrested. The unfortunate Lieut-Governor, Major¬General Archibald Campbell, died soon afterwards, his death being attributed to having caught cold in this incident.
The arrival of these unruly strangers proved a perplexing problem for a country parish like St Martin. The French services in the parish church were unintelligible to the new-comers; so the rector borrowed a room in the castle, and held English services there. These were sufficiently successful to encourage him to build a church, which was opened in 1833 and consecrated two years later; but Gorey did not become an independent church parish till 1900.
The oyster industry was killed by over-dredging. By 1864 the number of boats had dwindled to 23. But its place was taken by seven ship-building yards that were set up along the shore. They too died in time with the passing of the wooden ships, and today a sea-wall and promenade occupy this site.
Gorey is five miles from St Helier; but in the 18th century it was much more, for one had to wind one's way through many meandering lanes. The first direct road was made by General Don in 1806, and the States were so pleased with it that they decreed that it should be called for all time the Route Don. In 1873 the village was brought still nearer to the town by the opening of the Jersey Eastern Railway, which ran its trains till 1929, when it was put out of action by the coming of the motor-bus.
- A history of Gorey Pier
- Coast: Gorey Village, one of the stops on our coastal tour of Jersey
- Coast: Gorey Pier, another stop on our coastal tour of Jersey
- Gorey and the railway Added 2019
- Land reclamation
Gorey is probably the most photographed location in Jersey and we have a substantial gallery of pictures dating back to the middle of the 19th century, and artistic impressions beyond then. We have now moved all our images of Gorey, its harbour, village and Mont Orgueil Castle into a single gallery.
Histories of Gorey businesses
Mont Orgueil Castle
- Mont Orgueil Castle - the story of Gorey's famous and much-photographed castle
Oysters and shipbuilding
Gorey grew into a small town in the 19th century thanks to the oyster fishing industry, followed by ship building.