Life on Honeymoon Island

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Jersey, the favourite 1960s honeymoon destination


The story of the early days of Jersey's Seymour Group, the largest island hotel group, from the Readers Digest in 1962, Condensed from an article in Travel by James Stewart-Gordon

Life on Honeymoon Island

In the English Channel 88 miles south of Britain and only 15 miles from the coast of Normandy lies the island of Jersey, recently become known as the "Island of Love". Ruled by Queen Elizabeth II through her descent from William the Conqueror, Jersey is a charming composite of cliffs, great sandy beaches, winding country roads, Jersey cattle, ancient customs, virtual tax freedome, Norman farmhouses dating from before the Crusades, 24,769 hotel beds and - in the spring - 1300 honeymoon couples all at once.

Jersey entered its life as Love's Boomtown in 1946 when hundreds of couples who had postponed marriage until after the war decided to take advantage of a tax provision that any couple married before April 6 in any year can file a joint return for the entire preceding year. This means a tax saving of nearly $200 for newlyweds, a substantial contribution toward the coast of a honeymoon.

The 45-square mile island of Jersey had all the qualifications to lure honeymooners. It is only about an hour by air from any part of Britain. Since it is a summer resort, its big hotels were empty in the spring and rates were low. Although its atmosphere is COntinental (French is the official language and is still spoken in country districts), its currency, loyalty and beer are stoutly British. In April, when showers drench London, Jersey, in the path of the Gulf Stream, basks in the sun, and daffodils chase along its paths.

Since there is no purchase tax, French perfumes, Swiss watches and American cigarettes are sold in the shops that line the crooked streets of St Helier, the capital, at half what they would cost in England.

George Seymour

These factors, plus the inspired zeal of George Frederick Seymour, the island's largest hotelkeeper, have turned Jersey from a simple exporter of cattle and potatoes into an oasis of love.

Seymour, a 61-year-old, ruddy, stocky John Bull of a man, has six hotels, five of which are managed by relatives. In 1946 he noticed that he had 11 honeymoon couples staying at his principal hotel, the Merton, in early April. He discovered that they had all married that month to take advantage of the tax provision. With this cue, Seymour began a campaign to turn the trickle of lovers into a flood. Other hoteliers followed suit, and today Jersey in the mating season is a festival, a Mardi Gras - and a gold mine.

From the first weekend before the 6th of April until two weeks later, newlyweds from Manchester and London, Hoxton and Wroxton, Leeds and Liverpool overwhelm the isle. The six airlines that serve Jersey pull planes from other services and cram them with honeymooners.

Honeymooners arrive in Jersey in 1956

The pattern of the invasion has become almost a ritual. Chartered buses carry the whole wedding party to the airport to see the happy couple off. There, airport personnel begin separating the brides and grooms from their families. This is no easy task, because the grooms and their fathers-in-law have inevitably made for the pubs and have to be herded into the staging area.

Oncfe a bride abruptly balked on the way to the plane and began calling for her mother. "Mummy, Mummy, I don't want to go!" she shrieked. Her mother shoved her along the gangway, shouting tearily, "Don't worry luv, you're all 'is now!"

Missed wedding

Occasionally, because of the general confusion, there are mishaps. Just as one Honeymoon Special was due to take off from Cardiff, a couple raced to the plane, boarding as the engines began to turn. When the plane was over the Channel, the boy called the stewardess.

"I've got to see the captain," he told her. "This is a matter of life and death!"

The stewardess got the captain. "Are you in charge of this plane, like a ship's captain?" the boy asked. Mystified, the captain nodded.

"Then marry us, please!" the boy said. "We were waiting at the church, but the parson was held up by the football traffic, so we had to make a dash for it."

"Why couldn't you have waited?" the captain asked.

"What?" cried the girl. "And miss our honeymoon?"

In Jersey everything was sorted out. The captain arranged for a ceremony, and the bride got her honeymoon - legally.

Holding hands across the aisle

All types of aircraft are pressed into service from the honeymooners, from giant Viscounts to tiny Herons. The latter have single seats on either side, and the couples hold hands across the aisle. The stewardess, on her appointed rounds, has to step over clasped hands like a high hurdler in slow motion. Traditionally, the husbands twist their wives' wedding rings throughout the flight, and no one says a word.

Traditionally, too, meals served at the hotels the first night are light - and sparingly eaten. Dining-room tables are set for four, and brides and grooms strike up immediate friendships. Couples go bicycle riding together, swimming together, dancing together. All cocepts about a honeymoon being a time to be alone vanish.

When I asked honeymooners why they had gone to Jersey instead of seeking solitude, the answer was always the same:"If you go in a crowd, no one points you out as honeymooners. You get a feeling of comfort in knowing that you're all in the same boat.

George Seymour, father of the Jersey Honeymoon, first arrived there from London on his own honeymoon in 1919. Both Seymour and his bride, Ada Romaine, were 19. Jersey was then much as it had been in the days when Charles II, fleeing from Cromwell, had been proclaimed king in ancient Elizabeth Castle, which still stands guard in St Helier Harbour. The tourist trade consisted largely of railway employees who go free transportation on the boats the railway operated from Weymouth. After two weeks at a boarding house, Seymour and his wife got on the boat to go back to the mainland. Standing at the rail, Seymour said:"I wish we could live here forever!"

"Why can't we?" she inquired. "We could run a boarding house."

Honeymooners arriving in their hundreds

A slow start

The next spring they returned, took a lease on a house, fixed it up - and waited for customers. Week followed weeek and seldom was more than one room in the house taken. "It's no go," Seymour told his wife. "We're down to our last five pounds, and we owe close to a hundred. I know when I'm beaten".

His wife took his hand. "George", she said, "we're not 21 yet. No one is beaten when he's not yet 21."

Next day Seymour went down to see if the semi-weekly boat had brought any trade. He met a group of ten people carrying suitcases.

"Are you looking for rooms?" he asked.

"Yes, we are, mate," a man replied. "We've got two weeks' holiday and we want a place where they know how to treat us."

"I've got the place," said Seymour, gripping the man's arm. Leading the visitors to his house, Seymour showed them to their rooms and raced downstairs to his wife.

"Darling, maybe we can't give them much else, but we can give them service."

For two weeks George shined shoes, carried tea trays, brushed suits, lit cigarettes and slept standing up, while Ada cooked, made beds, dusted and scarcely slept at all. At the vacation's end the sppokesman for the group came to say goodbye. "My missus and I are coming back next year," he told George. "And so is everyone else. And by the time we get done telling people at home about you, you won't have an empty room in the house."

By the next year Seymour was on his way. He leased, then bought the hotel that he named the Merton. Later he bought land and other hotels. By August 1838 George Seymour was a wealthy man. Then came the war; in 1940 Jersey was invaded by the Germans.

German Occupation

For the next five years, Jersey was occupied by Hitler's troops as a rest camp and hospital. They built vast gun emplacements and underground defenses against an Allied attack, but the attack never came.

Bypassing Jersey, the Allies let the German garrison die on the vine. Finally, in May 1945, Sir Winston Churchill announced over the radio: "The Channel Islands are once more free!" The German garrison marched out of its fortifications and surrendered.

Seymour swept the hay off the car he had hidden in a barn during the Occupation and visited the hotels to see what was left. The walls of the dining room of one hotel were packed with bullet holes where the Germans had fired at them for target practice. The furniture had largely been removed to furnish the blockhouses; the linen had vanished.

Seymour told Ada, "We're back where we were in 1919."

It took the Seymours, their children, in-laws and as many of their old help as were still around, six months to get the hotels in shape again. But by 1946 old customers had begun to come back - and then there was the amazing advent of the honeymooners.

Every year since, the Merton has been expanded until now only a small pie-shaped piece of land remains where an addition can be built.

Droit du Seigneur

Jersey, because of its feudal heritage, has peculiarities seldom found elsewhere. Under the ancient droit du seigneur, for example, the owner of a manor is granted the privilege of spending the first night with every maid married in his seigneury. Sitting in Seymour's office, I asked him if he took the rights of proprietorship seriously.

Seymour took a long puff on his cigar. "We are now a limited company," he said, "and seigneural rights do not accrue to a company. Anyway, when the law was written, no one ever heard of a hotel with 400 rooms and 400 brides."

When the honeymoons end, the couples troop to the airport for the flight home to Hoxton and Wroxton, Liverpool and Leeds. But an astounding number come back to Jersey year after year. They bring their children and help to swell the summer population to more than half a million. Every hotel is filled to bursting, and Mr Seymour beams in anticipation of the next generation of honeymooners.

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