The Jersey Hay-cart

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The Jersey hay cart

This article by Frank Le Maistre was first published in the 1958 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

The traditional Jersey hay-cart, or harvest-cart, has long since disappeared. The magnificent specimen of the local craft of the charron (wheelwright) housed in Le Musee d'Agriculture, or La Tchèrquétihie, and which we were truly fortunate in obtaining as a gift from the late Mr F J Ahier, was certainly a comparatively modern form (when built in about 1875) of an earlier type of, say, the 18th century.

Hernais à eclon

But it is fairly safe to assume that relatively few changes had taken place for several generations and that each succeeding Hernais à eclon still resembled the type of earlier days. A detailed comparative study of the Jersey hay-cart with its Cotentin counterpart (for instance, the Tcherti from the district around Agon) would, the writer believes, be of great interest.

All that can be attempted at present is a general outline of our venerable museum piece with a few notes, particularly concerning the above-mentioned Norman example. In the following article the Jersey terms are given for the sake of preservation.

As already stated the hernai à eclon, a vehicle which may be said to be so very symbolical of Jersey agriculture in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and possibly previous to that, as such has long since become obsolete. It is doubtful whether any were in use after the First World War, the Jersey van having by then superseded them. The present-day box-cart (hernais à bannieaux) has fundamentally the same body as the older type when shorn of its superstructure, but the casual observer could be excused for believing the hernais à eclon at La Hougue Bie to be something entirely different.

When, in the last century, the eclon and other adjuncts had been discarded, the vehicle was of course able to be used for other purposes (of which more later) and it is possible some of the older corps de hernais (cart bodies) were in use in comparatively recent years.

Perhaps the designation hernais à eclon (also known as la tchithette, or tchethette à fain) needs some explanation. A free translation into English would be "ladder cart” since the eclon is the “ladder”, “rack”, or “rave” of the English counterpart.

It was often termed L’Eclon for short, no doubt originally due to the fact that this appurtenance was so prominent.

Hay cart

Great Bear

By way of digression it may be worthy of note that the Jerseyman's name for the constellation of the heavens known as the Great Bear (Ursa majoris) is L'eclon, and it will readily be seen that this is indeed a fitting description. Cf also the English alternative name Charles's Wain (or Wagon).

The term hernais also needs enlightening. The French harnais has given "harness" to the English language, meaning the equipments of a horse, but we in Jersey have retained the same word for the cart to which the horse is harnessed. And the harness to us is la graie, to which may be compared the old French verb greer to equip. The modern French greer is a nautical term meaning, to rig. Cf the La Hague Norman version, hernes ... horse, harness and cart complete.

The general term for the hay-cart in Normandy is tcherti. Cf modern French chartil, also charrette. The etymological relationship between our tcherquhhie (the place where carts, etc are housed) and the Norman tcherti will be obvious to the reader.

Our vehicle was used for carting hay and also for loading sheaves of wheat, oats, etc. Follows a description of the specimen at La Hougue Bie, evidently the last and only one in existence.

It was built around the year 1875 for Francois Laurens Ahier (father of our good friend the late F J ) by the well-known charron or wheelwright Jean Trachy, of La Grande Route, St Laurens, and it is still in very good condition, having been extremely well kept.

It had been in use, latterly, as a box-cart, up to 1952 - close on 80 years. It seems, then, that with reasonable care the farm cart could have been handed down, like the Jersey top hat for funerals, etc, through three or four generations - or close on a century.

Though in our day this splendid specimen would fetch little at a farm sale, the cost of building such a vehicle at the present time would probably exceed £150. Its length is roughly 17 feet, from tip of shafts to the gindas or "windlass" at the rear. The wood generally used in the construction of such carts was oak and elm, or ash. Wooden dowels (des g'vil'yes en bouais) were used instead of nails.

Le Solais

(The floor , etc or body of the cart)

The two outside wood lengths of the body of the cart are of elm and known as les roulons, ralons or rouslons. They are 6ft 3in long, and two other length pieces of the bottom or floor (also of elm) are called les timons, or les solais 5ft 6in in length.

The flooring itself (of white deal – ‘’du bianc sape’’, ou ‘’mo bouais’’) is laid cross-wise on these, the cross-pieces being called ‘’les plianches du fond’’ or ‘’plianches du solais’’. An extra and thicker front cross-piece of the floor, on which the ‘’ecIon’’ partly rests, is ‘’Ie tchian de d'vant’’, the corresponding one at the back being ‘’Ie tchian d'driethe’’ (both of elm). These project on each side some seven inches. The rear ‘’tchian’’ is protected with iron plating (‘’pliataine en fe’’).

The width of the floor is roughly 3½ ft and the length 6 ft. It is known as ‘’Ie fond’’, or ‘’Ie solais’’, this latter term corresponding to the Norman equivalent ‘’la sole’’. The Jersey term ‘’solais’’ applies to the floor in a wider sense, since ‘’les solais’’ are the two length pieces under the flooring as previously stated.

The body of the cart, which is also known to us as le corps du hernais, rests on the iron axle with a strong wooden intermediary cross-piece and is held by two iron clamps, one at each end of the axle, known as les cappes d'embrdleurs. These bind the axle to the rou1on. The Norman equivalent appears to be les cappes de breu. It seems obvious that the terms breu and embraleux (singular) will once have had a close relationship, but though we have retained the word in the above phrase, there is no evidence on the old carts of anything which may have been the embraleux.

However it can be assumed that it was something akin to the Norman breu, this being a length of elm branch, wrist thickness, which is clamped at one end and passing under the axle is caught into another hook underneath the body of the cart. When this simple contrivance is unhooked the body of the cart can come adrift, this being most essential when caught by the rapidly rising tide on the Normandy beaches. If this misfortune befalls the vraicker, horses are unhitched, the cart body floats and comes ashore and the wheels and axle remain in position to be recovered later.

Hay cart

Les Limons

(The Shafts)

There are the two shafts - les limons, with a length of some 7 feet, which, for tipping purposes, swivel at the rear end on an iron cross-piece or rod, driven into the rouolons or longitudinal outside pieces of the " floor" of the cart. That portion of the shafts which continues below the flooring to a length of a couple of feet or so, with strong wood cross-pieces forming a square frame is known as la boiteuse des limons or le tunmb'se (the tipper). The term is derived from the verb tunmb'ser = to tip. Two clasps, known as les clianques, being attached to the tunmb'se open and shut on to the front tchian. These normally keep the cart body on a level with the shafts but open up for tipping purposes.

A sabre or cart sword was often fitted on to the front cross-piece of the tunmb'se (or back of the shafts ) - a kind of forerunner of the modern tipping-gear of a trailer, the sword being notched for regulating the tipping.

We do know that formerly the shafts ran the whole length of the cart with the transversal planks or boards laid from one to the other, but when evolution demanded that the cart should be made to tip, the more modern type of shafts were fitted. Our museum specimen was originally of the old type in this respect, the shafts running the whole length, but later it was apparently converted for tipping. It is for this reason that a faux roulon (additional longitudinal piece) was added inside the roulon and new shafts replaced. It can be mentioned that a few old cart bodies with whole length shafts are still in existence in the Island.

The Norman equivalent for our limons is les brancards, but the older Jersey term was les m' neiithes, or m'neuses. A leg, or stay, fitted one under each shaft, and known as les bitchil'yes (Norman, "betchiles) served as props when necessary.

Carts in the east of the Island were more likely to have the two betchil'yes, whilst the farmers in the west usually required only one. The old-type shafts would most likely have been akin to the Norman counterpart, which have a thickness of some 7 to 8 cm at the front tips, broadening to some 25 to 28 cm in the middle, where the axle fits, and gradually tapering again to 12 to 15 cm at the rear tip. This is mere speculation, since there is now no-one living who could give any information handed down on the matter. Nevertheless, it is fairly safe to assume that such was the case.

In our day the shafts are usually made safer by an iron tie-bar or cross-piece at the floor end, which is often in the form of a V, and thus called le vee. At the rear tip of each shaft (that portion of the shafts being known as le tunmb'se as previously stated) is a protective strip of iron bent horizontally above and below the shaft, and known as eune frette. These frettes ensure that the shaft tips do not split as they might well do otherwise, due to constant tipping and to the nearness of the iron rod on which the shafts swivel for this operation.

The front tip of the shaft was usually enclosed with a protective iron cap or collar known as un vitheu. There would also be a loop (often still is) on the outside of each shaft front tip for harnessing a second horse in front of the other, this being known as lier l'avant or lier a longue graie (to harness in long harness). The Jersey term for this loop is eune hangne de pot, and the Norman (Agon) term, manchette; but the latter is to be found at the very tip on each shaft.

Then there are, of course, the iron fixtures, one on each shaft, consisting of le cro d'la tchulasse (hook for the rear harness), l'avanchon (hook for collar chain) and, sliding between these two, the traveller - porte-limon or va (et) veint, to which the harness is attached on the shaft.

Present-day shafts, in comparison with the older type, often take the rounded shape of the horse, this being known as le ventre des limons (the belly of the slufis]. Elm is the wood used for these on our hernais à eclon, but ash was also often employed, and usually preferred.

The chains hooked to the horse collar are les courts traits (in the east of the Island les avanchons), those to the rear harness les traits des tchulasses, and la chaine du sellot (the harness chain). The Norman equivalents are les halouses and les atchulouzes for the front and back chains respectively, but it must be noted that their system of hooks is somewhat different to ours.

Les Berchottes

(The Sides)

The movable sides (in open work) are known as les berchottes, the Norman term being les balfrets. The length of each is 4ft 6in and the height 2ft 9in. Les montants, or les Epees are the four uprights of the berchottes. The Norman balfrets have only two vertical pillars or uprights, one at each end, and these are known as les pyeumars. The five horizontal slats which go to make up each berchotu: on our cart are called les madelles (Norman lames). These were often tapered or rounded off, such ends being known as les csnettes (Norman des didjets). The epees are of elm (sometimes of ash) and the madelles of red deal (rouoge bouais). The uprights on the ordinary box-cart sides or bannieaux are also known as les epees. (Cf the Norman term epees, which are the transversal bars under the floor between the brancards).

We have a spare set of berchottes at the Musee d'Agriculture of a slightly different pattern, and taller and longer. Incidentally we also have some spare and somewhat different and older examples of the tchulon, the eclon, etc., all of which goes to show that there was perhaps no uniform pattern in the construction of the hernais a eclon.


(The Ladder)

The single eclon (in front) stemmed from the cart floor, resting partly on the front cross-piece or tchian de d'vant, and supported on the shafts by strong iron stays known as les montants d'l'eclon. The Norman for our eclon is equelete, there being two on the tcherti or Norman cart, though it is known that formerly there was also only a front one. The Jersey eclon or ladder, rack, or rave, - made of elm, curved away from the cart body over the horse above its head, and when once the cart was well laden with loose hay the nag was so hidden that not much more than the legs were to be seen.

Thus the preponderance of weight (le faix, in Normandy le patchet") was rather above the horse where, of course, it is wanted. When harnessed, the full height of the empty cart (ie of the front end of the eclon) would be around seven feet. The overall length being, as previously stated, some seventeen feet, the hernais a eclon (unloaded) is indeed an imposing piece of agricultural furniture.

A more recent type of cart was fitted with two ladders but, apparently, did not subsist for more than a few generations when the comparatively modern Jersey van, (la vainne in the west, often le vainne in the east) appeared and was able to be equipped with two hay ladders or eclons. These vans, in their turn, are now obsolescent though an occasional one may be seen in use.

Hay cart

Le Tchulon

(The Extension), and les ecouards (Rear uprights)

The next part of the cart to be considered is le tchulon, or tchulot, also known as l'allouongne - an extension at the rear 8 ft in length but held partly on the bottom of the vehicle and inside the berchottes, some 4 ft only of the tchulon (with the gindas) protruding. Nevertheless this gave considerable scope for an extra quantity of hay or cereals when loading. Two ecouards or upright pillars (often very crude) fitted into slots at the end of this extension served to help the making and steadying of the load. There were equivalents in the older Norman vehicle to the extent of four of these (des gaules) fitted at the back, no extension being known to our cousins across the way. Our ecouards were usually some 6 or 7 ft high.

Le gindas


The gindas or rouoleux, also known as le vitheveau, is the windlass or roller, usually oak, on which is wound the rope for tying the load. This apparatus is built in the tchulon as a further extension of some 10 inches, though included in the length of 4 ft as already mentioned for the tchulon, and consists of a solitary wooden dowel or peg (eune guevil'ye) in the roller (for holding and tying the rope) and two slats (les clies) roughly 2in wide by 2ft in length and 1in thick, which could be inserted into the two slots in the roller for tightening purposes and also for stopping the roller from turning once the rope was sufficiently taut.

The rope was known as le traperque. Two ends were attached to the corners of the eclon and, binding the load in the form of a V, the rope was wound singly round the gindas. The Norman equivalent for our gindas is le moulinet or rouleau.

The wood used for the tchulon, ecouards and gindas was also elm.

Les Reues

(The wheels)

The wheels are known as les reues or les rouelles, the oaken spokes being les rais (of which there are twelve). The old-time spokes were of adze-split timber (du rai tilyi). Cf eune til'ye = an adze. A wheel is formed of six sections known as fellies or felloes in English - gantes in jerriais as also in Normandy, and is, of course, tyred with an iron rim - fethee auve un cercl'ye en je. The fellies or gantes are of elm or ash (our specimen is of elm) and are joined together by des gouogeons (wooden oak gudgeons or dowels). It can be stressed that elm was more popular, being considered far superior for the felloes since ash would not withstand so well the wetness from cart tracks, etc. For the horse van the felloes were of ash, this vehicle being meant for travel mostly on roads.

Then there is the nave or hub, or stock (of elm) le moueu or moue (Norman, moueyeu). Here agin the craftsaman showed his skill in the operation called tourner or in English, turning. The best elm for this purpose is said to be that known as du pid d'cat or feunmelle orme (cat's food or female elm). This is the more common variety growing in the island (Ulmus campestris) and it is also called Jersey or red elm (d'lorme d'Jerri or rouoge orme) or again, by the old carpenters, du teurtillard. This same variety is preferred in Normandy, there known as tortillard.

The other elm common here in Jersey is the blianche orme, or male orme,or franche orme (white or male elm), al;so termed l'orme d'Dgernsy (Guernsey Elm). This is the wych elm (Ulmus montana) which is considered poor for the above purpose since the wood is prone to crack. Incidentally, the north side of the elm, away from the sun, is said to be tougher than the rest and preferable for naves, etc.

The cog of th hub or nave is known as la boete du moueu or la Boete de l'esseu, and the exterior opening of the hub wheirin turns the tip of the axle or esseu is le dgicon du moueu.

The axle-pin or peg at each end of the axle is l'euche (Norman, eusse). Two protective iron bands around each hub, one on each side of the wheel, are known as les frettes.

An interesting feature of the wheels is what is known in English as dishing., meaning that they are saucer-shaped. To quote Mr J Geraint Jenkins on the subject:

"The spokes in a dished wheel do not emerge from the hub at right angles to its axis, but at an angle, slanting outwards from the centre. When the wheel is hung on the axle arm, the lowest spoke which momentarily takes the weight of the vehicle is in a perpendicular position, or is at least in a position that is very near the vertical, while the upper part of the wheel overhangs almost to the front of the hub. To produce this the wheel is not only consciously built to a convex shape, but the axle arms are bent downwards towards the ground, so as to ensure a near perpendicular lower spoke."

This technique of dishing is well known to the Jersey charron as le raitchage, or le raique. The verb is raitchi. Cf les rais, the spokes. Cf also the English rake ... incline. Some Jersey cart wheels are raitchies or dished more or less, this according to the wheelwright's fancy or the farmer's preferenhce. The dishing of the wheels of our museum cart can be described as medium. It is noticeable that the older carts still have more dishing of wheels than those of more recent construction.

In other words, dishing was apparently considered more important in former days. The reasons for this practice can be explained briefly thus :Undoubtedly dishing contributes to strength and it protects the wheel considerably and guards against undue strain to the spoke tenons in the hub. It protects the wheel from the jolting it receives when the body of the vehicle swings against the inner side of the hub with the side-to-side movement of the horse, or the wheel falling into a rut - in other words, the dished wheel is able to bear lateral thrust - and it also contributes to heavier and bulkier loads due to the convenience of the wheels being further apart at the top than they are at ground level.

In addition, a vehicle with dished wheels required a shorter distance in between them and consequently less breadth of road to accommodate the cart body and load. Also, the mud taken up by the wheel when travelling on wet tracks falls well clear of the hub and does not so easily penetrate through to the axle arm (which causes wear).

The bending of the axle arms or tips downwards is also well known in Jersey (as raitchi or ladgi l'esseu), and the play or end-play of the axle tip in the nave is known as le balet (boxing of the axle, or logging).

The life of a pair of wheels could be anything up to 50 years, or even more, depending of course on the treatment and use received.

The height of the wheels of our hernais a eclon is 4ft 8in. The range was usually between 4ft 2in" (for the drait hernais) to the highest, 4ft 10in (lowest-axle cart).

Dangling on one of the shafts of our specimen in la Tcherquethie are four wooden chocks for the wheels (les choques).

The brake was known as le chabot, since it was usually a sole of discarded footwear made to rub on each wheel. (Our specimen has no brake). Formerly only one drag-shoe was used. This braking system was a contrivance made to function mechanically, operated by a crank at the rear of the cart. Whilst on this subject it may be interesting to mention the much more primitive form of braking than by friction. The expedient was quite simple and-crude. The driver (so it is said) would introduce a thick stick between two spokes, which would most certainly retard progress and, obviously, even stop the vehicle completely if necessary. That would, indeed, be putting a spoke in the wheel.

Vraic cart


When, in the last century, the eclon and other adjuncts had been removed, the vehicle was able to be used for other purposes as a box-cart (such as the carting of mangolds and turnips, manure, etc) and some of these older corps de hernais (cart bodies) were in use in comparatively recent years. Converted as a box-cart (the Norman equivalent is la maringote) the vehicle is enclosed by two sides or bannieaux with a back and a front - le drihhe and le d'vant du hernais, all removable, collectively known as le banne, in the singular. Also, there are risers - les hauches, which can be fitted one each on the sides, front and back for extra large loads of mangolds, etc. All these adjuncts are usually of white deal, the uprights or epees being of elm.

The rail or wooden bar (le relle) running along the top edge of each of the sides, back and front, is also of elm. This type of cart is still familiar today, but less so is the cart with the ber a vrai (vraic cradle) for gathering seaweed. A few only of these are now to be seen and this more particularly in the Les Landes and L'Etacq districts of St Ouen. Generally speaking, the cart body for this latter purpose of collecting vraic (some vraic gatherers use one almost solely for this work) is of a lighter build than the ordinary cart. It is still known in St Ouen as un bachaud, or hernais a ber.

Here, then, would be material for further study, since we had in Jersey the various types of carts. For instance, (a) the bas hernais (very low axle cart), such as the hernais a cidre (or hernais a futs), (b) the d'mie-bas (low axle cart, but higher from ground than (a), (c) the quart-bas (high axle cart) and (d) the drait or haut hernais (straight and high axle cart with, nowadays, smaller wheels). It may be well to say that (a) is now no longer to be seen in use.

One large example of such (the cider dray) is also housed at La Hougue Bie. The above terms do not necessarily always refer to the height of the cart but rather to that of the axle. Then there was the forerunner of the box-cart types (b), (c) and (d) which was a simple cart made of rough-hewn timbers. Known as le banne it was in use in the 18th century (and on into the 19th) as a contemporary of the hernais a eclon, particularly with the poorer farmers.

Reverting for a moment to our vehicle at La Hougue Bie, the late Mr F J Ahier once told the writer that one of the largest loads of vraic (before the use of lorries, of course) ever to come up la mantee du Hocq (Le Hocq slipway) was carried in it when converted for the purpose. On another occasion the vraic load went over the weighbridge in St Helier on the way back and it weighed 3 tons 5 cwts. Two horses were often harnessed, and sometimes three were required to pull the load. A third remarkable load which Mr Ahier remembered was when, as a box-cart, 28 cwt of Kainit (fertiliser) was taken to a field, a normal load being 15 cwt to a ton.

Box cart

1896 diary

In the writer's possession is a diary once kept by his grandfather F Couteur Le Maistre, wherein a typical daily entry reads;-

Mercredi le 15 juillet 1896. Nous avons commencé a charrier le foin des Trais Rocques - 4 charges de foin."

This, of course, was with the hernais a eclon - no mean feat, when one considers the distance from the field to the farm (La Ferme du Manoir), the rough track leading out of Les Trais Rocques and the hot and bumpy roads, including Le Mont Rossignol, to the neighbourhood of Le Manoir de St Ouen, Two horses were needed in this case, one harnessed ahead of the other, for the going was uphill most of the way.

A further entry, on the 23rd reads ;-

Nous avons fini de rateler Les Trais Rocques. Nous avons eu 30 charges de foin sans ce qui a été râtelé".

This shows that an average of four loads or more had been kept up each day without a break. No unions ... no clock-watchers ... and few time-wasting distractions in those days. But ... more contentment, perhaps?


As proof, if any were needed, of the rapidity of the passing of this form of transport, Mr J C Vautier, the well-known skilled wheelwright of St Pierre, in giving examples, told the writer that whereas not so many years ago it was common for him to make as many as 30 pairs of shafts or more yearly, today he has four pairs in his workshop (tcherpent'tie) and wonders what will happen to them, since he has fitted only one pair in the recent twelve-month. What is more grievous to him is that there has been no demand for a complete box-cart since some time during the German Occupation 1940-45, when he built one (probably indeed the last to be built in the Island) to the order of Mr T G Le Marinel of St Jean.

He did build another in 1951/52, but with rubber-tyred wheels, for Mr J Le Gresley, Les Landes, St Ouen. Mr Vautier, now semi-retired, deplores the passing of the ancient craft which has been that of his family for several generations. His father and grandfather before him were noted wheelwrights. Mr A Dimmick, of St Ouen, also of a well-known family of blacksmiths and wheelwrights, has much the same sentiments regarding the decline of his "metier". He, also, built his last complete box-cart several years ago.

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