Troglodyte Caves

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Troglodyte Caves


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John Champion at the caves


The Troglodyte Caves at Five Oaks were not caves at all, but pleasure grounds built in a disused clay pit. They were one of the earliest, if not the first, purpose built tourist attractions in the island, opening on 23 September 1878

The Golden Jubilee arch at Champion's Caves

Royal Family

The pictures below (click on any image to see a larger version) were taken about 1892 and show that the 'caves' had a lake and a penchant for celebrating important events related to the Royal Family. One arch commemorated Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887 and another was erected somewhat belatedly in 1892 in memory of her consort, Prince Albert. The caves featured a number of busts of members of the Royal Family, including the Queen, Prince of Wales and Princess Alexander.

The 'caves' were actually officially known as Champion's Caves, after their creator John Champion, a brickmaker who lived at Aylesbury House, behind which he built the 'caves'. The area only became known as Five Oaks some time later: in Victorian times it was still La Crouaix d'Bouais.

Sculptor

Sculptor Jean Philippe Giffard, who created the famous 'devil' which was the centrepiece of the Devil's Hole caves for many years, provided decorations and furnishings for the Troglodyte Caves: According to a contemporary report "they consisted of statuary, coats of arms, busts, and decorations of all kinds of wood, stone and clay. The main attraction was a life-size statue of the Zulu chief Cetewayo... that of a man complete in every respect... and it therefore became necessary to hang a short skirt around its middle. But the word of the existence of the symbol of its manhood got around, and aroused the curiosity of the ladies, who lifted the skirt to satisfy their curiosity... It was decided to erect a cubicle with an open window to contain the chief's statue... the ladies then used their parasols to lift the skirt."

Giffard was Gardien of the prison and put up varied statuary to "cheer up the prisoners".

It is not known exactly when the Troglodyte Caves closed to the public, but they remained disused and in ruins for many years until the site was used for housing in the second half of the 20th century. In their heyday one of their biggest attractions was a skating rink.

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History

From Bailiwick Express website - research by Jersey Heritage

The caves opened as a new attraction in the Five Oaks area on 23 September 1878 and were the idea of brickmaker John Champion. He carved the caves out of a disused clay quarry that he owned and they became a popular visitor site for a number of years for both tourists and locals alike. The opening of Champion's Caves, or the 'Troglodyte Caves' as they came to be known, was marked by a grand gala with numerous dignitaries present, including the Lieut-Governor, Sir William Norcott, who attended from the nearby Government House.

Professor Mortram was employed to give a grand display of fireworks, including shells, rockets and various devices and Mr McKee's band were in attendance to entertain the guests.

Newspaper reports later claimed that Champion had started constructing the attraction as early as Valentine's Day 1875, although there was no announcement of work taking place at the time. He lived next door to the site in Aylesbury House, so perhaps wanted something more attractive on his doorstep than a run-down quarry.

The Caves proved extremely popular, with crowds of people venturing to Five Oaks to examine its displays and ever-changing exhibits.

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Boating lake

A newspaper article published on 1 November 1879 reported that a large number of people had visited the site and that the 'caves' themselves were not the only draw, with "Uncle Tom's Cabin, the Chapel, the Aquarium" being the main areas of interest. Visitors were able to use a boat to take them across a lake and convey them to the tower in the middle. Photographs of the time show that the lake was full of model sailing boats.

In 1881, a new statue was unveiled in the form of Cetewayo, the Zulu King, although a report at the time noted: "The centre of attractions was, however, the aquarium, with its fancy grottoes and fernery, illuminated with a tasteful display of variegated lamps, which lent an additional charm to the scene."

At a similar time, a skating rink was added to the site allowing people to partake in the past time, as well as watch various visiting skaters that Mr Champion employed. The rink also doubled as a dance floor and bands were employed to play for special events. Swings and a bowling alley also became a popular part of the attraction.

Jubilee arch

An arch was built in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and became a feature point, often illuminated in the evening along with the rest of the Caves to make the site even more attractive. Later, an archway was added to mark the passing of the Prince Consort, Prince Albert.

By 1888, the Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph proclaimed that they could safely predict that "before long the Troglodyte Caves will be, for outdoor amusement, the most popular resort in the island."

By October that year, it was reported that not only were there many curious items of fantastic shapes in melted glass for visitors to see, but Mr Champion had also decorated a brick slab with a cut out of the actor of the day, John Lawrence Toole, playing his comic character 'The Don'. In the late 1880s, Mr Champion also began to hold annual shows of roses, flowers, ferns and fruit in order to attract more visitors to the Caves.

Visitors continued to frequent the site in large numbers with the Jersey Independent and Daily Telegraph declaring in 1894 that the Caves deserved the title of, "one vast museum not to be equalled in the Channel Islands". At this time, it cost 6d to get into the resort.

John Champion died on 17 October 1914 at the age of 88. His obituary in the Evening Post noted that at one point he owned seven brickyards in the island and that he was "a most energetic and hardworking man, he led a life of great industry, and continued to take a keen interest in his trade up to the very last". It also said that he took an immense pleasure from the building of the Troglodyte Caves at Five Oaks. After his death, the Caves slowly fell into disrepair and were sold to various parties.

On 30 June 1951, Frank Henry Ferbrache, owner of the caves, sold them to Senator Carlyle Le Gallais, of the Housing Committee. Plans were submitted and La Croix de Bois housing estate was built on the site.

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