William Laurence de Gruchy

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William Laurence de Gruchy (1838-1920) was a Jurat, Constable of St Helier and co-founder of La Société Jersiaise.

Early life

Born in St Helier he was the elder son of William Philippe de Gruchy, who was Constable of St Saviour, 1872-78. He was first educated at St Mannelier's Grammar School, from 1848 to 1852. Of this period he wrote:

"As an old St Mannelier boy I have pleasant recollections of my schooltime there, and intense gratitude for the careful and thorough way in which the boys were taught. Robert Philip Mallet, the Regent, an Oxford graduate, had had a wide experience of life, including visits to New Zealand and a long tour in Italy. He was an Italian scholar, and there was included in the school curriculum, what must have been rare in 1848, a course of natural science. There were two hostiarii, one a Scots University graduate and one a very competent Jerseyman.
"There were 36 boys, six from each of the eastern parishes, recommended by the Constables. We were excellently lodged and fed, and free to roam about the country".

In 1853 he went to Rugby, then under Dr Goulburn, leaving in 1857. He returned to Jersey and served as an officer in the Militia from 1858 to 1878, rising to the rank of Captain. In 1864 he married Augusta Chambers Smith, authoress of two novels, Lalage (1876) and Octavia's Lovers (1880), and a volume of verse, Under the Hawthorn (1893).

Société Jersiaise

He and Jurat Le Gros were founders of the Société Jersiaise. They formed their plans, and then called a meeting of all who might be interested, and in 1873 they got the society started. For the first ten years of its existence de Gruchy was its honorary treasurer. In 1875 he was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn, and in 1876 was elected Constable of St Helier. In 1878 he became a Jurat.

In 1881 he published a carefully collated and annotated edition of the French and Latin texts of L'Ancienne Coutume de Normandie, the 13th century code which is the basis of Jersey Law. No edition of this had been printed since the 16th century and copies had become very scarce. His reprint was adopted as a textbook by the University of Caen.

Other publications were a paper on Les Edifices Religieux de Jersey in the Transactions of the Congrès Archéologique de France, 1883 ; a paper on The Land Measures in the Channel Islands in the Transactions of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 1886 ; a delightful little book, Jersey, My Reminiscences, published by the Jersey Society in London, 1915 ; and his privately printed Reminiscences of Church Life in Jersey under the nom de plume Caesariensis.

He was ruined by the crash of the Jersey Banking Company in 1886, resigned his Juratship, and went to live in London. There he became assistant secretary of the Additional Curates Society, a Church institution for increasing the number of clergy in poor parishes, and he served this society for 27 years.


He returned to Jersey in 1920, meaning to make his home in St Aubin, but died on 13 June and was buried at St Saviour.

C T Le Quesne has described him:

"Very gentle speech, breaking out now and again into a shy humour, always so modest and unassuming that he almost concealed the stores of his learning and observation. The mark of the scholar and the gentleman was on all he said or did. He abhorred slovenliness and inexactitude. Slapdash and hustle were qualities foreign and abhorrent to him. He had the scholar's passion for finding out the history of words and rites and institutions, and the scholar's relish for precise and beautiful language. He had the reverence of a noble mind for every worthy thing".
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