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Bailiwick of Guernsey

Guernsey July 2011 172.jpg

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Location: 49°27’0"N, 2°33’-0"W
Area: 15,654 acres
Population: 65,573  (2007)

Guernsey is an island forming the main part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a Crown dependency in the English Channel, off the coast of Normandy.

Name of the island

The name Guernsey, as well as that of neighbouring Jersey, is of Old Norse origin. The second element of Guernsey (-ey) is the Old Norse for "island". The first element is uncertain, traditionally taken to mean "green," but perhaps rather representing an Old Norse personal name, possibly Grani's.[1]


Guernsey contains two main geographical regions, the Haut Pas, a high southern plateau, and the Bas Pas, a low-lying and sandy northern region. In general terms, the Haut Pas is the more rural of the two, and the Bas Pas is more residential and industrialised.

There is a large, deepwater harbour at St Peter Port.


Guernsey is divided into ten parishes:

Parish Population (2001) Area (vergées) Area (sq miles)
1. Castel 8975 6224 3.938
2. Forest 1549 2508 1.587
3. St Andrew 2409 2752 1.741
4. St Martin 6267 4479 2.834
5. St Peter Port 16488 4074 2.578
6. St Pierre du Bois 2188 3818 2.416
7. St Sampson 8592 3687 2.333
8. St Saviour 2696 3892 2.463
9. Torteval 973 1901 1.203
10. Vale 9573 5462 3.456
The parishes of Guernsey


At this time, Neolithic farmers settled the coasts and built the dolmens and menhirs that dot the islands. The island of Guernsey contains three sculpted menhirs of great archaeological interest; the dolmen known as L'Autel du Dehus also contains a dolmen deity known as Le Gardien du Tombeau.[2]

During their migration to Brittany, the Britons occupied the Lenur Islands (a former name of the Channel Islands[3] including Sarnia or Lisia (Guernsey) and Angia (Jersey). It was formerly thought that the island's original name was Sarnia, but recent research indicates that might have been the Latin name for Sark; although Sarnia remains the island's traditional designation.

Coming from the Kingdom of Gwent, Sampson (abbot of Dol, in Brittany) is credited with the introduction of Christianity to Guernsey.[4]

In 933 the islands were annexed by the Duchy of Normandy. The island of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands represent the last remnants of the mediæval Duchy of Normandy.[4] In the islands, Elizabeth II's traditional title as head of state is Duke of Normandy.[5]

During the Middle Ages the island was repeatedly attacked by continental pirates and naval forces, especially during the Hundred Years War when the island was occupied by the Capetians on several occasions, the first being in 1339.[4]

In 1372 the island was invaded by Aragonese mercenaries under the command of Owain Lawgoch (remembered as Yvon de Galles), who was in the pay of the French king. Lawgoch and his dark-haired mercenaries were later absorbed into Guernsey legend as an invasion by fairies from across the sea.[6]

Castle Cornet over the boat harbour of St Peter Port

During the English Civil War, Guernsey sided with Parliament, while Jersey remained Royalist. Guernsey's decision was mainly related to the higher proportion of Calvinists and other Reformed churches, as well as Charles I's refusal to take up the case of some Guernsey seamen who had been captured by the Barbary corsairs. The allegiance was not total, however; there were a few Royalist uprisings in the southwest of the island, while Castle Cornet was occupied by the Governor, Sir Peter Osborne, and Royalist troops. Castle Cornet, which had been built to protect Guernsey, was turned on by the town of St Peter Port, who constantly bombarded it. It was the last Royalist stronghold to capitulate, in 1651,[7] and was also the focus of a failed invasion attempt by Louis XIV of France in 1704.

During the wars with France and Spain during the 17th and 18th centuries, Guernsey ship-owners and sea captains exploited their proximity to mainland Europe, applying for Letters of Marque and turning their merchantmen into privateers.

By the beginning of the 18th century Guernsey's residents were starting to settle in North America.[8] The 19th century saw a dramatic increase in prosperity of the island, due to its success in the global maritime trade, and the rise of the stone industry. One notable Guernseyman, William Le Lacheur, established the Costa Rican coffee trade with Europe.[9]

During First World War approximately 3,000 island men served in the British Expeditionary Force. Of these, about 1,000 served in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry regiment which was formed from the Royal Guernsey Militia in 1916.[10]

Guernsey was occupied by German forces in Second World War. Before the occupation, many Guernsey children were evacuated to England to live with relatives or strangers during the war. Some children were never reunited with their families.[11]

Guernsey island from the air

During the occupation, some people from Guernsey were deported by the Germans to camps in the southwest of Germany, notably to Biberach an der Riß and interned in the Lindele Camp ("Lager Lindele"). There was also a concentration camp built in Alderney where forced labourers, predominantly from Eastern Europe, were kept. It was the only concentration camp built on British soil and is commemorated on memorials under Alderney's name in French: 'Aurigny'. Among those deported was Ambrose (later Sir Ambrose) Sherwill, who, as the President of the States Controlling Committee, was de facto head of the civilian population. Sir Ambrose, who was Guernsey-born, had served in the British Army during the First World War and later became Bailiff of Guernsey.

Certain laws were passed at the insistence of the occupying forces; for example, a reward was offered to informants who reported anyone for painting "V-for Victory" signs on walls and buildings, a practice that had become popular among islanders who wished to express their loyalty to Britain.

Three islanders of Jewish descent were deported to Auschwitz, never to return.[12]

Guernsey was very heavily fortified during Second World War by 4x Russian 305mm guns made in 1911 out of all proportion to its strategic value. There are German defences visible all around the coast and additions were made to Castle Cornet and a windmill. Hitler became obsessed with the idea that the Allies would try to regain the islands at any price, and over 20% of the material that went into the Atlantic Wall was committed to the Channel Islands. Vast volumes of concrete were used on gun bases. Most of the German fortifications remain intact; although the majority of them are on private property, several are open to the public.[13][14]


Children on the Beach of Guernsey, 1883 (Renoir)

English is the language in general use by the majority of the population. Guernésiais, the Norman language of the island, is spoken fluently by only about 2% of the population (according to 2001 census), though 14% of the population claim some understanding of the language.

Until the early twentieth century French was the only official language of the Bailiwick, and all deeds for the sale and purchase of real estate in Guernsey were written in French until 1971. Family and place names reflect this linguistic heritage. Georges Métivier, considered by some to be the island's national poet, wrote in Guernesiais. The loss of the island's language and the Anglicisation of its culture, which began in the nineteenth century and proceeded inexorably for a century, accelerated sharply when the majority of the island's school children were evacuated to the United Kingdom for five years during the German occupation of 1940–1945.

Georges Métivier

Georges Métivier (1790–1881) was a Guernsey poet dubbed the "Guernsey Burns", and sometimes considered the island's national poet. He wrote in Guernésiais, and among his poetical works are Rimes Guernesiaises published in 1831. Métivier blended together local place-names, bird and animal names, traditional sayings and orally transmitted fragments of mediæval poetry to create these.

Victor Hugo wrote some of his best-known works while in exile in Guernsey, including Les Misérables. His home in St. Peter Port, Hauteville House, is now a museum administered by the city of Paris. In 1866, he published a novel set in the island, Travailleurs de la Mer (Toilers of the Sea), which he dedicated to the island of Guernsey.

The greatest novel by a Guernseyman is The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, by Gerald Basil Edwards, which, in addition to being a critically acclaimed work of literature, also contains a wealth of insights into life in Guernsey during the twentieth century.[15] In September 2008 a Blue Plaque was affixed to the house on the Braye Road in which Edwards was brought up. A more recent novel by Guernseyman Peter Lihou[16] called Rachel's Shoe describes the period when Guernsey was under German occupation during the Second World War.[17]

Henry Watson Fowler moved to Guernsey in 1903 where he and his brother Francis George Fowler composed The King's English and the Concise Oxford Dictionary, and much of Modern English Usage.

Guernsey cattle

The national animals of the island of Guernsey are the donkey and Guernsey cattle. The traditional explanation for the donkey (âne in French and Guernésiais) is the steepness of St Peter Port streets that necessitated beasts of burden for transport (in contrast to the flat terrain of the rival capital of St Helier in Jersey), although it is also used in reference to Guernsey inhabitants' stubbornness.

The Guernsey cow is a more internationally famous icon of the island. As well as being prized for its rich creamy milk, which is claimed by some to hold health benefits over milk from other breeds,[18] Guernsey cattle are increasingly being raised for their beef, which has a distinctive flavour and rich yellow fat. Although the number of individual islanders raising these cattle for private supply has diminished significantly since the 1960s, Guernsey steers can still be occasionally seen grazing on L'Ancresse common.

There is also a breed of goat known as the Golden Guernsey, which is distinguished by its golden-coloured coat. At the end of Second World War, the Golden Guernsey was almost extinct, due to interbreeding with other varieties on the island. The resurrection of this breed is largely credited to the work of a single woman, Miriam Milbourne. Although no longer considered in a 'critical' status, the breed remains on the "Watch List" of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.[19]

Guernsey people are traditionally nicknamed donkeys or ânes, especially by Jersey people (who in turn are nicknamed crapauds – toads). Inhabitants of each of the parishes of Guernsey also have traditional nicknames, although these have generally dropped out of use among the English-speaking population. The traditional nicknames are:[20]

Parish Guernésiais English Translation
St Peter Port Cllichards (spitters)
St Sampson's Rôines (frogs)
Vale Hann'taons (cockchafers)
Castel Ânes-pur-sàng (pure-blooded-donkeys)
St Saviour's Fouormillaons (ants)
St Pierre du Bois Etcherbaots (beetles)
Forest Bourdons (bumblebees)
St Martin's Cravants (ray fish)
St Andrew's Les croinchaons (the siftings)
Torteval Ânes à pids d'ch'fa (donkeys with horses' hooves)

The Guernsey Lily Nerine sarniensis (Sarnia is the traditional name of the island of Guernsey in Latin) is also used as a symbol of the island, although this species is actually introduced to the island from South Africa.

A local delicacy is the ormer (Haliotis tuberculata), a variety of abalone harvested from the beach at low spring tides, although strict laws control their harvesting.

Of the many traditional Guernsey recipes, the most renowned is a stew called Guernsey Bean Jar. It is a centuries-old stew that is still popular with Islanders, particularly at the annual 'Viaer Marchi' festival, where it served as one of the main events. Chief ingredients include haricot and butter beans, pork and shin beef.

Guernsey Gâche is a special bread made with raisins, sultanas and mixed peel.


Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Guernsey)


  1. "Guernsey". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  2. Evendon, J (11 February 2001). "Le Dehus – Burial Chamber (Dolmen)". The Megalithic Portal. 
  3. "Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK". BBC. Retrieved 10 October 2007. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Marr, J., The History of Guernsey – the Bailiwick's story, Guernsey Press (2001)
  5. "Channel Islands". The Royal Household Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  6. de Garis, Marie (1986). Folklore of Guernsey. OCLC 19840362. 
  7. Portrait of the Channel Islands, Lemprière, London 1970 ISBN 0709115415
  8. Guernsey's emigrant children. BBC – Legacies.
  9. Sharp, Eric (1976). A very distinguished Guernseyman – Capt William le Lacheur, his ships and his impact on the early development, both economic and spiritual of Costa Rica. XX. Guernsey. 127ff. 
  10. Parks, Edwin (1992). Diex Aix: God Help Us – The Guernseymen who marched away 1914–1918. Guernsey: States of Guernsey. ISBN 1871560853. 
  11. "Evacuees from Guernsey recall life in Scotland". BBC News. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  12. Janie Corbet I escaped the Nazi Holocaust, 9th July, 2005,
  13. "Channel Islands Occupation Society (Jersey)". CIOS Jersey. Retrieved 10 October 2007. 
  14. "Fortifications". CIOS Guernsey. Retrieved 10 October 2007. 
  15. Chaney, Edward, GB Edwards and Ebenezer Le Page, Review of the Guernsey Society, Parts 1–3, 1994–5.
  16. "". Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  17. "Rachel's Shoe". 10 December 2008. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  18. "HEALTH , Milk protein blamed for heart disease". BBC News. 9 April 2001. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  19. "Golden Guernsey" Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Retrieved 10 October 2007.
  20. Dictiounnaire Angllais-Guernésiais
The Channel Islands

Bailiwick of Guernsey: Guernsey • Alderney • Sark • Herm • Brecqhou • Burhou • Ortac • Les Casquets • Jethou • Lihou • Crevichon • Les Houmets

Bailiwick of Jersey: Jersey • Les Écréhous • La Motte • Les Minquiers • Pierres de Lecq • Les Dirouilles