5 Places to Learn About Jersey’s History | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

5 Places to Learn About Jersey’s History

Jersey may only be 9 by 5 miles, but it packs in a wealth of heritage that can rival most places. From the Neolithic era right up to modern day, here are 5 sites to visit and learn about Jersey's history.

Alex Spencer

09 Jun 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

1. Le Hogue Bie

Le Hogue Bie is the tenth oldest building in the world. It is one of the largest and best examples of a Neolithic grave in Europe. In use around 3500BC, the word grave is slightly misleading. It consists of passage graves that would have served the same functionality as modern societies churches or cathedrals. The reconstruction of the original entrance has shown that on the spring and autumn equinox the sun’s rays shine direct through the chamber. Although this is thought to be fortunate rather than planned.

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2. Mont Orgueil Castle

Mont Orgueil Castle, known locally as Gorey Castle, is an impressive medieval castle that has looked over the fishing port of Gorey for over 800 years.

The castle was built, during the 13th century when the Duchy of Normandy was the subject of dispute between France and England. When Philip II seized Normandy from King John, Jersey was under threat.

The site of Gorey was a natural choice for a defensive structure, being protected by the cliffs and sea. Building materials arrived from England and towers and walls soon evolved. The castle was now a base for the English garrison.

It was raided in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries and it was clear adjustments were needed. New technology at the time meant that bow and arrow were being trumped by gunpowder and cannons. Therefore, extra work was needed to cater for this new warfare. However, by this time, Elizabeth Castle was being built which would soon put Gorey Castle into redundancy as a defensive building.

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3. Elizabeth Castle

Elizabeth Castle is half the age of Gorey Castle, but proved an effective defensive structure for the Island.

Construction began in 1550 when a gun platform was built on the highest bit of The Islet. Forty years later, Queen Elizabeth I sent Paul Ivy, her military engineer to oversee construction of the Upper Ward.

Sir Walter Raleigh, governor of Jersey from 1600 to 1603, named it after Her Majesty; Fort Isabella Bellissima, or Elizabeth Castle. Over the 17th Century as Jersey was drawn into a civil war, more fortifications were added. These included a fortified windmill. At first, the tide that surrounded the Castle seven hours out of twelve was seen as its strength, but events later proved it to be a weakness. When the French invaded Jersey on 6 January 1781, the troops garrisoned at the Castle could not take part in the defence of St Helier once they were cut off by the tide.

The castle continued to be a military garrison until 1923, when it was sold by the British Government to the States of Jersey. It was fortified once again by the German Forces during the Occupation of 1940 to 1945.

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4. The Jersey Forts and Towers

Jersey has forts and towers all dotted around the Island. They started being built from the late 1700s to protect the island from the threat of invasion by the French. Made with local granite, some are very easy to spot as they are painted red and white to act as navigational aids for ships. 

La Rocco and Seymour Tower are 18th century fortifications and stand about a mile and half off St Ouens Bay and Le Hocq respectively. Both are quite unique. La Rocco is distinguishable for its spiral walkway, whilst Seymour Tower is rectangular in shape.

Kempt and Lewis Tower were built in the 19th century. Lewis Tower is named after Colonel Griffith George Lewis, commander of the Jersey Royal Engineers.

Remembrance monument and plaque to the 5000 Russians, Poles, Frenchmen and Spaniards that built the Jersey War Tunnels.

5. Jersey War Tunnels

The Jersey War Tunnels are a partially completed underground hospital complex in St. Lawrence. Built by German occupying forces during the occupation of Jersey during World War II. Over 1 km of tunnels were completed. Since the liberation, they have been turned into a museum.

In October 1941 Hitler wanted to fortify the occupied Channel Islands and shipped labourers to Jersey to start building a vast network of tunnels. These would allow the German infantry to withstand Allied air raids and bombardment.

With the threat of Operation Overlord form the allies in 1943, they were converted into a casualty centre and hospital. Despite being built with full air conditioning, heating and gas-proof doors and an operating theatre, the 500 beds were never used.