Jersey's Lost Buildings
Thanks to the efforts of organisations such as Save Jersey's Heritage, The National Trust for Jersey and La Société Jersiaise, Jersey now has a better appreciation of its built heritage. After years of campaigning, successive planning committees have introduced historic buildings policies that match those in use elsewhere. The Island has signed up to a number of European and International conventions on the protection of historic buildings and the new Island Plan, approved by the States in 2002, contains the most rigorous policies the Island has ever seen.
All this is good news but has come too late to save hundreds of fine buildings lost since the end of the Occupation. The demolition of buildings reached fever pitch in the mid-1960s as Jersey began to benefit from a change in its Finance Law which encouraged banks to establish businesses offshore. This, combined with lax planning controls and the absence of a listing system (introduced in the UK in 1948) meant that there was usually little opposition to demolition, even though it rapidly changed the face of St Helier.
While campaigning for the rot to stop, Save Jersey's Heritage set out to record these lost buildings in two books by historian André Ferrari. Jersey's Lost Heritage and Jersey's Disappearing Heritage painted a depressing picture of buildings needlessly demolished and of those which remain being stripped of their character by the use of PVCu windows and other unsympathetic alterations. It is now thought that both publications, whose forewords were rallying cries from Marcus Binney, helped to changed the way members of the public - and States' Members - viewed what was left of Jersey's architectural heritage.
As Marcus Binney says, there really was no excuse for the needless destruction of so many fine Jersey buildings over the past fifty years.
"Architecture is at once the most permanent of the arts and the most vulnerable to destruction. The pyramids and the temples of the Niles survive to astound us while the contents of the great library at Alexandria entirely perished in a fire. Yet, equally, many of the finest buildings of every age have vanished, some through war or natural calamities, but others need not have been demolished at all. Had they survived for just a few more years they would now be cherished, coveted and put to good use.
A whole alternative history of Jersey architecture could be written from buildings that have disappeared. This is a cemetery in which there are tombstones enough. The Hue Street cottages could easily have joined them as well as numerous other buildings which have been attractively restored by enterprising individuals and enlighted businesses.
The famous saying runs: "Never ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." The loss of buildings illustrated here is a collective loss to the Island as a whole. But we know something now that was not so apparent even a few years ago - that historic buildings are rarely beyond repair and can be sensitively restored and provided with all the comforts of modern living and the latest advances on technology - and prove good investments too.
The time has come to heed the Book of Proverbs (ch. 22 c 28): "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set."