Review: Guernsey’s Countryside: An Introduction to the History of the Rural Landscape by Richard Hocart (2010) Assessment 6 out of 10

Short and informative; a very readable introduction to Guernsey’s Landscape History.

Example locations and sites are cross-referenced to the maps in the “Perry’s Guide”, so the guide will assist when exploring Guernsey, preferably by bike. There are numerous photographs and a very useful synopsis on Guernsey house types, derived from John McCormack’s detailed studies.

The Guernsey’s landscape is described as unique, a truism, as all landscapes have unique qualities. That said, there are marked similarities, both in their features and history, between those of Jersey & Guernsey. I found particularly interesting the similarities and differences between the two.

Guernsey is smaller, at 65 sq km, nearly half Jersey’s size, approximately 120 sq km. In both, the territorial division into parishes has continued to this day, as has, at least vestiges of, the division into feudal Fiefs, with little coincidence between Parish and Fief boundaries.

Jersey’s 12 Parishes with an average size of 10 sq km are bigger than Guernsey’s 10 Parishes with an average size of only 6.5 sq km, which means they are small by any standard. In Jersey parish boundaries are more regular than in Guernsey, where two of the Parishes, Torteval and St Sampson’s are divided into detached parts separated by intervening parishes. It is possible this reflects the ownership of church-land by different Norman abbeys, while Jersey’s Parishes were planned, most likely by Norman Duke William before he became “the Conqueror”.

In Guernsey feudal courts met in the open air, the judges sitting on stone seats, which for 6 Fiefs have survived, as have two court houses. Evidence for the survival of Fief courts in Jersey is less clear.

Glasshouses are a significant feature of the Guernsey landscape, concentrated in the north-east, close to St Sampson’s, where coal was imported to heat boilers, and which is lower and sunnier, less liable to sea fog than the Island’s higher south. Grapes were grown in the 19th century. Later tomatoes were grown under the vines and increasingly as the main crop. However glasshouses were still called Vineries. In the later 20th century tomato production contracted. Many glasshouses closed, leaving as remnants boiler chimneys, water tanks and packing sheds. Some glass houses were converted into housing, planning control over former glass only introduced in 1966. Others were left derelict.

Utilities were installed first at St Peter Port, spreading only gradually into the countryside. In 1895 a separate supply, the “irrigation main” provided non-drinkable water from flooded quarries to the Vineries. Utility installation influenced development. In the early 20th century, homes were built in Guernsey’s south and north-east with access to services, leaving the south and west less developed.

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