A History of the Opening of the States Chamber

2017 will mark the 130th anniversary of the opening of the States Chamber.  To commemorate this occasion, the States Greffe has produced this blog in conjunction with a public exhibition to explain how the Chamber came to be built.

The Chamber was used for the first time by the States Assembly on 21st June 1887.  As the home of Jersey’s parliament, the Chamber is where important decisions affecting Islanders are taken.  The Island’s laws are made there.  It is where proposals about public spending and taxes are agreed and where significant policies are debated.  The Island’s Ministers are appointed and held to account there.  The Chamber thereby lies at the heart of Jersey’s self-governing status.

Records exist for the Assembly dating back to 1524; but it was only on that day in June 1887 that the Assembly took occupancy of a meeting room befitting its status as the Island’s parliament.  The development and construction of the Chamber were symbolic of the Assembly’s increasing prominence and independence, and of Jersey’s growing autonomy.

That autonomy stems from the freedoms and privileges granted to the Island over the centuries by successive English and British monarchs.  Once King John of England had lost mainland Normandy to France in 1204, those privileges included the Island’s capacity to maintain its own judicial system.  From this judicial freedom the Island’s Royal Court of the Bailiff and 12 Jurats came into being.

Initially the Court not only adjudicated on the law but it also had the power to make law.  Over time, the Court came to consult the 12 Rectors and 12 Connétables of the Island’s Parishes about the making of new laws.  From the meetings of these three ‘estates’ the States Assembly was formed.  At first, both the Royal Court and the States Assembly continued to enjoy the power to make laws.  The Code of 1771, which codified the legislation of the Island, confirmed that only the States Assembly should have a law-making power; it thereby became the Island’s sole legislature.

The home of the Royal Court has, since time immemorial, been in what is now the Royal Square.  As the Royal Court and States Assembly shared members and functions, it was only natural that the two bodies should also share facilities and meeting rooms.  Hence the Royal Square has always been the Assembly’s home as well.

1834 Le Gros Map A - JPH

An extract from the Le Gros map of 1834 showing the building (marked ‘F’) in which both the Royal Court and States Assembly met at the time.

Until the late nineteenth century, the southern side of the Royal Square looked somewhat different from how it does today.  Instead of the single complex of Court and States Buildings which now run along the southern side, there were houses and hotels – with a single Court Building placed in the centre.  The mediaeval building was replaced in the 1640s with a new building which, in turn, was replaced during the 1760s.  In the 1790s, further refurbishments saw a court room within the building set aside for use by the States Assembly.

From the 1830s onwards, there was increasing pressure on the facilities available to the Court and Assembly and the States recognised that changes needed to be made.  Initially, the States purchased properties to the east for use as offices in order to ease the pressure.  The creation of the Police and Petty Debts Courts in 1854 increased that pressure still further, however, and it came to be that the Assembly no longer had sole use of the room which had been made available to it.  Furthermore, in 1857 the Assembly grew in size.  Until that time, the voting element of the Assembly had comprised the 12 Jurats, 12 Rectors and 12 Connétables; that year, however, 14 Deputies were added to its membership, thereby increasing the number of members that needed to be accommodated whenever the Assembly met.

1850 States Building Site - JPH

The site where the States Building now stands pictured in the mid-nineteenth century. At this time, the buildings occupying the site were used as States offices. (Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Jersey)

In the 1860s, the Court Building itself was refurbished again.  This refurbishment was intended to deliver a room for the Royal Court on the upper floor of the building with the Assembly and Police and Petty Debts Courts having rooms on the ground floor.  The Assembly was therefore nevertheless required to continue sharing facilities with the judiciary.

By the 1870s, the pressure on space had not abated.  Plans were made to purchase properties to the west to allow for further expansion.  The properties to the east were by this time being used by the Greffier of the Petty Debts Court and by the Superintendent Registrar.  However, a new office for the States and Royal Court Greffier was also needed; strong rooms for the safe and secure storage of the States’ records were required; and a new public library had also been called for.  Somewhat hidden amongst these plans, the need for a new room for use by the Assembly was also identified.

1870 Court Building - JPH

The court building, which was used by both the Royal Court and States Assembly, pictured in 1870. (Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Jersey)

At this time, Jersey had a committee-system of government (a system which lasted until 2005 when it was replaced by the current ministerial system).  A number of committees were therefore established by the States to oversee the various improvements needed.  The Public Library Committee was given responsibility for the development of that facility to the west of the existing building; whilst the Public Archives Committee looked after the arrangements for the storage of States’ records and documents to the east.  There was no ‘States Room Committee’ to lead on the development of facilities for the Assembly – perhaps a reflection of how high a priority construction of a States chamber was!

It was therefore left to the Public Archives Committee to take responsibility for developing a new Chamber as well.  The need for such facilities for the Assembly increased even more after 1877 as a result of further refurbishment of the Court building.  It was at this time that the interior of the Royal Court essentially came to look as it does today.

meeting of Royal Court

 

The Royal Court in the early twentieth century. Although not a meeting of the States, this photograph indicates how the Assembly would have sat when using a court room: with the Bailiff and Jurats sat in the judicial benches; and the Rectors, Connétables and Deputies sat opposite. (Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Jersey)

A number of people were involved via the committee system in the work to develop and build the States Chamber.  And under the committee system, no one politician was therefore singly responsible for the work.  Instrumental in establishing the Chamber, however, was the President of the Public Archives Committee throughout the development and implementation of the plans: Jurat Charles Gruchy.

Charles Gruchy was born in 1818 and served in the Militia from 1843 to 1867.  He first entered the States in 1863 as the Deputy of Trinity before being elected as Connétable of the same Parish in 1864; and then Jurat in 1868.  He served in the States until his death in 1900.  At the time of his death, he was described in the press as a staunch conservative and one who did not look with much favour on the idea of progress and reform.  Yet despite any such conservative tendencies, he was a driving force behind the construction of the States Chamber and (albeit perhaps inadvertently) cementing still further the separation of the Royal Court and the States Assembly.

8 - Charles Gruchy

Jurat Charles Gruchy, President of the Public Archives Committee. (Photograph provided by the Parish of Trinity)

The Public Archives Committee, under the presidency of Jurat Gruchy, began its work in 1877.  By that time, plans had been prepared by the States Architect for a ‘New States Room’ to be placed above the strong rooms that would be built to the east of the existing building.  However, whilst work on the strong rooms was completed in 1879, nothing had been done in respect of the ‘New States Room’ and the first floor of the new building seemingly remained unused.

A different plan for a States Chamber, albeit in the same location, was prepared by the new States Engineer in 1880 but, again, work did not start and it was not until 1882 that the Public Archives Committee presented both of the plans it had been given to the Assembly for consideration.  By that time, work had begun to the west of the existing building on what was intended to be a new public library and office for the Greffier.  The fact that this work to the west had started gave an opportunity for members to debate where exactly the ‘New States Room’ should be placed.

During that debate in 1882, some members expressed the view that a decision about the location of the new Chamber should be left in the hands of the architects hired to develop the new building to the west.  Still other members favoured the status quo and suggested the Assembly should first decide whether it actually wished to move from its current home in the existing Court Building.  It was left to Jurat Gruchy to highlight that the Public Archives Committee had already prepared a plan for construction of the ‘New States Room’ in the upper part of the eastern building and that adoption of any other plan would completely set aside the Committee’s work.  The Committee’s intentions were supported by 13 votes to 11 and it was therefore confirmed that the Chamber would be placed in the building to the east.

It is not clear what happened to the plans of 1876 and 1880 but, by July 1883, they had evidently been put aside and the Public Archives Committee was instead considering plans prepared by Mr. Ancell of Messrs. Ancell and Orange, who had been engaged as architects for the new building being constructed to the west.  Mr. Ancell’s plans for a ‘New States Room’ were not put to the Assembly until 1885, however, and again concerns were expressed by members during the ensuing debate as to what was happening.  Some members proposed that plans should instead be sought via a competition amongst local architects.  This proposal was in fact adopted and £20 agreed as a prize for the winning plans.  But there appears to be no record of such a competition being held!

1888 Court and States Building - JPH

The new building to the east, pictured in 1881.  At this time, the first floor was seemingly unused, pending a decision from the States on where the new Chamber should be built. (Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Jersey)

Ancell and Orange were therefore ultimately the designers of the ‘New States Room’.  Work on the building to the west had by that time been completed and the new public library and Greffier’s Office were handed over to the States in June 1886.  Work to the east on the new States Chamber finally started a few weeks later.

But States members continued to present challenges to progress.  In October 1886, the Assembly discussed estimates provided by Messrs. Ancell and Orange for the heating apparatus and furniture to be used in the new Chamber.  During the debate, questions were asked about the tendering process used to identify those who had undertaken the building work and it was claimed that the normal tendering process had not been followed.  Jurat Gruchy was again required to explain the processes followed by the Public Archives Committee and to reassure that all was well.  The Assembly ultimately accepted Jurat Gruchy’s assurances and work continued.

The new Chamber was ready for use by mid-June 1887.  The works themselves were led by Mr. Samuel Cuzner, the surviving partner of Messrs. De Gruchy and Cuzner of Great Union Road and overseen by the Clerk of the Works, Mr. W. Parker.

A report of the time described the new Chamber as follows:

The interior of the building is constructed in the early Jacobean style, the ceiling which is divided into nine large panels being carved and panelled and moulded in Parisian cement on wood bracketing.  It is supported by twelve pilasters on each of which is a large shield.  (We understand that it is intended to paint the names of the different parishes on the shields).  It is covered with wood framing, glazed with stained glass.

The President’s seat is seven inches higher than that of the Lieutenant-Governor and fourteen inches higher than the seats of the States members.

There is seating accommodation in the galleries for about 60 persons.  The enclosure of the room is, like the seats and the desks also of oak, up to gallery level, and carved and panelled and decorated with hand painted Tynecastle.

The ventilating appliances cover the whole of the ceilings over the passages to the galleries and consist of large air shafts into which air is brought through gratings in the outside walls.  The room is lighted and foul air extracted by means of a large 84 light sun burner and extractor suspended from the centre of the ceiling.”

A semi-circular design for the Chamber had been chosen, similar to that found on the Continent for parliaments and legislatures, rather than the adversarial structure found at Westminster where two banks of members’ seats are set opposite each other.  The President’s seat was placed higher than that of the Lieutenant-Governor to reflect the directions of an Order in Council made in 1618, in which it had been stated that the Bailiff should take precedence over the Lieutenant-Governor in both the States Assembly and the Royal Court.

Ancell and Orange plan

Initial plans of Messrs. Ancell and Orange for the first floor of the building to the east, showing the States Chamber and offices for the Bailiff and Jurats. (Jersey Archive Reference D/AL/A2/120)

Not all found favour with the design of the new Chamber, however, and the local press reported that insufficient provision had been made for journalists.  Once the initial works had been completed, the Public Archives Committee therefore ordered that additional desks be purchased for use by reporters of the time.

By the time work on the Chamber had been completed, preparations were afoot to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.  It was agreed to include the opening of the new Chamber within those celebrations.  The Chamber was therefore used by the Assembly for the first time on 21st June 1887, the day of the Jubilee.

The Bailiff was ill that day and the Lieutenant-Bailiff, Jurat John Picot, therefore presided.  40 other voting members were present.  1 Jurat and 1 Rector were ill, however, whilst 2 Jurats, 3 Rectors and 1 Deputy were absent from the Island.  They included the Dean of Jersey, William Corbet Le Breton, the father of Lillie Langtry.

Despite any seating plans that might previously have been made, it was decided at the beginning of the meeting that Jurats would sit on the presiding officer’s left; with the Rectors on the right and the Connétables and the Deputies taking the seats in the middle sections of the Chamber.

1881 States Building - JPH

A photograph of the centenary celebrations in 1881 of the Battle of Jersey. Although the new building to the east had been completed, the States Chamber had not yet been built on the first floor. Similar scenes in the Royal Square occurred on the day the Chamber was first used in 1887. (Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Jersey)

The Assembly dealt with administrative business first, noting receipt of a letter from the Receiver General and agreeing the allocation of additional funds to the Jubilee Committee.  It then moved on to the main item of business: marking the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in appropriate fashion.  The wording of a telegram to the Queen was agreed, as was the text of a loyal address – printed on vellum – prepared by Deputy Henry Le Vavasseur dit Durell of St. Helier.

The Assembly then adjourned for a service at the Town Church before formally processing to the Victoria Pier for the laying of the foundation stone of a new landing jetty.  50 cannon shots were fired from Elizabeth Castle.  The Assembly returned briefly to the Chamber before adjourning again to the Royal Square, where the Lieutenant-Governor addressed the Militia and where the massed Church choirs of the Island, together with the Jersey Choral Society, led the singing of the National Anthem.  The day had been declared a public holiday and the Town was illuminated that evening in continuation of the celebrations.

The States Assembly in 1887 had the following membership:

  • The Bailiff, who was President of the States.  As such, he had the right to speak and could exercise a casting vote in the event of a tie.  He also had the power to dissent to any decision of the Assembly if he felt it was not within the Assembly’s power to make such a decision.
  • His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor, who had the right to speak but not to vote.  He had the power, however, to veto any decision of the Assembly if he felt it affected the interests of the Crown.
  • 12 Jurats, elected for life on an Island-wide mandate and who also sat as judges in the Royal Court.
  • 12 Rectors, members on account of their office.
  • 12 Connétables, one elected from each Parish for 3 years and members on account of their office.
  • 14 Deputies, one elected from each Parish, apart from St. Helier which elected 3 Deputies, for 3 years
  • The Attorney General and Solicitor General, who had the right to speak but not to vote.
  • The Viscount, who had neither the right to speak nor to vote.

The officer of the States was the Greffier, as clerk, who also served as Greffier and clerk to the Royal Court.

States meeting in early days.jpg

A meeting of the Assembly in the States Chamber during the early part of the twentieth century, under the presidency of William Henry Venables Vernon, Bailiff. (Société Jersiaise Photographic Archive, Jersey)

As stated, there was a Committee-system of government, with Committees always presided over by a Jurat as the most senior class of member.  The proceedings of the Assembly at this time were undertaken in French with English only allowed as a language of debate in the Chamber from 1900 onwards.  French remains an official language for use in the Chamber.

Legislation passed by the Assembly at the time was also written in French.  It was only after the Liberation that laws came to be drafted predominantly in English.  The first piece of legislation adopted by the Assembly in its new Chamber was the ‘Règlement relatif à l’Enlèvement de Pierres, Sable et Gravier’ which sought to outlaw the taking of sand and stones from the beach.  The first time the Assembly debated this matter in the new Chamber, however, it was forced to defer discussions as an insufficient number of members were present and the Assembly was therefore inquorate.  It was passed by the Assembly at the second attempt at the next meeting.

The hottest political topic at the time the Chamber was first used concerned land at the foot of Mont Orgueil known as The Queen’s Warren.  Prior to the opening of the Chamber, the Assembly had recently taken note of an advertisement placed in the press to say that this Crown-owned land was for sale and the advertisements extolled the virtues of the land from a residential and agricultural perspective.  The Assembly baulked at the prospective sale of the land and ultimately drafted a petition to the Queen protesting against the proposed sale and setting out the legal arguments for why the sale should not go ahead.  The arguments of the Assembly also focussed on the historical importance of the land and the various important episodes in the Island’s history which had taken place there, stating that “the States are certain that they express the opinion of all true Jerseymen in stating that it would cause them the deepest regret should the land, which has so many times been saturated with the blood of their ancestors, be sold and more especially for the purpose of growing potatoes.”

Some of the other issues coming before the Assembly around this time would be more familiar to the public of 2017.  A few months after the Chamber opened, for example, the Assembly noted receipt of a petition which called for St. Helier to be represented more fairly amongst the membership of the States!

Relatively few modifications have been made to the States Chamber since it was first used and it today looks very similar to how it did when first used in 1887.  Some changes have taken place, however.  The Chamber was first lit by electricity in 1927 and the seating was reupholstered during the 1960s.  A sound-proofed booth was created during the 1980s for use by BBC Radio, an electronic voting system was introduced in 2004 and, in 2016, cameras were installed to allow for the Assembly’s proceedings to be webcast.

The composition of the Assembly has perhaps seen more significant changes than the Chamber in which it meets.  The Assembly of 2017 comprises 49 elected members, each of whom is elected for a four-year term:

  • 8 Senators elected on an Island-wide basis.
  • 12 Connétables, one elected for each of the Island’s Parishes and members on account of their office.
  • 29 Deputies elected from 17 districts.

In the Chamber today, the Senators – the most senior class of elected member – sit to the left of the Bailiff in the seats once occupied by the Jurats.  The Connétables sit to the left of the Senators and the Deputies then occupy the remainder of the Chamber.  Each member has their own assigned place where they must sit to speak during debates and to cast their votes.

Seating plan

The seating plan for the States Chamber in 2017.

The Jurats and Rectors ceased to be members following reforms implemented in 1948, although the Dean of Jersey remains a member with the right to speak, but not to vote.

The Bailiff continues as President of the States but his power of dissent and casting vote were removed in 2005.  His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor remains a member with the right to speak but his power of veto was also removed in 2005; by convention, he only speaks twice – at the first and last meetings of the Assembly which he attends.

The Attorney General and Solicitor General remain non-voting members of the Assembly but the Viscount ceased to be a member in 1948 and is now an officer of the Assembly.  The other, principal officer is the Greffier of the States, who is clerk to the Assembly.  Responsibility for clerking the Royal Court lies now with the Judicial Greffier following the splitting of the Greffier’s role in 1931.

Although the States Chamber is the home of the States Assembly and is its principal meeting place, there is nevertheless no requirement for the Assembly to meet there in order to carry out its business.

This has always been the case.  During the 1640s, for instance, and the time of the English Civil War, the Assembly met on one occasion at Trinity Parish Church; and, during the Bread Riots of 1769, the Assembly met at Elizabeth Castle.

During the nineteenth century, the Assembly was also forced to meet elsewhere whenever refurbishment works were undertaken on the Court Building.  The Assembly therefore met at times at both the Town Hall and also the Albert Hall in Halkett Place (latterly known as the Mechanics’ Institute).

In more recent times, the Assembly has on occasion met outside, in the Royal Square or the People’s Park, to mark a Royal Visit or to celebrate Liberation Day.  But other circumstances can sometimes force a change of venue: in 2014, the Assembly held one of its meetings at the Town Hall when a fire alarm required the evacuation of the States Building.

1957.07.25 Sir Alexander Coutanche (Bailiff) presents loyal address to HM The Queen (States of Jersey) - SG

Since the Chamber’s opening, the Assembly has continued to use it to mark Jersey’s connection with the Crown. In 1957, Queen Elizabeth II addressed the Assembly during a Royal Visit to the Island.

The States Building itself, in which the Chamber is housed, sits as the eastern part of a complex of buildings that also houses the Royal Court, the Bailiff’s Chambers and the Judicial Greffe.  From one single building housing both the Royal Court and the States Assembly in the 1830s, the ensuing decades were witness to a process of improvement to the building and its surroundings which began in earnest during the 1860s, but which only saw its final fruition in the 1930s, when the most westerly section of the complex we know today was completed.

Subsequent changes to that complex have occurred since and further modifications made.  The public library moved to new premises in the late 1980s, whilst the States Greffe, Law Officers’ and Viscount’s Departments moved across Halkett Place to Morier House following the latter building’s construction in the 1990s.

The most recent major refurbishment took place in the mid-2000s.  At that time, the Public Registry was moved from the ground floor of the States Building and the Bailiff’s office was moved from beside the States Chamber to a new location in the most westerly part of the complex.  Facilities for States Members were improved at the same time.

build dates

A photograph showing the development and construction of the complex which houses the States Assembly and Royal Court. (Photograph provided by Jersey Property Holdings)

During all those subsequent developments, however, the States Chamber has remained the principal home of the States Assembly.  It continues in 2017 to fulfil the purpose for which it was originally designed and built: to provide a fitting place in which Jersey’s parliament can meet and in which significant matters affecting the Island and its people are debated and decided.

Acknowledgements

Histories of the Court and States Buildings were produced by Mr. Raymond Falle FRSA in the 1960s and 1970s and they were used to help produce this booklet.  Further research was undertaken at the Jersey Archive and the Société Jersiaise and particular thanks go to both organisations for their assistance, as well as to the Parish of Trinity and Jersey Property Holdings for the provision of photographs.

 

Membership of the States Assembly on 21st June 1887

Sir George Clement Bertram (Bailiff)

His Excellency Major-General Henry Wray CMG (Lieutenant-Governor)

 Jurats

Peter Briard

Edouard Charles Malet de Carteret

Clement August de Quetteville

Frederic Nicolle de Quetteville

Charles François Dorey

Josué George Falle

Matthieu Gallichan

Charles Gruchy

François Marett

Alfred Messervy

William Nicolle

John Picot

Rectors

Ad. Orange Balleine (St. Lawrence)

George Clément (St. Ouen)

William du Heaume (Trinity)

William Corbet Le Breton (St. Helier)

Edouard Le Feuvre (Grouville)

William Brine Le Maistre (St. Peter)

Thomas Le Neveu (St. Martin)

Josué Le Sueur (St. Brelade)

Daniel M. Lemprière (St. Clement)

Edouard Luce (St. Mary)

Charles Marett (St. Saviour)

Connétables

Nicolas Arthur, son of Nicolas (St. Mary)

Philippe Baudains (St. Helier)

Charles Jean Benest (St. Clement)

Thomas Falla Junior (St. John)

Philippe James Falle (Grouville)

John Francis Giffard (St. Peter)

Frederick R. Le Brun (St. Martin)

Arthur Le Cerf (St. Ouen)

Théodore Le Gallais (St. Saviour)

Clement Le Gros (St, Lawrence)

John Norman (Trinity)

John Alfred Seale (St. Brelade)

Deputies

John Amy (St. Clement)

Philippe Aubin (Trinity)

John Collas (St. Mary)

Henry Coutanche Junior (St. Lawrence)

James John Ereaut (St. Saviour)

François Le Brocq (St. Peter)

Philippe Le Feuvre (St. Ouen)

Clement Le Sueur (St. Helier)

Henry Edouard Le Vavassur dit Durell (St. Helier)

Thomas William Messervy (St. Martin)

Philippe Neel (St. John)

Edouard Orange (St. Brelade)

George James Pepin (Grouville)

Charles George Renouf (St. Helier)

William Henry Venables Vernon (Attorney General)

Gervaise Le Gros (Viscount)

Adophus Hilgrove Turner (Solicitor General)