King Street

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King Street


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King Street in 1921


King Street is the main shopping area in St Helier, Jersey's capital, but it was not always so. Originally there were meadows and swamps on the north side, followed by a handful of smart town houses

1905

Many people find it surprising, when they see the street name boards today, that King Street, St Helier's premier shopping street, should once have been known as Rue de Derrière (the road at the back), but that is exactly what the street once was.

Meadows

Until the town of St Helier began to expand in the 19th century, there was little or nothing to the north of the Royal Square except meadows and swamps. King Street was an unpaved lane at the back of the houses forming the north side of the square, where the weekly market was held.

The main entrance to the square was from Broad Street at the western end. The principal route from Charing Cross to what was then the centre of the town was along Broad Street, lined with important buildings on either side, and King Street faced the countryside.

Precinct

How things have changed over the decades. For a long period King Street became a busy thoroughfare, carrying horses and carts, and then the motor car, buses and other vehicles, from the west of the town to the east, but in the 1970s enlightened politicians had the courage first of all to ban through traffic, and then to pave the street as the town's first pedestrian precinct.

It was a slow process. At the beginning, in December 1971, a trial was conducted by barring traffic from the section from Halkett Place to Don Street, in front of Burton's, Woolworth and British Home Stores and cars were allowed to drive up the street from Charing Cross as far as Don Street. The pedestrianised area was not paved at the outset, just in case public opinion forced a change of mind and vehicles were again admitted. But the Jersey public was firmly in support of banning cars from the centre of their town, although the pedestrian area has not spread nearly as far as it was first envisaged might happen. Traffic was barred from the full length of King Street by 14 June 1974, and the street was then paved. The initial paving was replaced some time later with a smarter finish, which is still in place today.

On 18 April 1977 vehicles were prohibited from using Queen Street for a trial period and the town centre precinct continued to spread.

A German staff car in King Street during the Occupation, as ladies go about their shopping. This must have been 1940, because the street would never have been this busy in later years

Which king?

The history books are silent on exactly when the street's name changed from the old French to King Street, so it is not clear which King was being honoured. The Town of St Helier, the definitive work on the history of the town by Edmund Toulmin Nicolle, covers old and new street names, but is strangely silent on the timing and origins of many of them. King Street is completely ignored in George Balleine's work The Bailiwick of Jersey.

Some suggest that the change may perhaps have come about at the same time that the statue of King George II was erected in the Royal Square, but this was 1751, some considerable time before Rue de Derrière ceased to be an insignificant back street. There are plenty of references to the original name well into the 19th century. An article in The Pilot, a Jersey church magazine, in 1971, (it has been suggested that the article, which was unattributed, was written by Balleine, but this cannot be confirmed) suggested that King Street was named in honour of George III, and Queen Street in honour of his wife, Queen Charlotte. This would place the change to between 1760 and 1820 - George III had a particularly long reign, the longest of any British King. This suggestion is also made by Raoul Lempriere in his 1980 work Buildings and Memorials of the Channel Islands in which King Street merits a mere two paragraphs.

However, a set of cards showing views of the island which were produced for Ching's cigarettes in the 1950s suggested that King Street was named after William IV, King from 1830 to 1837, and Queen Street after his niece and successor, Queen Victoria.

Update

Further research leads us to believe that all these suggestions are wrong, and that Rue de Derriere became King Street in 1828, when George IV was on the throne.

We have discovered a minute of the St Helier Roads Committee - a very powerful body at the time - which, on 9 May 1820, gave permission for the rebuilding of the house in Rue de Derriere owned by the heirs of Jean Francois Montbrun. The permit was subject to the roadside wall of the property being realigned to match the neighbouring properties owned by Pierre Joste and Dr Fixott. If the minute of the Roads Committee called the street Rue de Derriere, then that is what it was, because it is that committee which, over a long period, was responsible for any decisions relating to the naming of the town's streets.

The change must have come about between 1820 and 1837, the period which covered the reigns George IV and William IV.

The building permit issued by the Roads Committee in 1820
The Lieut-Governor's letter to the Bailiff in 1827

This can be narrowed still further to 1827-1837, as evidenced by another document relating to street names and numbers, which has been brought to our attention.

On 8 May 1827 the Lieut-Governor of the day, Major-General Sir Colin Halkett, a hero of the Battle of Waterloo, who had held his Jersey office since 1820, wrote to the recently appointed Bailiff of the day, Sir Thomas Le Breton, to point out that the absence of clearly visible street names and a numbering system for properties resulted in 'much public inconvenience being daily experienced' and politely, but nevertheless firmly, suggesting that Sir Thomas raise the matter at the next sitting of the States. Perhaps Sir Colin was motivated by events two years earlier, when Halkett Place, named in his honour, was opened, but without any numbering of properties. It had previously been known as Market Street, according to an 1800 plan for the old Government House on the corner with King Street, which Sir Colin decided was not fit for him to live in.

Although we have so far not been able to ascertain exactly what happened following this intervention, it seems that the matter was referred to the States, and in time-honoured tradition a committee was appointed to look into the whole question of naming of streets and numbering of properties. No record has been found of any decision, but it is more than likely that this resulted both in the change of names of some streets from their old French titles to new English ones and the introduction at the same time of property numbers. [1]

Records of insurance policies for properties in the street indicate that they were being issued for Rue de Derriere in the middle of 1828 and for King Street in January 1829. No record has been found of any further involvement by the St Helier Roads Committee, but it is possible that decisions on such a major issue as the renaming of numerous town streets and the introduction of numbers was taken by the States.

The Roads Committee also had considerable powers over building work in the town. There were no islandwide planning procedures at this time. There would not be any for over a century. But there were strong moves to widen the town's streets, many of which were barely wide enough to allow the passing of two horse-drawn carts. The process of requiring realignment of property frontages whenever any building work was undertaken operated side by side with efforts for the authorities to acquire properties, either by agreement with the owner or compulsory purchase, if necessary, so that the widening of streets would not have to await building projects.

This photograph from around the end of the 19th century shows how the property on the right making the corner of King Street and Halkett Place, variously known as No 2 King Street or 1 Halkett Place, jutted out beyond the line of the other properties. When it was rebuilt for Burton's the facade and pavement line were pushed back in line with the rest of the street.

Businesses

Many of the businesses in King Street today are branches of multiples which can be found in many other high streets in the British Islands, but there are others which are unique to Jersey and have been trading for a century or more.

Notable long-established businesses still trading, and others which have now disappeared, include:

Property histories

We have created a series of histories of all the shops in King Street. Follow the links in the list below to articles on individual properties. One factor worth noting in these articles is the number of businesses run by English and French immigrants to the island. There are very few records of any shops at all in St Helier until very late in the 18th century. Business was carried out at the market in the Royal Square and then the new premises in Halkett Place, and as the growing population of the town in the early years of the 19th century created a demand for retail outlets, these were mainly provided by outsiders who settled in the island with their families.

No 1 No 2 No 3 No 4 No 5 No 6 No 7 No 8 No 9 No 10
No 11 No 12 No 13 No 14 No 15 No 16 No 17 No 18 No 19 No 20
No 21 No 22 No 23 No 24 No 25 No 26 No 27 No 28 No 29 No 30
No 31 No 32 No 33 No 34 No 35 No 36 No 37 No 38 No 39 No 40
No 41 No 42 No 43 No 44 No 44½ No 45 No 45a No 46 No 47 No 48
No 49 No 50 No 51 No 52 No 53 No 54 No 55 No 55½ No 56 No 57
No 58 No 59 No 60 No 61 No 62 No 63 No 64 No 65 No 66 No 67
No 68 No 69 No 70 No 71 No 72 No 73 No 74 No 75 No 76 No 77
No 78 No 79

Street history

d'Auvergne plaque

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This map of King Street is believed to date from 1913. It shows clearly how relatively small the properties were on the south side of the street, compared with those on the north, which stretched back over what had previously been wet meadowland. Some of the censuses list dozens of households behind the shops which fronted the street, in narrow lanes many of which have now been absorbed into the commercial premises. This was possible because in most cases the lanes were privately owned, the adjoining cottages being let out to families and the shop to a tenant. Very few King Street traders owned their own premises, and although some of the larger enterprises have become owners over the decades, many King Street properties, particularly on the south side, remain in family ownership and command very high rents. The map shows clearly how some properties stretched from King Street through to Broad Street and Vine Street behind, whereas others, at least in 1913, were separate properties. Notice how New Street narrows as it meets King Street. This junction was later widened with the loss of one street number on the north side of King Street.
The top end of King Street in 1959. Princess Margaret is driven past the crowds on an official visit
Click on any image below to see a larger version
1970s
A Noel and Porter van heads a queue of traffic
Christmas shopping
Cobbles in 1890
The street is decorated, either for the Coronation in 1953, or the Queen's visit in 1957
British Home Stores, 1968, and the street is still open to traffic all day ...
... five years later vehicles have been banished and the street is being paved
Shoppers take advantage of the full width of the newly pedestrianised road in the early 1970s. The traffic lights at the junction with Halkett Place and Queen Street have not yet been removed. The use of a telephoto lens has foreshortened the view of Queen Street in the distance and Boot's appears to be level with those traffic lights, whereas it is actually some 200 metres distant
A deserted street when the island was in lockdown during the 2020 Covid pandemic


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Business adverts

1945

Notes and references

  1. No street numbers are shown in the 1841 census, but other records indicate that the properties had certainly been allocated numbers by the early 1830s, and possibly even earlier. The north side of the street was first developed in the early to mid-18th century. However, these were not commercial properties, but fine homes. Maps of St Helier from 1737 and 1787 do not show individual properties along the north side of King Street, but a thin line of buildings with gardens behind. It was not until the early 19th century that the homes began to be replaced by shops and the street emerged as it is today, flanked on both sides by a continuous line of shops. It can only be after the development of the north side had been completed that the numbering system, with odd numbers on the south and even numbers on the north was introduced.
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