An Introduction to the Location, History and Culture of Guernsey
Located in the Bay of St Malo, on the
edge of the English Channel, Guernsey is less than a hundred miles south of the English south coast and thirty or so miles
from the French Coast.
It is around 24 square miles in area, with one airport and one harbour, which caters for passenger
and freight traffic, and a smaller harbour, which is used for materials such as coal and fuel.
is part of a Bailiwick, a group of Islands under the control of a Bailiff, the head of the legal system. The other Islands
include Sark, Alderney, Herm, Breqhou and Jethou. Guernsey is a short, 15 minute flight from Jersey, the largest of the Channel
The History of Guernsey is as long as it is unique and fascinating.
Ownership of property on the Island helps us understand some of the history with records dating back to before 1066. The lands
of Normandy in France were at one time under the control of the Bretons and subsequently taken over by Vikings, under the
leadership of Rollo. Their conquests led to the creation of the Duchy of Normandy, which would have included the Channel Islands.
It is conceivable that when William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, invaded England and fought Harold at the Battle
of Hastings in 1066, that people from the Islands were part of his army. Certainly after the battle, Guernsey landowners also
became the owners of land in England and that impacted on the future nationality of the Islands and the prosperity the Islands
As part of the Duchy of Normandy, the Islands existed in relative peace and tranquillity for many years, but in 1204
King John lost Normandy to Phillippe Augustus of France and for a while the Islands were forgotten. The story is told that
the wealthy landowners were asked to decide if the Islands wanted to remain as part of Great Britain or France. It seems the
landowners must have had more interests in England as they chose to be part of Great Britain and they have remained such ever
since, despite attempts by the French to seize them back.
In 1214 King John grants formal rights and privileges to the
islands. The French seized the Islands in 1217 and held on to them until 1254, when Henry III, King of England, claimed title. After
many turbulent years the Treaty of Calais in 1356 saw the French relinquish all claims over the Islands.
As a reward
for their loyalty to the British Crown, the Islands were given the right to make their own laws.
That moment in history
has allowed the Islands to retain their status as Crown Dependencies, answerable to the British Monarchy as opposed to the
The current Government of Guernsey is carried out by the States
of Deliberation, which consists of 45 members from Guernsey, elected by the local residents. There are no party politics and
each member stands for election on their own mandate. The Island is split into ten parishes and each has a certain amount
of control over such things as refuse collection, street lighting and the like.
Voters in their parish elect each member
of the States of Deliberation and population levels dictate how many representatives each parish should have.
of Guernsey is divided into Departments, each responsible for different aspects of the Islands management, such as Education,
Health and the Environment. A Minister is elected to head up each Department. With such strong links to France the Island
has retained its own patois language, closely linked to Norman French. Usage is limited these days though attempts to revive
it through the Islands school children are being made.
Guernsey Laws also have their origin in Norman Law and local
Advocates (lawyers) have to study in France for a period of time. Road names and house names are still mostly in French. Because
of the Island’s position between England and France, Guernsey has a strong trading and nautical history which has made
the Island an important location and worth defending.
When travelling around Guernsey you can’t miss the Islands
defences, which date back over 800 years. However, arguably even more striking are the German defences left after the
Occupation of the Islands during the Second World War. The Channel Islands are the only British territories to be occupied
by the Germans during the war.
Over the last 50 years the Islands have developed in many ways,
from exporting tomatoes to the current financial dependence on the Finance Industry in all its many forms. This has seen the
construction of many new office buildings in and around the Island’s capital, St Peter Port. However, the local
planners have confined most new development to the areas around St Peter Port, St Sampson’s and the North of Guernsey,
leaving the south of the Island, and the southern cliffs almost unchanged over the last few decades.