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Le Gron, St Saviours, Guernsey

 

The History of Le Gron by T F Priaulx

from THE QUARTERLY REVIEW of the GUERNSEY SOCIETY Winter, 1970.

 

Le Gron

Description

The much photographed house at Le Gron, St Saviour's, with the light brown granite front and round arch stone doorway belongs to the "small parlour" type of Guernsey farmhouse which always has seven small square windows, four upstairs and three downstairs - two one side of the front door and one the other side.

Like all Guernsey houses of this particular type the downstairs room with two windows was the original kitchen-living room with a large open fireplace and a bread oven. It always took up exactly half the ground floor area, the other half being shared unequally by the front to back passage and the parlour.

Upstairs, the principal bedroom, a double one, was always situated over the kitchen, the bedrooms over the passage and the parlour were single ones. Access to the upper floor was by either a spiral stone staircase along-side the back door but entered from inside the house, or a rather insignificant wooden staircase going up from in the passage. Additional building on to the back of the house and interior alterations by subsequent owners have removed all traces of the original staircase at Le Gron.

At the time the house was built Guernsey house builders did not know that by constructing partitions all the way up inside a chimney it could be divided into separate flues or smoke channels to enable the chimney to be used with more than one fireplace. Consequently Le Gron, in its original state, had only two fireplaces, one at either end of the house. The principal bedroom could not have one because there had to be one in the kitchen-living room below, while at the other end of the house it could be either downstairs in the parlour or upstairs in the bedroom, a matter of choice. At Le Gron the fireplace was put in the bedroom as in most other houses of the period. Whether the fireplace was put in downstairs or upstairs it was always smaller than the one in the kitchen.

Merchant Marks

The dominating feature in the front of the house, outside, is the round arch doorway which has the symbol known as a Merchant's Mark cut in the keystone. These symbols are said to have been to the trader much the same as the coat of arms was to the medieval knight. There are a number of them in Guernsey and they all have the usual Double-Cross and frequently the magical Sign of Four which was credited with properties inspiring spiritual and bodily security. The merchant used the symbol, which was a personal one often incorporating his initials, to mark his goods and as his seal. The Merchant's Mark at Le Gron includes initials believed, probably rightly, to be those of Jean Carey (A28) - I.C. and Jacqueline Blondel - I.B. his wife, owners of the property late 16th and early 17th centuries, and almost certainly builders of the house. The property is entered in the Extente of 1607.

History of Ownership

At the time of the Reformation, and before the property belonged to the Henry family, thought to be a junior line of the Henrys of Ste Appoline in the 14th century. Guillaume Henry "du Groin" living 1499 is known to have left two daughters, Johanne wife of John Le Messurier and Michelle wife of Jurat John Blondel. There may also have been a son Thomas Henry living 1512 but not heard of again in that part of St Saviours. Le Gron was not the only property owned by the Henrys in that part of the parish, they also owned the neighbouring estate Les Piques which appears to have been the larger and more important of the two at that time, and both passed by inheritance to Michelle, first wife of John Blondel. She was still alive 1526 with a son Hellier. John Blondel married, secondly, Cecile (A11) daughter of Laurons Careye (A5) and there was one son and three daughters of that marriage. After Michelle's death her property passed to her son who retained Les Piques which stayed in the possession of his Blondel and, later, Andros descendants until early in the 19th century. Evidently Hellier Blondel, Michelle's son, had sold the Gron property to his half brother Thomas Blondel whose only child Jacqueline wife of Jean Carey was the owner in 1586.

Jacqueline also owned property in the Town parish. In 1593 she had land on "Les Costylz de Glatigny" described in 1616 as "es hougues appelles Paris". (The hougues of hillocks which were situated in the Salerie-Well Road-Paris Street block have been almost completely quarried away). Also in 1593 she had a field "courtil de dessus de leeluze de hault" (above the upper mill pond, presumably the one at the Charroterie) and another field she had inherited from her father situated at the north of Anne Sausmarez' field.

The house at Le Gron was built in a style suitable to the standing in the parish of Jean Carey and Jacqueline Blondel, that is, a similar type house but of superior workmanship to the houses of other people of that time. In 1623 their son Thomas Carey (D5) sold "la grande maison appellée la maison du Groin autant qu'au dit Carey appartient à cause de Jacqueline Blondel sa mere" with its outbuildings and part of the land to James Rougier son of James. Several fields were sold to other people, and a portion of the "enclos" adjoining the house was sold to Pierre Ingrouille, and that portion included an older house, later referred to as a "maisonette".

After an interval of 18 years Le Gron came back into the possession of the Blondels when James Rougier sold the property to Thomas Blondel son of Hellier, in 1641, and on January 18, 1643 Thomas formally acknowledged in the court of Fief Le Comte that he was the Seigneur's feudal "Tenant" in consequence of the purchase, and the Greffier of the court duly recorded in the fief register that Thomas Blondel "a esté receu à foy et homage". He also bought back from Pierre Ingrouille the portion with the "maisonette", that dwelling is not mentioned again after 1663 and its site is included in the Courtil d'Aval which still forms part of the property.

The new owner of Le Gron was a cousin of the previous Blondel owners. He was one of the Douzeniers who compiled a new Livre de Perchage for Fief de Longues in 1663 and was selected by Nicholas Ozanne Seigneur of the Fiefs du Groignet and des Videclins to be Seneschal of their joint court. He married Marie daughter of James Gallienne a well-to-do land-owner of Torteval. His eldest son James Blondel was Constable of St Saviours 1663 and a Douzenier in 1672 by which time he had inherited Le Gron.

It was James son of this James who sold Le Gron to his first cousin and neighbour Nicholas Blondel son of Abraham, of Les Ruettes. Nicholas Blondel's mother Susanne Dumaresq was the grand daughter of Pierre Brehaut of Les Frances who was sworn in Jurat of the Royal Court in April 1648, a fortnight after the Court had set aside the objections of the Constables and Douzeniers of St Peter Port who alleged irregularities in the way the election had been conducted. Pierre Brehaut was one of the five Jurats dismissed by Order of Parliament dated August 29, 1653 because of "their great age and infirmity of Body", and that was after he had been Jurat for only five years and four months!

Nicholas Blondel, born 1677 was twice married. His first wife was Marie de Garis, their first child, Marie, was born and died 1702. Marie de Garis died the next year at the birth of their son Nicholas. Some four years later Nicholas Blondel married Anne Du Val and they had ten children born at fairly regular intervals from 1708 to 1727. The initials A.B. cut in the stone lintel of the upstairs fireplace probably are those of the eldest of the ten, Abraham Blondel, born 1708.

Some time before 1721 Nicholas Blondel sold Le Gron to Pierre de Lisle his neighbour, owner of the adjoining property, now called Petit Vallon, at Le Gron. Because her stepson Nicholas, born 1702, would inherit Le Gron, as his fathers eldest son, and her own eldest Abraham would inherit only a younger son's portion, Anne Du Val persuaded her husband to sell Le Gron and so deprive Nicholas of his birthright.

Nicholas Naftel, grandson of the disinherited Nicholas Blondel, wrote in his Memoirs that on the death of their father Thomas Naftel in 1764 he, aged two, and his brother Thomas Andrew, aged five, were taken by their widowed mother Elizabeth Blondel to live with their grandfather Nicholas Blondel in the house in Cornet Street he had bought from Mr. William Brock.

Nicholas Naftel describes his grandfather as "a man fearing God and hating covetousness who took it upon himself to have us instructed according to his light and knowledge. His wife, our grandmother (Nicholas Naftel does not tell us her name) was a virtuous woman. It was their practice to have the Scriptures read according to the order of the Church of England every morning at breakfast time and as soon as we were able to read my brother and I read them in turn, which good practice gradually made us acquainted with the Sacred Records. Mr grandfather was a clockmaker, an art that he acquired after the 20th year of his age being obliged to seek his bread in a very different way from that wherein he was brought up as he was heir to one of the best estates in St Saviours but his father having married a second time had a large family by his second wife. Therefore when he became of age he left his home and came into Town with a very small sum in his pocket. Having some knowledge of spoon and buckle making he hired a small shop where he cooked his own victuals and with one trade and another made enough money to marry on. About this time a travelling French clockmaker arrived in the island and asked to be allowed to join his shop. He then taught my grandfather his trade, who so took to it and became so proficient that he could not turn clocks out quick enough and even had to order some ready made from England so as to supply his customers but many preferred waiting a long time in order to have clocks of his own workmanship. After a while he also undertook watchwork and soon became famous as a watchmaker also... At our grandfather Blondel's death in 1775 my brother was 17 and I not 15 but as our mother well understood the clock and watch business my brother worked under her."

Nicholas Naftel was a clerk in an Ecrivain's office in Guernsey when he came under the influence of Claude Gay, a French Roman Catholic who had joined the Society of Friends, for which he was imprisoned and banished from France. He wandered around and visited the Channel Islands, finally settling in London. Nicholas Naftel left the lawyer's office and joined his brother in the clockmaking business, by that time he was a Quaker and had been exempted from service in the Guernsey Militia.

The clocks made by Nicholas Blondel and his grandsons are now highly esteemed and some of them still keep excellent time. Nicholas Blondel also tried his hand at bell casting and two of his mid-eighteenth century bells are still in constant use, one of the St Sampson's Church bell and the other the St Saviours School bell.

After Pierre de Lisle's death the property passed to his second son, Pierre, who in 1781 and aged 56, was Colonel of the 4th or West Regiment of Guernsey Militia. He died in 1806, his wife Martha Allez was aunt to the celebrated Thomas de la Rue, printer. Their son, also named Pierre, did not keep Le Gron long. It was sold to James Torode, dead by 1834. The Torodes were still the owners in 1894 but by 1914 Le Gron belonged to Miss Amelia Renouf. First Mr S Bougourd and then his father-in-law Mr T Le P Martel purchased the property, and it was during Mr Bougourd's period of ownership that the old thatch roof was very badly damaged by fire and replaced by the present slate one. At the end of the last war Mr T M Vidamour, Dean of St Saviours Douzaine, bought Le Gron which was then passed on to his daughter Miss Marion Vidamour, who died very recently.

Coq du Gron

© Kind permission by Sherri Gallichan
Original Sized Image -

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Contributed by Stuart Place