Jersey

“Our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today,” said Winston Churchill in 1945 as the war in Europe ended. These enchanting islands still hold a special place in the hearts of so many residents and visitors alike.

Whilst charming, there’s a certain mystery surrounding the islands. Jersey and Guernsey are known as tax havens but of much greater interest, to me anyway, are Sark’s feudal system, Alderney’s puffins, Herm’s lack of cars and Brecqou’s elusive owners, the Barclay Brothers. I recently flew in for a short trip with a plan to squeeze in as much as possible, ‘island-hopping’ as it were. As it goes, we managed Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.

My interest in buildings grew from a love of the subterranean, and the Channel Islands, having been occupied and fortified by the Germans during the Second World War, offer an abundance of tunnels to explore. The ‘Jersey War Tunnels’ are a network of long and gloomy passages through the volcanic rock which have been turned into a slick and engaging museum. The installation was built as a barracks for the Germans using slave labour and civilian prisoners. It became a hospital in 1944 but patients were never actually treated there.

Not far away, the Glass Church in Millbrook is a fascinating Art Deco building. Only a pair of smooth wooden doors with immensely thick clear glass inserts suggest an exciting interior. In fact, the inserts along with a huge number of other glass items within, were made by René Lalique, one of the world’s greatest ever glassmakers.

In terms of both area and population (45 square miles and 91,000 respectively), Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands yet its capital, St. Helier, has some appalling buildings. Brighton has its monsters – the Brighton Centre, the Kingswest Building, the Marina – but there appears to be a collective recognition locally that these were mistakes which damage the tourism industry which keeps our economy afloat. However, the building of rubbish in St. Helier’s historic heart continues without any realisation of the consequences. To the suits, it’s all about creating offices with an abundance of unbroken floor space.

With HM Treasury currently cracking down on tax havens, Jersey should be diversifying by working on its attractiveness as a destination for tourists. The islands aren’t just dear to Sir Winston and it’s heartbreaking to see St. Helier being treated with such disregard.