Culture of Jersey

From Academic Kids

The culture of Jersey is the culture of the Bailiwick of Jersey. This has been shaped by Jersey's indigenous Norman language and traditions as well as French and British cultural influences, to which have been added cultural trends from immigrant communities such as the Bretons and the Portuguese.



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Bilingual pub sign in English and J�rriais. The monstrous black dog is traditionally said to haunt Bouley Bay.

J�rriais, the island's Norman language, is spoken by a minority of the population, although it was the majority language in the 19th century. Among those who still speak the language one can identify the parish of origin of a speaker by differences in phonology and lexis.

Many place names are in J�rriais, and French and English place names are also to be found. Anglicisation of the toponymy increased apace with the migration of English people into the island since the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Since 1900, English has been permitted in debates in the States and has come to dominate.

French, although still official for some purposes, is a minority language. The last French language newspaper closed in 1959.

The characteristic accent of Jersey English is rapidly being lost due to the influence of media and education.


Literature in Jersey may be divided into literature in J�rriais, Francophone literature, and literature in English.

The literary tradition in Jersey is traced back to Wace, the 12th-century Jersey-born poet.

William Prynne wrote poetry while imprisoned in Jersey, but little indigenous literature survives from before the 18th century.

Printing only arrived in Jersey in the 1780s, but the island supported a multitude of regular publications in French (and J�rriais) and English throughout the 19th century, in which poetry, most usually topical and satirical, flourished.

The first printed J�rriais appears in the first newspapers at the end of the 18th century. The earliest identified dated example of printed poetry in J�rriais is a fragment by Matchi L'G� (Matthew Le Geyt 1777–1849), dated 1795. The first printed anthology of J�rriais poetry, Rimes Jersiaises, was published in 1865.

Influential writers include 'Laelius' (Sir Robert Pipon Marett 1820–1884, Bailiff of Jersey 1880–1884), 'A.A.L.G.' (Augustus Aspley Le Gros 1840–1877), and 'St.-Luorenchais' (Philippe Langlois 18??–1884).

Philippe Le Sueur Mourant (1848–1918) wrote under several pseudonyms. His greatest success was the character Bram Bilo, but he later developed the Pain family, newly moved to Saint Helier, who commented on its Anglicized society and fashionable entertainments.

'Elie' (Edwin J. Luce 1881–1918) was editor of the French-language newspaper La Nouvelle Chronique de Jersey and a poet who wrote topical poems for the newspaper. He died in the influenza pandemic of 1918. His brother, Philip W. Luce (1882–1966), also a journalist and poet, emigrated to Canada, but sent occasional writings back to Jersey.

'Caouain' (George W. De Carteret 1869–1940) maintained a weekly newspaper column purporting to be the work of an owl (cahouain) reporting on the latest election news and local gossip.

During the Occupation, little original writing was permitted to be published by the German censors. However very many older pieces of literature were re-published in the newspapers as an act of cultural self-assertion and morale-boosting.

Edward Le Brocq (1877–1964) revived the weekly column in 1946 with a letter from Ph'lip et Merrienne, supposedly a traditional old couple who would comment on the latest news or recall times past. The column continued until the author's death in 1964.

The most influential writer of J�rriais in the 20th century was a U.S. citizen, George Francis Le Feuvre (1891–1984), whose pen-name was 'George d'la Forge'. He emigrated to North America after the First World War but for almost forty years maintained a flow of articles in J�rriais back to Jersey for publication in newspapers.

Frank Le Maistre (1910–2002), compiler of the J�rriais–French dictionary, maintained a literary output starting in the 1930s with newspaper articles under the pseudonym Marie la Pie, poems, magazine articles, and research into toponymy and etymology. He himself considered his masterpiece the translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that he undertook during the German Occupation (19401945).

The famous French writer Victor Hugo lived in exile in Jersey from 1852 to 1855.

Elinor Glyn and John Lempri�re were Jersey-born writers. Frederick Tennyson, Jack Higgins and Gerald Durrell are among writers who have made Jersey their home.


Some Neolithic carvings are the earliest works of artistic character to be found in Jersey. Only fragmentary wall-paintings remain from the rich mediaeval artistic heritage, after the wholesale iconoclasm of the Calvinist reformation of the 16th century - the most notable of these are the wall-paintings of the Fisherman's Chapel (la Chapelle �s P�cheurs) in St. Brelade.

John Singleton Copley's painting of the Battle of Jersey (6th January, 1781), "The Death of Major Pierson", became a national icon. The States of Jersey failed in an attempt to purchase it (it is now in the Tate Britain), but the image is reproduced on the reverse of a Jersey �10 note.

John Everett Millais, a J�rriais speaker from a Jersey family, was born in England, but is considered a Jersey artist..

The "Glass Church" (St. Matthew's, Millbrook, St. Lawrence) is decorated with Art Deco glass by Ren� Lalique, commissioned by Florence, Lady Trent, the Jersey-born wife of Lord Trent, founder of Boots Chemists.

Edmund Blampied, illustrator and artist, is the most popular Jersey artist of the 20th century.

Suzanne Malherbe and Claude Cahun, the "Surrealist Sisters" were among photographers attracted to Jersey.

Performing arts

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Performers in traditional Jersey costume at a cultural festival

The annual Jersey Eisteddfod provides a platform for competition in music, drama and speaking in English, French and J�rriais.

The Opera House, opened by Lillie Langtry in 1900, and the Jersey Arts Centre are the main performance spaces, although many concerts and other cultural events take place in parish halls and other venues.

Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lily, is the island's most widely recognised cultural icon.

Music and dance

Very little survives of an indigenous musical or dance tradition. This is generally ascribed to the influence of Methodism that discouraged such cultural frivolities, or at least placed such a low value on these activities that they were not thought worth recording.

Up to the mid-20th century, folk music from mainland Normandy and Brittany was common in country areas, mixed with popular music from the United Kingdom. Accordeons and chifournies (hurdy-gurdies) were traditional instruments for sonneurs (country dances).


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To mark the millennium in 2000, a cross was erected in each of the 12 parishes to replace the wayside crosses that fell subject to the iconoclasm of the 16th century. Here, the millennium cross of Saint Helier bears the J�rriais inscription � la glouaithe d� Dgieu (To the glory of God)

The island's patron saint is Saint Helier.

The established church is the Church of England, but Methodism has been historically strong, especially in country areas, and remains influential. A large minority of the population is Roman Catholic. The historic toleration of religious minorities has lead to many persecuted minorities seeking refuge in Jersey. This has left a rich legacy of churches, chapels and places of worship.

Folklore and customs

Jersey people are traditionally known as crapauds (toads) due to the particular fauna of Jersey that does not exist in the other Channel Islands, especially in Guernsey. According to a Guernsey legend, St Samson of Dol arrived in Jersey but encountered such a hostile reception in the then-pagan island that he proceeded on to Guernsey. The welcome being much warmer in Guernsey, he repaid the inhabitants of that island by sending all the snakes and toads from Guernsey to Jersey.

Vraic is the Jersey word for seaweed and the collection of seaweed for fertiliser, vraicing, was an important activity in the past, but still continues on a small scale.

The Battle of Flowers is the major carnival, held annually in August. First held for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, the carnival includes a parade of floral decorated floats. Originally, these floats where torn apart to provide floral ammunition for a battle of flowers between participants and spectators, but this aspect has long been abandoned.

Annual visites du branchage are carried out twice in Summer by Parish officials to inspect roadside verges and hedges and ensure property owners have trimmed back overhanging greenery. This custom is to prevent Jersey's narrow lanes becoming hazardous or impassable through overgrown vegetation. The action of branchage (pronounced in the J�rriais fashion "brancage" as opposed to the French pronunciation) is the trimming of verges prior to the annual inspections. A haircut may also be jocularly referred to as a branchage.

Belief in witchcraft was formerly strong in Jersey, and survived in country areas well into the 20th century. Witches were supposed to hold their sabbats on Fridays at Rocqueberg, the Witches' Rock, in St. Clement. Folklore preserves a belief that witches' stones on old houses were resting places for witches flying to their meetings.

Food and drink

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Cider making traditions are maintained in Jersey at the annual Fa�s'sie d'cidre festival. Here at the museum at Hamptonne, the old cider press is in action

Seafood has traditionally been important to the cuisine of Jersey: mussels (called moules locally), oysters, lobster and crabs - especially spider crabs which are considered a particular delicacy. Razor-fishing, sand-eeling and limpeting used to be popular activities but have declined in importance. Ormers, being highly sought after, are conserved and fishing is restricted. Another seafood specialty is conger soup.

Bean crock (les pais au fou) can best be described as a sort of Norman cassoulet and in the past was so ubiquitous that English-speaking visitors, purporting to believe that the people of Jersey ate nothing else, dubbed the inhabitants Jersey beans (this epithet is sometimes considered derogatory). Nettle (ortchie) soup was once a popular dish and was considered a tonic for the heart.

Jersey wonders (les m�rvelles) a sort of rich twisted doughnut is made less in the home than formerly but is still a popular treat at fairs and festivals. A sort of wonder poached in milk is known as a fliotte ("une fliotte").

Cabbage loaf is the traditional Jersey bread baked between two cabbage leaves. Vraic buns are very large sweet buns with raisins, and were traditionally eaten when men went out vraicing on the shore.

Jersey milk being very rich, cream and butter have played a large part in insular cooking. Unlike other parts of the Duchy of Normandy, there is no historical tradition of cheese - Jersey people traditionally preferring rich yellow thickly-spread butter.

Jersey Royal potatoes are the local variety of new potato, and the island is famous for its early crop of small, tasty potatoes from the south-facing c�tils (steeply-sloping fields). They are eaten in any variety of ways, often simply boiled and served with butter.

Apples historically were an important crop. Bourd�lots are apple dumplings, but the most typical speciality is black butter (l� ni�r beurre), a dark spicy spread prepared from apples, cider and spices. Annual black butter nights (s�th�es d'ni�r beurre) in autumn are still an important traditional social occasion in country areas; the stirring must be maintained around the clock.

Cider used to be an important export. After decline and near-disappearance in the late 20th century, apple production is being increased and promoted. Apple brandy is also produced. Some wine is produced.


Jersey participates in its own right in the Commonwealth Games, in which shooting is a strong sport. Golf is also popular - Harry Vardon was a Jerseyman.

Jersey participates in the Island Games, which it has hosted. In sporting events in which Jersey does not have international representation, when the British Home Nations are competing separately, islanders that do have high athletic skill may choose to compete for any of the Home Nations - there are, however, restrictions on subsequent transfers to represent another Home Nation.


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