i’ve just been enjoying a few days in Jersey, an island which turns out to have hung onto some fine traditions of the past:
1. Stashing cash:
The biggest hoard of Celtic coins in the world was found in Jersey in 2012 – and that’s the ninth hoard from the Late Iron Age that’s come to light on the island. I have to admit this doesn’t look very exciting:
But as of last Wednesday (they’re still working on it) this is what’s been found in there:
You can see some of the latest finds in the museum at La Hougue Bie:
Along with the people who are working on them:
The hoard was probably buried at around about the time of the Roman invasion of Britain. Here’s a list of tribes whose coins are in there, with the Coriosolitae showing a strong lead…
… which is interesting because they lived just across the water in mainland Gaul. Jersey, now a major centre of international finance, has clearly been seen as a safe place to store your money for at least 2000 years.
2. Building tunnels:
The Jersey War tunnels, like those on neighbouring Guernsey, are infamous.
They were created during the German occupation in the Second World War, largely by forced labourers working in dreadful conditions. Today they house an exhibition that doesn’t pull its punches about the trials and challenges of living under military rule. Visitors are issued with identity cards naming real Jersey residents, and you don’t find out what your character did in the war until you’ve been through the exhibition. My friends were honoured to find that they’d helped escaped tunnel-workers evade capture, despite the threat of being imprisoned or executed themselves. I was less thrilled to find out I’d been the most notorious collaborator on the island.
A tunnel that’s less famous, but far more uplifting, is to be found at the oddly-named La Hougue Bie (It’s pronounced “La hoog bee”. I am telling you this so that should you decide to go, you can ask directions aloud instead of mumbling and pointing at the map like I did.) It’s been there for 6000 years, and nobody now alive knows why. Here’s the entrance.
The mound above it was built at the same time, but the chapel on top came much later.
This is how you get in – not great if you have a bad back.
Fortunately it opens up into a much higher chamber built of massive slabs of stone, with tall recesses leading off on each side. You’ll have to take my word for this, because the lighting is designed to aid atmosphere rather than photography. Better still, go and visit. It’s stunning.
At the equinox, the rising sun shines in through the passage and lights up the chamber.
3. Seeing Angels:
After seeing the chamber I wasted several minutes trying – and failing – to see the ancient paintings of angels that are supposed to be still just visible on the walls of the chapel above. Eventually I gave up and took some photos in the hope that all those splodges would resolve themselves into an angel when I got home.
But it turned out they never would, because the chapel is divided into TWO HALVES, and I was staring at the wrong half. Once I’d been pointed towards the other door… an angel appeared! Hallelujah!
And here are some twentieth-century angels from the glass church of St Matthew:
4. Enjoying the good life:
Unlike Alderney, Jersey doesn’t seem to have had any Roman military installations. There’s evidence for a temple, but most of the finds from the Roman period seem to be either cash or goodies – beads, brooches, parts of flagons and this:
Which suggests to me that any Romans who did turn up were just here to sell luxury goods or take a holiday. And who can blame them?