Policing in Jersey in 1939
Honorary versus Paid police
Late 19th Century photo of paid police and parish officials outside the Town Hall
where they shared the facilities with their honorary colleagues.
The Honorary system dates back to the late 13th Century when Justices, acting on behalf of King
Edward III, concluded that each of the islands twelve parishes should form “a responsible police unit as
they required it to pursue malefactors, to keep watch at night, to see that suspects who had taken sanctuary
did not escape from the church and to keep prisoners in custody.”
This reaffirmed the three ancient English measures of:
• Watch and ward: the Constable called men for duty to provide a nightly watch on each gate of his walled town.
• Hue and cry: was raised against any fugitive and had to be pursued by the whole population on pain of punishment
• Assize of arms: this required every man from 15 to 60 to have “harness to keep the peace”, varying with rank from a bow and arrows to “horse, hauberke and helm of iron.”
The hauberke was a piece of defensive armour originally for the neck and shoulders, but developed into a long coat of mail or military tunic
The helm was an iron helmet.
While this system originated in England, it was based the earlier Norman practice and as Jersey was still more French than English and all official matters were conducted in that language the officers responsible for parish policing were in order of precedence were and still are:
Connétable:- responsible for the parish and also sits in the States Assembly
Centeniers:- the arresting officer
Vingteniers: – each parish is divided into a number of Vingtaines apart from St Ouen where they are called Cueillettes.
None of these men received remuneration and all posts were and still are subject to election.
Over the centuries little changed and in 1939 the parish police still provided the backbone of law enforcement on
the island even though each Connétable could only control matters within his own boundary.
In 1854, because of the expansion of St Helier which at 25,000 people now held over half the island’s population,
the States passed an act that “A Committee consisting of the Bailiff and residents of St Helier should elect ten
Officers of Police to be salaried and to act under the Constable especially at night”. They would have no other
occupation and have no vote in Parish assemblies or public functions. Their salary was to be eighteen shillings
per week. They would have the same powers as Honorary constable’s officers and if they made any arrests they
should take the miscreant to the Constable or a Centenier.
This ‘paid’ force eventually wore uniforms similar to those of English policemen and were nicknamed
“bluebottles” by the locals as the honorary police wore their normal working clothes. In later years, miscreant
visitors have been surprised to be arrested by a man dismounting from his tractor and fresh from the fields while
a uniformed policeman stood by in subservience.
Only in St Helier did the Bluebottles have any real power and the Town Hall was their base. The town is divided
into six vingtaines one of which has two subdivisions or cantons.
Jack’s parish of St Martin has five vingtaines and the Écréhous reef. His farm, Les Carrience, falls within the vingtaine du Fief de la Reine.
The Town Hall, St Helier's parish hall, was built in 1872. It replaced the earlier Hotel de Ville, which was a converted Methodist chapel in Don Street.
Before this parish meetings and other business were conducted in various inns and taverns, and before that, in the Town Church, until the States prohibited the use of the parish churches for secular activities
The Town Hall as it would have appeared to Jack and his squad as they are hauled in front of the duty centenier.
Several scenes also take place here in “The Last Boat”, the second in the series, as it provides the focal point for the registration and evacuation before the German invasion and occupation in 1940.
The ultimate indignity for a Bluebottle of sharing duty with a German sentry on the front doors of the Town Hall
Or even worse, having to marshall this parade of the conquering heroes as they march along the parade and past the Town Hall!