Extended Church history - Grouville Parish Church

Grouville Parish Church


'Grouville' is one of the twelve parishes of Jersey in the Channel Islands. It is unique in that the ecclesiastical parish and the civil parish, though sharing the same boundaries, do not share the same dedication. The ecclesiastical parish, and parish church, is dedicated to "Saint Martin de Grouville" to distinguish it from the present day parish of Saint Martin (historically 'Saint Martin le Vieux'). However, the name 'Grouville' is thought to have been derived from the small community established in what is now the parish by St Gerou (also known as Gervold or Geraldius), an ecclesiastical troubleshooter in the employ of Charlemagne in the 9th century AD. Alternatively, the name may have been derived from 'Gros Villa' (great farm) or from Geirr, the Viking leader after whom the Island was originally named. The parish is in the south east of the island and is dominated by the broad sweep of the Royal Bay of Grouville. The parish covers a surface area of 4,354 vergées (7.8 km²).

The Church of St Martin de Grouville was built in the 11th century, with the earliest mention of it in a charter of Robert, Duke of Normandy, in 1035, when it was already a Parish church, one of the eight Jersey Parish Churches from which Duke William (later William the Conqueror) took half their tithes to endow the Abbey of Montvilliers. It apparently belonged to the de Buisson family in the early days. On July 25, 1149, Godfrey du Buisson gave to the Abbey at Lessay "the church of St Martin Grouville, with its alms and tithes". In 1315 Sir Yon de Buisson tried to recall this gift and challenged the right of the Abbot of Lessay to appoint the Rector on the ground that patronage belonged to his family; he withdrew his claim before it came to Court.

The church contains ornamental buttresses resting against the outside walls and slim Norman windows, letting in little light, that date from before William, Duke of Normandy, conquered England. Stone makers from Normandy built a stone spire in the 13th century.

The oldest section is the nave (the area of a church reserved for worshippers), whose walls were built from rough stones gathered from the nearby beach. In most Jersey churches, the oldest part is the Chancel, but in Grouville it is the north wall of the Nave, which most clearly shows the water-worn stones and is undoubtedly that of a primitive church, which with its flat buttresses, is very like the ancient chapel of La Hougue Bie and the Fisherman’s Chapel at St Brelade.

The building consists of a nave and chancel with two transepts to the north and south. The tower is surmounted by a quadrilateral spire with a string course near the top and long, narrow dormer slits and is one of only two churches in the island with a white spire, which was rendered with cement in 1788. The church was re-roofed in slate in 1836 and again in 2003; the floor was raised 2 feet in 1838 to overcome a problem of damp and a clock was added to the spire in 1959. The nave was re-seated with oak pews in 1958.

The churchyard contains a memorial to the British grenadiers who died attacking the French rearguard at La Rocque during the invasion of 1781.

Black Death

In the 14th century, the South Chapel was built due to an increase in population but during the Black Death, the population decreased and a gargoyle head was carved on an early Piscina in the Church. The population later recovered and increased in the 15th century when elegant later Piscinas were used and larger windows were fitted.

The North Chapel was also built with money given by the Amy family. It was called La Chapelle des Amis and the story of its origin is that Raulin Amy, a priest of an old Grouville family was in danger at sea and vowed that, if he returned home safely, he would build a chapel on the Parish Church. This chapel, as well as the sanctuary, has a piscina. Next to the window, above the piscina, is the originals design of the window, which was discovered in an antique dealer’s shop in Salford, Manchester in 1979 and presented to the church by an anonymous donor.


In the time of Henry VIII, the Rector of Grouville was Thomas de Soulemont, an absentee Rector, who spent much of his time at Court in England, as French Secretary to Henry VIII, and also Private Secretary to Thomas Cromwell.

The Reformation caused the altar and screen to be removed and replaced with the pulpit, which was now prominent. French prayer book of Calvin was used instead of an English prayer book, as English was not spoken in Jersey at the time.

The font is also from this period. It is of Chausey granite and each side is carved in a different design. Unusually it has a second bowl built into the main bowl. The origin of this design is that the baptism water was blessed at a separate service and when the child was brought forward for baptism, the water draining off the head was collected in a separate bowl. The smaller bowl in the font has a groove in it, into which a separate collecting bowl would fit.

The Font with its double bowl

The font was not originally provided for the church, but is believed to have come from St Helier. There is a painting of a double font lying derelict at La Hougue Bie, c 1830 and it was later placed in the Chapel de Notre Dame de la Clarté there and was given to Grouville Church by the Société Jersiaise when it acquired the site. It was ‘reconciled’ to the church by the Bishop of Winchester in 1929.

Opposite the font and set into the north wall is the gravestone of Sir Herbert Lunsford, Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, who died in 1680. This stone was removed form its original position in the floor in 1838 when the floor of the whole church was raised to a single level.


In 1572, a massacre of Protestants in France caused many of them to travel to Jersey as refugees and in 1667 a French Translation of the Book of Common Prayer replaced the French Prayer Book. Around this time, Grouville acquired a silver collecting plate, and finely wrought silver chalices. Cannons were also kept in the back of the church to defend against the threat of invasion by French troops. In order to keep these cannons, the west entrance (now the main entrance) to the church had to be enlarged.

The end of the nave was partitioned, with a schoolroom above the door, reached from the outside through a small entrance door.

The sealed entrance to the old Choir Stall, top right of the window

Below it was a room for storing the Militia artillery guns, accessed through the bricked up door in the north wall, which was also the “Port des Morts”, through which those who had been excommunicated were passed from the church.

A choir gallery was also constructed and leading from it was a passage, at high level, to the door into the gallery of the steeple, which was used to ring the church bell.

All these internal constructions were removed early in the nineteenth century when the guns were removed to a central arsenal. The schoolroom was retained until the opening of the Grouville Central School in 1855.

Battle of Jersey [See Separate Link)

In 1781, a French invasion force landed at La Rocque. The main army marched to St Helier (where the Battle of Jersey) took place, but a contingent remained at La Rocque. Francois Le Couteur, then Rector of St Martin, arrived at La Rocque with his own two cannons. (At that time each Parish had its own Militia guns, which were stored in the nave of the Parish church. You can still see the original access door for the guns on the north wall, adjacent to the external oil tank.) He urged the more cautious military commander to attack.

After some hesitation, the grenadiers were ordered to charge the enemy, defeating the French rearguard. Eight years later, Le Couteur became Rector of Grouville where he cultivated large orchards, and made Jersey cider, also writing books about how to make the best cider, and how to cultivate the finest apple trees,

Collections at this time were now taken in Georgian collecting jars. Services would have seen the introduction of fine pieces of Georgian silver: a jug and a baptismal bowl. This silver is today in a secure and alarmed cabinet at the north end of the nave.

Victorian changes

The nineteenth century saw great changes in the design and development of the church. It was the central building for Parish secular affairs. Not only was it the armoury for the Easter Militia’s artillery guns, it was also the meeting place and sometimes market place of the Parish. Effectively it was a religious and social centre.

About a third of the existing nave was walled off as the ‘arsenal’ and above it was the church school, one of only two schools in the Parish, the other being at what is now St Peter La Rocque chapel. There was a door in the west wall, where today’s porch I, which gave access to the guns, but they were too large and heavy to get out through that door, hence the door in the north wall.

The Old Militia Artillery Door

To accommodate the guns and to maintain their security the original Norman door was closed early in the century to he fury of Parishioners. Above the ‘arsenal’ a schoolroom was built and from it, along the south wall, internally and above the window line, was built a closed corridor allowing bell ringers access to the bell loft. Access to this schoolroom was up a narrow set of stairs, the remnants of which can still be see on the south wall above the porch. Against the arsenal wall, inside the church was a gallery for the choir, accessed through an external door, which is now the second window in on the south wall, from the porch end.

The church was also suffering from rising damp and the Reverend Jean Mallet and Bertrand Payn, who made stained glass windows for the church, carried out the necessary restoration. This included raising the floor of the nave to make the whole floor of the church on one level and introducing a new entrance porch at the west end of the nave. The existing stained glass windows on the south wall were also introduced during this time.

In 1879, despite the protests of the Parish authorities, the Reverend Abraham Le Sueur ordered the removal of the loft, the internal passage between it and the choir gallery, that gallery and the sealing of the external access to what had been the school room, thus bringing about the internal design of the nave that we have to this day.


During the latter Victorian era the church fell into disrepair and, despite having a coal fired heating system installed became very damp. In the mid 1950’s the repointing of the outside of the church in cement inadvertently caused further damage. (This ‘new’ form of pointing was applied to all the ancient churches at around that time.) It ‘locked’ the damp within the ancient walls, which had come about as a result of being constructed, without foundations, from beach sand and rubble. Using modern, plastic based paints, which again contained the evaporating moisture from the walls, further compounded this situation.

In the 1990’s a programme of restoration was initiated, which involved replacing the roof of the nave; re-tiling the whole church roof in Welsh slate and repointing the walls in lime mortar. In 1999 the organ was replaced with a modern computer controlled machine, with the organ piping covering the speakers. In 2008 a sundial was placed on the south wall.

This programme continues and the church is due to be redecorated internally in the next two years. In 2010 a new vestry, incorporating toilets and storage space, is due to be built on the north side of the nave, entering the church through the Lady Chapel’s west wall.