The Guille Family at
Saints Farm, St Martins.
(by) GRAHAM GUILLE
Copyright ©2000, La Société Guernesiaise, Report and Transactions 1998, Volume XXIV, Part III, Published in 1999 by La Société Guernesiaise, Guernsey, ( ISSN 0144-1973). All rights reserved.
During 1995-6 the present owners of Saints Farm, Mr and Mrs T Henderson carried out an extensive restoration programme on this important property. Their generous co-operation has made it possible for three sections of La Société to conduct concurrent investigations on the same site while the above work was in progress. The study carried out by the Archaeological Section has already been reported (1) and John McCormack the Secretary of the Historic Buildings Sections report is carried in this volume. This account is concerned with the third investigation conducted, being an attempt to identify the individuals and families who have owned, lived and worked on the Fief over recorded time. The story of the ownership of the Fief Fortescue (Saints Farm) covering the period between the first recorded mention (2) in the year of 1274 to the present time is, for family historians, one of the most interesting in Guernsey's social history. As a result of this project and also to an ongoing research programme into the history of the Guille family in particular, it may now be possible to trace some of the chronology of succeeding inhabitants with a degree of confidence.
I am less certain however as to how the Fief Farm became 'Saints Farm'. In the earliest records the name seems to be rendered 'Seines' or sometimes Saynes. At this time words seldom had a universally agreed spelling and no doubt a thousand years of usage has done the rest. It appears first as a general name for this part of the Icart headland and the farm is first mentioned as 'La Ville es Saynes'. I have taken this to indicate perhaps a 'Villa' as in the Roman meaning, i.e. a self-contained substantial dwelling with supporting farmstead and field structure. The property was certainly in existence before the earliest known, recorded date (1274). The Fief Fortescue, on which the farm stands is first mentioned in an Extente of Edward I (of England) of that year. The Fief, one of the smallest in the Island, is thought to have been created some time around 1050 - 1150 following the grant of fiefs to Norman Knights but no structure or building of this date has so far been shown to have survived on this site. In his book 'A History of the Bailiwick of Guernsey' Marr (3) expresses the view that the present Fief structure of the Bailiwick was in place by 1248. He also holds the view that up until this time most of the fiefs were in the hands of absentee Seigneurs. It is therefore probable that some time around 1204 this fief was among those feudal holdings to escheat to the Crown. (4)
A local folk tale links a Marie Guille living in the 'Saynes' area with Mauger, (5) Archbishop of Rouen. He was the uncle of William, Duke of Normandy and had been banished to the Island of Guernsey for treason. He is reported as having tried unsuccessfully to overthrow William in a 'palace coup' and was then exiled for life. The truth of this tale of a relationship with Marie Guille will in all probability never be possible to verify one way or the other.
From the architectural evidence, best opinion points to the earliest existing building or parts of a building on the site as dating from around 1300. These features are still discernible within the curtilage of the present farm complex.
Early parish records covering this period speak of a family Guille as being among those living in this district. A 'Petrus Guille' is the first member named and he is found in the Assize Rolls for the year 1303. By 1305 another member is being mentioned by name. This time it is 'Guillaume'. No evidence has so far come to light to show how or even if, they are related. It cannot be claimed, based on these references alone, that the family were indeed living at Saints Farm during this period but the frequent mention of them in this particular area of the parish makes it tempting to suppose so.
During the year 1331 Edward III was conducting his own Extente of the Island of Guernsey. A 'Guillaume Guille' is again recorded and this time, significantly, is mentioned owing three 'sols' in dues on his property, the Fief Fortescue. This is the first known direct mention of a particular family, other than Fortescues in connection with the property at Saints. We should not be unduly surprised by the absence of mention of the family within the extentes prior to this instance; these documents were primarily a record of the King's land dues. As an extente was in no way a 'census', it is therefore quite possible that the Guilles were in fact on the Fief Fortescue at the time of Edward I in 1274, perhaps as servants or bailiffs but not sufficiently important to merit an entry on any record. By 1331 however the Guilles held title to the Fief.
In 1338, Duncan in his 'History of Guernsey' tells us that Jacques Guille was among a party who fled Guernsey for Jersey following the French invasion. The Guernseymen had failed in a brief but bloody attempt to evict the French near what is now Les Hubits in St Martins. Credence for this departure is provided by the fact that several members of the Guille family begin to appear in the Jersey records from this date. In his hand written research notes (6) de Guèrin expands on this event with his own account, including in his version a short list of some of the names of those involved. The party seems to have been welcomed by the Seigneur de St Ouen in Jersey. A Colin Guille appears on the Mont Orgeuil Castle muster rolls (7) for the year 1342, being listed among the archers present.
Some of the descendants of this party seem to have settled at St Ouen and to have become closely linked with the de Carterets from the Manor, the Guilles for example often becoming Bailiffs for the Seigneur. Subsequently there was a Guille involvement in the founding of the Fief of Sark. Jean Guille and his wife and two sons Jean and Nicolas, were among the Jersey contingent of colonists who settled the island in 1565. More on this subject can be found in the Fief of Sark, (Ewen and de Carteret, 1969).
In another de Guerin account, this time his 'Early History of Castle Cornet' he lists more members of the Guille family. Nicolas Guille was among those besieging the fortress in 1342 and Adam was involved in the Castle's ultimate recovery from the French in the late summer of 1345. (8)
At various times during the remainder of the 14th century the name 'Guillaume Guille' occurs regularly on the Assize Rolls, in St Martins (St Martini de Bellosa) parish registers and lists of landholders. A Guillaume is also mentioned as being a Douzenier. Clearly they cannot all be referring to the same person, Guillaume (of 1331) would have been born perhaps some time around 1300. The 'Guillaume' in the 1390 St Martin's records therefore must be at least his son or perhaps even his grandson. Other names now begin to occur in the documents. Between 1358 and 1364 a 'Guillaume', 'Colin' and 'John' are named in several of the Blanchelande (Martinvast) documents that survive. (9) In 1364, for instance, in the 'Cartulaire des Isles' (10) we find the then Abbot of Blanchelande, one Robert Toulissac, being called to the Assize to answer charges. The trial was heard before Sir Edmond du Chesné (Cheney) on February 15th. Guillaume Guille is among the twenty-four Jurors summoned to decide the matter.
During the early 1400s it would appear that a branch of the Saints family moved to St Peter Port and began the line which one day would see them as 'Seigneur de Rohais' and later 'Seigneur de St George'. They would in fact become among the most influential families in the Island. It is possible that the farm could no longer support the expanding 'clan' or perhaps a family dispute (not unknown in the Guille family) led to their departure. Or it may have been nothing more than a second or subsequent son setting out to seek his fortune knowing he was unlikely to inherit the family farm. A member of this latter group, Colin, was to set up in business in the iron working trade and is referred to as 'Feuvre et Marechal'. He seems to have been successful, as he passed this trade on to his sons and at one time was probably the Armourer to St Peter Port, plying his trade in la Rue des Forges (Smith Street). Among documents for the year 1428, held at the Greffe, we find him paying the Parish (St Peter Port) treasurer for the burial of his wife's relatives. (11)
By 1440 this line had produced Thomas, who was Receiver to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. A record exists of this Thomas building a house near what is now Forest Lane in the Pollet, possibly on the site of the present Moores Hotel. Thomas's accounts survive, covering the period 1450-52 and were the subject of an article in a previous issue of this journal. (12) Thomas also had the title 'Captaine' or 'Governor' of Castle Cornet. Of his wife, we know only that she was the daughter of Jean d'Icart and that they were married around 1428. On 4th August 1455 Thomas was among Commissioners hearing merchants' complaints of losing ships and cargoes to pirates. (13) It is also possible he is the Thomas married to Collenette d'Ecluse referred to in documents held the Guille family folder. (14)
To return to the 'Saints' family, some time around 1485 John Bonamy wrote of his dealings with his friend Thomas Guille 'de Sainte' and describes him as head of the family. (15) In 1488 a summary of those paying dues on land forming part of the Blanchelande Fief included Thomas, John, Colin, Perotine and two members of the 'Town' family, another John and Nicolas. (16)
The Greffe records reveal numerous instances of both these groups trading land and property with one another. The various branches of the family seem to have begun the (for researchers infuriating) habit of keeping to the same Christian names over the generations. This practice makes it extremely difficult to determine quite who is doing what and with whom.
What seems clear, however, is that in St Martins we now have just a single family of Guilles living on the land of the Fief Fortescue who seem to be engaged primarily in agriculture. With the sea so close by, however, it is not impossible that they, like many other families at this time had more than one source of sustenance: 'seine' is, after all, the name for a type of fishing net. What must be of interest to family historians is that all the Guille branches so far researched can be shown to be linked to this founding family at Saints.
From a document dated 20th October 1507 (17) it is clear that Bonamy's friend Thomas Guille had died. His partage reveals details of the distribution of his estate between his sons Thomas and Nicolas. Thomas, the elder son, receives 'Un meson et menage' (house, farm and adjoining fields) at 'Saynes', St Martin's. A number of nearby fields and small parcels of land all around Saints, La Fosse and Le Clos au Barbier are mentioned as being part of the farm estate. It is clear from this document that Thomas senior had been a farmer of some means. (Note: a document held at the Priaulx Library records a Thomas Gille dying in 1504 but it is yet to established if they are one and the same person.) (18)
Juré Reserson records in one of his numerous excellent pedigrees (19) one 'Nicolas Guille de Sainte' as having married in 1591 a Lady named Catherine Ballen. According to a recently located document Catherine's father, Guillaume, was at that time Comptroller du Roi of the Royal Court in Guernsey. By virtue of her father's position it would have been regarded as a 'advantageous' marriage. It also gives us a useful insight into Nicolas's standing in the society of his day.
In 1638 a 'Nicolas Guille de Sainte' bought three fields from Jean de la Rue to add to the 'Saints' land holding. The Island's rente system of property purchase has enabled us, via a document from the Gosselin Archive, (20) to follow the descent of the ownership of the farm almost up to the present time. Around 1660 his descendant 'Thomas' was born. He was the son of 'Thomas Guille and Marguerite le Pelley'. (21) As the Church records for St Martin's parish begin around that time we can follow him through the major events in his life. His mother's family were 'well to do' farming people and a branch of the le Pelleys would one day become Seigneurs of Sark. This marriage is also listed in the le Pelley pedigrees.
Male members of the 'Guille' family in St Martin's from now on are always referred to as 'Le Sieur', so it is clear at that they were of some standing in the community. Thomas married in July 1684 Rebecca Guille, daughter of his relative Jacques Guille, Seigneur de St George. (22)
They were married at the Castel Church and were to have eight children. Rebecca was the youngest daughter of Jacques, having been born in October 1662. She and Thomas lived in some style at Saints Farm, the building undergoing extensive alteration at this time. We can be sure Thomas would not have wished to be seen as a 'country cousin' by his in-laws 'de St George' so his home would have been furnished in the very latest fashion.
Evidence of their affluent lifestyle has come to light in some of the artefacts recovered during recent excavations. Many structural innovations were incorporated in the reworking of the property and much expensive hand crafting and detailing was added at this time. What is possibly a unique lime-plastered chimney hood in Guernsey has been uncovered during renovation work, complete with the marriage date 1684 and a Fleurs de Lys executed in relief. Further evidence of Thomas and Rebecca's life-style has come to light in the form of a splendid glass wine bottle seal with his name engraved on it together with a date of 1710. This item was recovered during clearance excavations, giving clear evidence of occupancy by a 'well to do' country gentleman and his family. (23) On the 27th of March of this same year Nicolas Careye, Seigneur of Blanchelande sold to 'Thomas Guille of Saints, son of Thomas', land from his Blanchelande Estates. Thomas was clearly expanding his land holding. (24)
Rebecca died on the 15th of December 1728 in her 67th year. Thomas lived as a widower another twelve years, dying in February 1741. He and Rebecca are buried in St Martins Churchyard.
By a strange coincidence, a member of the Jersey family, Paul Guille, was reputedly offered a Baronetcy (25) for his services to Charles the Second. What contact there might have been at this time between Island families is unclear but it is interesting to speculate on the overall sympathy for the Kings cause in both Islands. Paul, for the record, refused the offer of a title claiming to be of too modest means. Charles instead decreed that he and his heirs were to be spared all taxes in perpetuity.
Thomas and Rebecca's eldest son, yet another Thomas, was born in 1686 and in 1716 he married Anne de Jersey. No children from this marriage have been so far found and on the 16th December 1749 this Thomas sold the farm to Pierre Brehaut (son of Pierre) of St Pierre du Bois and his wife Anne Guille (Thomas's sister). The contract lists numerous fields and small parcels of land to be included in the sale.
Next comes something of a puzzle, for by four years after Thomas' death in 1766 the property had somehow once more reverted to the Guille family. It is next mentioned in a contract recording the sale of the Farm by 'Thomas son of Nicolas' on the 15th March 1770, again to a Pierre Brehaut, this time of St Jacques, St Peter Port. It appears from the available evidence that this Thomas was the nephew of Thomas who died in 1766, being the son of his brother Nicolas and Elizabeth Allez. 'Thomas son of Nicolas' was born in 1727 and later married Thomasse Mauger. The contract again clearly defines Saints farm and the adjoining properties. No mention is made however of the fields purchased from the Careys in 1710. This may have been an oversight on the part of the Advocate's clerk or perhaps the property had been redeemed in some way.
Parish records throughout the eighteenth century, show that members of the family took an active part in parish life. The St Martins Douzaine records for example list both a Thomas and a Nicolas Guille, both serving as Douzeniers for the year 1742. (26)
The sale to Pierre Brehaut in 1770 brought to an end the Guille Family association with the Farm that had lasted almost 500 years. Whatever the reasons for the reversion, Pierre Brehaut (the second?) owned the farm for the next fifteen years, selling in 1785 to Jean Lenfesty and his wife Marie Bourgaize.
Jean Lenfesty held the farm until 1819 when he sold to William le Messurier, (son of Daniel des Grandes Moulins) and his wife Marguerite Maindonal. Marguerite was his first cousin and they were married on the 27th March 1816. Frederic, their eldest son was born on the 13th of September 1818. Although they were to have another son, William, and a daughter Marguerite, Frederic was the only one of their children to survive into adulthood.
He was also married into the Maindonal family, his wife being Mary. They were to have six children. Their first child, a son who was again named Frederic, was born 19th of November 1850. Frederic was to inherit the Farm on his father's death on 21st of August 1879.
Frederic (jr) married Susan, daughter of James and Susan Langlois (of the Hubits) and they were to have only one child, Mary Louise, who was born in 1890. Mary was recorded as having been born with a broken arm. In the 1891 census Frederic is shown living on the Fief with his wife Susan and their infant daughter. His occupation is shown as 'farmer'.
Frederic died on the 19th of February 1897. A le Messurier family document shows his widow Susan is living on the Farm in 1910, and with her as companion is Frederic's unmarried sister Louise. Susan lived until the 3rd of November 1931, ending her days at Roseneath, Les Camps, St Martins.
On the 4th of March, 1910, Frederic's heir, Mary Louise, sells the Fief Fortescue including the farm to George James Browning.
The Brownings, farming people of long standing continued the established use of the land. George James was the son of James George Browning (from Devonshire) and Ellenor Jane Rolls. (James George and Ellenor were to have two other sons, Charles and John). James George lived to be ninety years of age, dying in 1942. George James married Isabella Browning and they had two children, George Charles and Isabelle. When George James died on the 14th of February 1930, his son George Charles inherited the property. George Charles was born in 1898 and married Florence Mary Russell. They were to have three children. On his death on the 8th of July 1969 the property passed to these children, George James, Ivor Charles and their sister Jennifer Mary.
During the 'Browning' years the farm was, some time in the late 1920s, severely damaged by fire. The exact date has not yet been established but it is clear from reports of those who were there at the time that a significant portion of the main thatched roof was lost. (Fire records for this period appear to have been either destroyed or lost).
The Browning occupancy continued until the very recent past, the family selling to the present owners, the Hendersons in 1994.
The above work has only been possible because of countless scholars and historians both amateur and professional who have over the centuries scribbled uncounted entries in the various island archives: also the numerous dedicated and often unknown individuals who have added their researches to our store of understanding of times long past.
I am grateful in particular for the ready help of the Island Archive Service, the Greffe and members of the Family History Section of La Société. A special mention must be made of the very great help and encouragement offered by the Secretary of the Historic Buildings Section, Mr John McCormack. I am also grateful for the assistance given by the staff of the Priaulx Library whose ready and informed advice has proven invaluable in the preparation of the above article. I would also like to place on record the generous contribution of Mr Richard Hocart who helped make sense of some of the (for me) more obscure documentary records.
In the case of Saints Farm perhaps the greatest credit must go to the present owners, the Hendersons, who, despite being fully engrossed in a major undertaking in reordering the property, were none the less willing to offer help, interest, co-operation and sympathetic understanding of the earnest endeavours of what at times must have seemed like a small army of researchers, who have peered into just about every nook and cranny on the property over the two years of the project. It would have been so simple just to have swept away all the evidence that has been revealed in the course of the restoration of this fine property.
I sincerely hope that the research programme has not been responsible for too much inconvenience and delay in their major undertaking. I also hope that it may be of some comfort and satisfaction to them to know that they have made a singular contribution to the understanding and preservation of the Island's fast diminishing cultural, architectural and historical treasury.
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Copyright ©2000, Graham Guille. All rights reserved. Please send any errors, corrections, conjectures, updates, etc. to Graham Guille.