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LOOKING BACK: Shining a light on St. Helier… finally!

LOOKING BACK: Shining a light on St. Helier… finally!

Monday 29 May 2023

LOOKING BACK: Shining a light on St. Helier… finally!

Monday 29 May 2023


Almost 100 years ago, the Jersey Electricity Company was formed and islanders could look forward to electricity in their homes and public amenities... But this is not to say that earlier attempts to install electricity were not made...

The Parish of St. Helier had been deliberating for many years about installing electric lighting in its streets but could not get the project off the ground.

It was first mooted in 1897, when a Parish Assembly decided on 23 February that they wanted to go ahead with the development of electrical power. The following month, it was agreed that the principal throughfares of Town would be lit and a £25,000 loan taken out to cover the cost of the scheme.

The idea was that the municipality would create the infrastructure to supply the electricity rather than relying on a private company to do so. A proposition for this was approved by the States Assembly at the start of 1898. However, no progress was made for 15 years and on 5 August 1913, the Act was rescinded.

Despite the lack of action, there remained a desire to introduce electric lighting. On 28 April 1914, the Parish entered into a contract with a private firm for the supply of electricity. With the onset of World War One, and for a variety of reasons, this scheme also did not come to fruition. 

Extract_from_the_meeting_in_1919_ordering_that_a_referenfum_be_held_to_decide_on_whether_the_Parish_set_up_electrical_lighting_Jersey_Heritage.jpg

Pictured: Extract from the meeting in 1919 ordering that a referenfum be held to decide on whether the Parish set up electrical lighting.

In 1919, the question of electrical supply in St. Helier raised its head again. On 30 April, a Parish Assembly was held at the Town Hall and first on the agenda was a report of the Electric Lighting Committee, who recommended that the Assembly should take the necessary measures “to establish an electrical installation both for lighting as well as power”.

The Committee suggested the Parish re-adopt the original scheme of 1897 and undertake the installation themselves. They suggested that an initial loan of £50,000 should be taken out for the project.

It was agreed that a Committee would be formed to prepare a proposition along the same lines of that taken to the States Assembly in 1898. The Constable, John Edwin Pinel, said at the meeting: “The Assembly decided the other day that they wanted the town lighted by gas for one year only. If you want electric lighting it is high time we started doing something.”

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Pictured: Advert for a meeting in 1919 to discuss electric lighting in St. Helier.

A second meeting was convened on 27 May and the matter was discussed further. At this Assembly, the proposition was presented and parishioners were asked to agree that the Parish move forward with the plan to provide electricity for themselves.

John Thomas Ferguson, later Constable, stood up at the meeting and said borrowing such a large sum of money was too important for the Principals of the Parish to decide upon. He said that it would affect the pocket of every ratepayer and so the details should be submitted to them and they should have the deciding voice in the matter.

He suggested a referendum should take place to ensure the people were heard. This was agreed and a meeting was called on 11 June for ratepayers to hear about the proposal.

At this meeting, a Mr Renouf stood up and expressed concern about the scheme. He said he would have favoured the Parish undertaking the scheme in the pre-war years but with altered labour conditions and elevated interest rates, it would now cost too much.

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Pictured: John Edwin Pinel.

 A Mr Richardson agreed and said that municipal electricity schemes in the United Kingdom generally ran at a loss. In an Evening Post report, he is quoted as saying: “Surely the war had taught them that all Government undertakings were run at an enormous expense, far beyond what they should have been. Was it right that the Principals, or even the ratepayers should impose a 3d or 4d extra rate on the rural districts to pay for the electric light which most of the suburbs would never use.” He backed the idea of electricity being supplied by a private concern.

Mr Ferguson addressed the meeting and bemoaned the lack of interest from ratepayers. He also criticised the Committee for not providing more details of facts and figures to guide ratepayers. He is reported as saying “he would like electric light in Jersey, but whether it would be a success from a parish point of view was doubtful”.

He did, however, say that it was important the Parish voted on it: “There was a great deal of apathy, but the ratepayer must remember that if the States passed bills the man in the street would have to pay for them.”

The referendum took place at the Town Hall from 10am-8pm on Wednesday, 18 June 1919. The ratepayer could choose to vote for or against the option of the municipality undertaking the electricity scheme.

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Pictured: John Thomer Ferguson.

The Constable of St. Helier cast his ballot first, with a steady stream of voters following him. The Evening Post noted that the first half dozen voters included three ladies, who had the honour of being the first Jersey women to vote at any municipal or parish polling. 

The newspaper noted that one of them was exceptionally anxious to check that she was voting correctly and checked with onlookers that she was voting against the Parish’s scheme. The Evening Post reported: “Evidently she is, as most ladies, of the cautious type, and did not wish to rush into any scheme which might not be a success.”

In total, 645 people voted with 538 against the Parish running their own electricity scheme and 101 for, with six spoilt papers.

The newspaper was of the opinion that this should not slow down the introduction of electric power in Jersey. In a column published on 25 June, the paper wrote that the ballot was a vote not against electricity but electricity run by the Parish of St. Helier. 

The newspaper concluded: “The fact that the vote went against them does not absolve the Committee from getting on with the work. There is an idea in some quarters that the whole question will again be shelved, but this must not be permitted.”

As it was, parishioners in favour of electricity would have to wait a few more years until April 1924, when the Jersey Electricity Company was formed. 

LEARN MORE...

This piece, put together by the Jersey Archive team, tells just one of the many stories hidden in its collection.

To uncover more like this, visit Jersey Archive in Clarence Road or search the JEP Photographic Archive on its website HERE.

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