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LOOKING BACK: How a fantastic pianist Prince became Jersey ‘alien’

LOOKING BACK: How a fantastic pianist Prince became Jersey ‘alien’

Thursday 06 April 2023

LOOKING BACK: How a fantastic pianist Prince became Jersey ‘alien’

Thursday 06 April 2023


Held at Jersey Archive, the Aliens Registration cards reveal tales about people who moved to the island for a variety of reasons up to the middle of the 20th century. Many are stories of French workers looking for employment... but sometimes these lives were more exotic, as was the case for the fantastically named Prince George Chavchavadze...

Prince George Chavchavadze arrived in Jersey with his wife, Princess Elizabeth Chavchavadze, the Countess de Breteuil, in 1939 when they were registered with the ‘Aliens Office’.

They were issued with their Aliens Registration cards with a note on George's revealing that the "holder received permission of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor to reside in Jersey", no less.

Prince George was Russian and first registered in the UK on 30 August 1919 in Bow Street, London, coming in and out of the country in the pre-First World War years. He was a professional pianist, which gives a clue as to why he was so well travelled.

George_and_Elizabeth_outside_Le_Coin_prior_to_his_concert_in_January_1940_Credit_Jersey_Evening_Post_Photo_Archive.jpg

Pictured: George and Elizabeth outside Le Coin prior to his concert in January 1940. (Jersey Evening Post Photo Archive)

He married Elizabeth, Countess de Breteuil, on 14 June 1938. Her Aliens Registration card notes that despite having the British-sounding maiden name of 'Ridgway', she was born in Paris. Her family's origins lay in Philadelphia, before they moved to Paris during the American War of Independence.

Elizabeth gained her title, the Countess de Breteuil, by marrying the Count, son of a French aristocratic family, who died in 1931 and left her an inheritance. George was also of aristocratic descent. His ancestors were a Georgian noble family, which gave him the title of Prince.

Prince George was familiar with the island before he moved here. He played frequent concerts throughout the 1930s. An Evening Post article from May 1935 about a concert he put on at West Park Pavilion carried the headline "George Chavchavadze Once More' and the article noted that his visits were "usually looked forward to with profound pleasure by the music loving public".

Just a week later, he played at another local venue and the Evening Post proclaimed: "Those who attended the Forum yesterday afternoon for the recital by Prince George Chavchavadze were well rewarded, for a greater or more distinctive musical treat has never been given locally. There was a large and highly appreciative attendance, and the applause which followed each successive item was of the heartiest."

Aliens_Registration_card_George_Chavchavadze_Jersey_Heritage.jpg

Pictured: Aliens Registration card of George Chavchavadze. (Jersey Heritage)

Perhaps it was these visits and the warm welcome he received that persuaded Prince George and his wife to move to the island to try and avoid the impending war that was taking over much of Europe. The local newspaper revealed that he came to the island on holiday in January 1939 and evidently decided whilst he was here that it was a good place to settle.

The couple quickly adapted to island life, frequently appearing as guests at various events and performances that were taking place at the time. In November 1939, an article appeared in the Evening Post about Princess Chavchavadze's idea to offer a home for war victims who needed plastic surgery as a result of their injuries. Her mother had established a similar hospital in Pau during the Great War and she thought it made sense to have one in Jersey.

Her friend, Yvonne Riley, the Dame de Rozel, offered her house, Rozel Manor, as a possible venue and Prince George, who was in London, set about negotiating with the British Red Cross Society, which welcomed the scheme but asked for financial guarantees. The project didn't seem to progress any further, mostly likely because of the Occupation.

While they were living in the island, Prince George and his wife leased what the paper called "an old-world Jersey home"; 'Le Coin' at the top of La Haule Hill. This property belonged to Sybil Eenee Wailes and they had an option to buy the property before 25 March 1944 for £4,000.

However, by that time the couple were no longer in Jersey having moved as the conflict got closer. The property was requisitioned in April 1941 for the use of the German forces. Stationed there were Frenchwoman and cook Denise Larquier and Leone Dolci, an Italian waiter.

In January 1940, a few months before the Germans arrived, Prince George put on a concert at the Forum to raise money for the Foyer du Soldat Fund, a charity to help dependents of French soldiers from Jersey. Among the music played and sung were some of his own compositions, including one that was sung in Russian, which he was reported as saying was the first time that a song had been sung in his native language in Jersey.

The concert was a great success with various dignitaries attended, including the Lieutenant Governor and Bailiff. Over £105 raised for the charity.

George_prior_to_his_concert_in_Jersey_in_January_1940_Credit_Jersey_Evening_Post_Photo_Archive.jpg

Pictured: George prior to his concert in Jersey in January 1940. (Jersey Evening Post Photo Archive)

After the concert, he went on tour in England and Scotland, raising money fo the Red Cross. In an article about the charity concerts, he also talked about his adopted island and the home that he and his wife had made for themselves.

He said: "I have many friends here, not only amongst the musical world of the island and the society people, but also amongst the real Jersey farmers. I like the farmers very much, and we get on famously together."

The couple were still attending events into May 1940 but it is noted on George's Aliens Registration card that he had left the island for England on 16 June 1940, with Elizabeth following three days later.

They then sailed on the SS Britannic on 29 July 1940, bound for the US where they resided for the duration of the conflict.

Aliens_Registration_card_Elizabeth_Chavchavadze_Jersey_Heritage.jpg

Pictured: Aliens Registration card of Elizabeth Chavchavadze. (Jersey Heritage)

In March 1942, the Evening Post reported that Prince George had given a 15-minute recital over radio station WRUL Boston. The announcer mentioned that he had lived in the Channel Islands and was now touring the United States.

The royal couple did return to the island in May 1946, moving back to Le Coin, although this was temporary and the lease was cancelled in July 1948.

Tragically, they both died in a car accident together as they drove through Joigny in France in 1962. They were both interred together at the Cemetery of Passy, Paris, in the Ridgway family vault.

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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