The Channel Islands are a group of islands off the west coast of Normandy (France), comprising Jersey, Guernsey and the smaller islands of Herm, Sark, Little Sark, Alderney, Lihou, Jethou and Burhou. They have their own primary legislative systems but are British Crown Dependencies.
We hold a rich collection of Channel Island books, periodicals, official publications, maps and topographical images, stamps and sound recordings.
West View of the Town of St Helier, the Hill and Harbour, Jersey by G. Heriot. British Library Shelfmark K.Top LV, 75.b © The British Library Board
The Channel Islands were originally part of the Duchy of Normandy but were severed in 1204 AD when King John lost mainland Normandy to France. King John promised the Islands independence and the right to continue governing themselves when the Islands confirmed their allegiance to the English Crown. Agents of the Crown called "Bailiffs" enforced the laws and ran the courts, one in Jersey and one in Guernsey. Since the late thirteenth century the two Bailiwicks have continued to be administered separately. The island states have different political, economic and cultural characteristics. All are exempt from English tax.
During the French Revolution a number of wealthy French exiles fled France and settled on the Islands. Later, the French author Victor Hugo (1802-1885) lived on Guernsey at Hauteville House, now the property of the City of Paris. Hugo completed his novel Les Miserables on Guernsey.
On 30 June 1940 the Channel Islands were invaded by Germany. The Occupation lasted until 9 May 1945 when an Allied relief force liberated the islands.
Today tourism, financial services, market gardening and light industry are key elements of the economy.
Hauteville House, home of Victor Hugo. Image courtesy of Visit Guernsey © The British Library Board
Though English is now the dominant language on the Channel Islands, each island of Jersey, Guernsey and Sark has its own native local French dialect: respectively Jerriais, Guernesiais and Sercquiais. These traditional spoken vernaculars of the Islands are varieties of Norman French. The original Normans who came from Norway and Denmark spoke Norse and there are still a number of Norse elements in the Islands' dialects. Though standard French has never been an everyday spoken language in any of the islands it has served as an official language of legislation and debate in legislative assemblies.
The evacuation of the Islands' children in the Second World War meant that when they returned they had become more at home with English and their families tended to speak in English too. It is only within living memory that English has replaced French as the language of legislation.
Jersey harbour. Lord Burghley's Atlas. Shelfmark: Royal 18.d.III. © The British Library Board
Because the Channel Islands do not come under the United Kingdom laws of Legal Deposit the Library actively acquires Channel Islands publications through purchase and donation. We aspire to maintain a comprehensive collection of research-level publications about the Channel Islands. We collect Social Sciences and Official Publications from the Islands and have comprehensive coverage of the newspapers of Guernsey and Jersey as part of our Newspaper Collections. Dictionaries and studies of Channel Islands languages can be found in Explore the British Library, while recordings of various forms of Channel Islands speech are contained within our Sound Archive, individual recordings being located via the online catalogue Cadensa.
Our historical collections have particular strengths in maps and topographical views, notably in King George III’s Topographical Collection, held in the Map Library, and in its Early Photographically Illustrated books. More recently annotated compilations of postcards have meant that the Library has a number of books in the social history genre Channel Islands in Old Photographs. A significant collection of Channel Islands stamps is also held, as part of the Philatelic Collections.
A selection of historical Channel Islands images is available for purchase from Images Online.
Vince Gardner, The Channel Islands. (World Bibliographies Series no. 209). Oxford: Clio Press, 1988. Shelfmark: HLR 942.34
Victor Coysh, The Channel Islands. A New Study. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1977. Shelfmark: HLR 942.341978
Ferdinand B. Tupper, The History of Guernsey and its Bailiwick with occasional notices of Jersey, Gurnsey, Le Lievre and London. Marchall Simkin & Co., (Second edition), 1876. Shelfmark: HLR 942.342
Maguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens, Balleine's History of Jersey. Chichester: Phillimore, 1998. Shelfmark: HLR 942.341
Alastair Layzell, (ed.) Who's Who in the Channel Islands, 1987. Jersey: Who's Who in the Channel Islands. Shelfmark: YA.1988.a.8634
British Library Links
Mount Orgueil Castle, Jersey by Thomas Phillips. Shelfmark: Kings 48 © The British Library Board
The Jersey Library The oldest public library in the British Isles founded in the early 18th century. The library collects most of the books published on the Island and many published outside of the Island but relating to Jersey. It is now the legal deposit library for any book published in Jersey and has a strong local studies collection.
The Société Jersiaise Founded in 1873. Its Lord Coutanche Library specialises in publications on history and archaeology. It collects material on Jersey and the other Channel Islands, Normandy and parts of southern England. It has strong collections of family archives, local newspapers, photographs, prints and maps. A proportion of the archives are in French.
Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust The Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust was founded by the naturalist and author Gerald Durrell, to establish breeding colonies of endangered species at Jersey Zoological Park. In 1999 the name was changed to the Conservation Trust.
Jersey Heritage Trust Responsible for the island's major historic sites and its museums and archives. The Barreau Le Maistre Gallery displays the highlights of the Trust's art collection exhibiting works by Jersey's noted painters including John Everett Millais, Edmund Blampied, Philip Ouless and John Le Capelain. The Jersey Museum houses photographs by the Surrealist feminist artist Claude Cahun who lived on Jersey between 1937 and 1954. The Jersey Archive is of particular interest to family historians.
The Priaulx Library Collection based on founder Osmond De Beauvoir Priaulx's wide ranging interests which included European, Classical and Oriental literature, military history and local genealogy. The library also has microfilm copies of civil and ecclesiastical records, a centre for local family history research and a large archive of local newspapers.
Guille-Alles Library Guernsey's public library. Its reference collection focuses on business information, newspapers and magazines including UK daily newspapers, Guernsey laws and regulations.
La Société Guernesiaise Similar in scope to UK wildlife trusts but its activities extend into many areas such as family history, archaeology and astronomy. The Society owns nature reserves and manages large areas of land for the States of Guernsey.
The Guernsey Society Promotes, maintains and stimulates interest in all matters concerning Guernsey. Publishes The Review with articles on Guernsey's past, present and future.
Victor Hugo's Residence 38, Hauteville House. Victor Hugo's home in Guernsey.
Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery Houses a permanent exhibition tells the story of Guernsey from Neolithic times and has a display of objects from Victorian collectors. Additional displays are held in the exhibition gallery on matters relating to Guernsey. The Rona Cole Gallery holds a collection of works by local and visiting artists.
German Occupation Museum Extensive collection of artefacts and exhibits covering the Occupation from 1940 to 1945.