Herm Island is one of the Channel Islands and part of the Parish of St. Peter Port in the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It is located in the English Channel, north-west of France and south of England and is 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) long and under 0.5 miles (0.80 km) wide; orientated north-south, with several stretches of sand along its northern coast. The much larger island of Guernsey lies to the west and Jersey to the south-east, and the smaller island of Jethou is just off the south-west coast. Herm is currently managed by Herm Island Ltd, formed by Starboard Settlement, who acquired the island in 2008, following fears during the sale of the island that the ‘identity’ of the island was at threat. Herm’s harbor is on its west coast. There are several buildings of note in the vicinity including the White House, St Tugual’s Chapel, Fisherman’s Cottage, “The Mermaid” pub and restaurant, and a small primary school with about eight children. During a busy summer season, up to 100,000 tourists visit the island, arriving by one of the catamaran ferries operated by the Trident Charter Company. Cars are banned from the island, as are bicycles; quad bikes and tractors used for staff and luggage transport respectively are allowed.
Off the northwestern coast of Herm is the islet of Le Plat Houmet, and beyond that Fondu, which like Herm belongs to Guernsey. In Belvoir Bay on the eastern side of the island are the islets of Mouliere, situated off Frenchman’s Point which is to the northeast of the manor village, and Caquorobert. To the south of this off the southeastern coast is Puffin Bay, which contains the islet of Putrainez near the coast and the islet of Selle Rocque further out to the south. The far southwestern point of the island is Point Sauzebourge, and Bishop’s Cove is just to the north of this. North of the cove and south along the beach from the harbor and White House are the Rosiere Steps, with a quarry and cottage of the same name in the vicinity. The Mouette and Percee reefs are offshore here. Hermetier, along known as Rat’s Island, lies about 820 feet (250 meters) off the western coast between Fisherman’s Beach and The Bear’s Beach, to the north of the harbor, linked by a low causeway from the beach.
The isle of Jethou is around three-quarters of a mile to the southwest beyond Point Sauzebourge. It is possible that in AD 709 a storm washed away the strip of land that connected Jethou to Herm. About 705 feet (215 meters) off the northern coast of Jethou is the islet of Crevichon, which measures about 696 feet (212 m) by 551 feet (168 m), with an area of less than three hectares. To the west, between Herm and Guernsey, lies the channel Little Roussel (Petit Ruau); between Herm and Sark, to the east, lies the Big Roussel (Grand Ruau). Bréhon Tower, a Victorian-era fortification, is in the Little Roussel between Herm and St Peter Port. The tower was created by Thomas Charles de Putron (1806–1869) using granite from Herm between 1854 and 1856.
Herm was first found in the Mesolithic period (between 10,000 and 8,000 B.C), when hunters were in search of food. In the Neolithic and Bronze ages, settlers arrived; the remains of chamber tombs have been found on the island, and may be seen today; specifically on the Common, and the Petit and Grand Monceau; it has been suggested that the northern end of the island, i.e. the Common, was set apart for burials. After a three-year project by the University of Durham, supported by specialists from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and the Guernsey museum, they stated that the “density of tombs suggests that the northern end of Herm may have been a place set apart for funerary activity”.
The first records of Herm’s inhabitants in historic times are from the sixth century, when the island became a centre of monastic activity; the followers of Saint Tugual (also called Tudwal) arrived, establishing Saint Tugual’s Chapel. In 709, a storm washed away the strip of land which connected the island with Jethou.
An important moment in Herm’s political history was in 933, when the Channel Islands were annexed to the Duchy of Normandy, they remained so until the division of Normandy in 1204, when they became a Crown Dependency. In 1111, Brother Claude Panton was a hermit in “Erm” and in 1117 the then hermit, Brother Francis Franche Montague is recorded as living on “Erm”. After the annexation, Herm gradually lost its monastic inhabitants, and between 1570 and 1737 the governors of Guernsey used it as a hunting ground; visiting to shoot, hunt, and fish.
In 1810, an inn was founded; and during the Industrial Revolution, roads, paths, a harbor, accommodation, a forge, blacksmiths, a brewery, a bakery and a prison were built to cater for the largest number of inhabitants since prehistoric times. Most were quarrymen working in new granite quarries. Several quarries can still be seen at present, such as on the Common.
Early letters and entires to or from Herm Island are extremely rare. A small private correspondence dating between 1815 and 1826 is held at the County Record Office in Maidstone and an entire written by a clergyman visiting Herm in 1836 is recorded with a Southampton Ship Letter stamp, having been carried by a ship then in Herm harbor to Southampton. Letters addressed to the Island in the latter part of the last century were held at the Head Post Office in Guernsey to await collection. Letters for dispatch were handed into the Post Office at Guernsey in the usual way. Two examples are known of an unframed HERM handstamp, one on the picture side of a postcard sent from Guernsey in 1903 and the other struck on both sides of an unused postcard of Herm. It is believed to be a private mark rather than a Post Office mark.
When the Prince and Princess Blücher leased the island from the British government during the First World War, he introduced a colony of Red-necked wallabies to the island, around 60-70 in number. They increased up to the First World War, after which they decreased in numbers, and the remaining few were re-captured and put in enclosures.
On May 1, 1925, the British Post Office established a sub office on the island, situated in the Mermaid Tavern. A double circle datestamp without a code letter was used. A standard British posting box with the cypher GR was built into the wall at the entrance to the tavern’s outside seating area. The sub post office was open for only half an hour each day, but even this limited operation was uneconomic and the office was closed on October 30, 1938. On the closure of the office, the post box was blocked to prevent further use but it remained in situ for many years until the redevelopment of the Mermaid area.
The German occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War essentially by-passed Herm. The island was claimed on July 20, 1940, by the Third Reich, a few weeks after the arrival of German troops in Guernsey and Jersey, German soldiers landed on the island to shoot a propaganda film, The Invasion of the Isle of Wight. Herm’s sandy beaches were soon used for practicing landings from barges, in preparation for the invasion of England, but otherwise the island saw little of the Germans beyond officers making trips to shoot rabbits. Herm had only a little German construction during the war; a flak battery was placed on the island for a few weeks, and mines were placed in an area. Occasionally, German soldiers would travel to Herm to cut wood for fuel. In April 1945, a German officer, Oberst von Helldorf was exiled to Herm for not displaying sufficient loyalty to the Führer.
Operation Huckaback was a British Second World War military operation that was originally designed to be a raid on Herm, Jethou and Brecqhou, but instead became only a raid on Herm undertaken on the night of February 27, 1943, following an earlier attempt that had been aborted. Ten men of the Small Scale Raiding Force and No. 4 Commando under Captain Patrick Anthony Porteous VC landed 200 yards to the north-west of Selle Rocque on a shingle beach and made several unsuccessful attempts to climb the cliff in front of them. Porteous finally managed to climb up the bed of a stream and pulled the others up with a rope. They later reported that they had found no sign of any Islanders or Germans (who were supposed to be billeted near the harbor). They had failed to make contact with the few civilians on the island whose duties included looking after the sheep.
In 1948, the then Tenant of Herm, A.G. Jefferies, was seeking to exploit the island’s tourist potential and asked for the office to be reopened. However the Postmaster General refused to do so and Jefferies decided to establish his own local postal service from Herm to St Peter Port in Guernsey, where it would be handed over to the Post Office for onward transmission.
The first stamps were produced for sale on May 26, 1949, though all mail also had to carry British stamps. The Herm stamps were placed on the back of envelopes, or in the top left hand corner of postcards. The design by Charles Coker depicts an old nautical chart of Herm and Jethou, the Arms of Guernsey and a pair of dividers. The stamps were printed in sheets of 30 using typography by the Guernsey Press Company and rouletted. This first issue had four denominations: ½ penny (pale blue and deep blue), 1 penny (emerald), 2 pence (scarlet), and 6 pence (cream and chocolate) (listed as #1-4 in The Smaller Channel Islands Catalogue produced by Anders Backman and Robert Forrester, referred to as “B&F”). There were sixteen printings of these stamps between May 1949 and October 1957, most of which saw color changes.
Also on May 26, 1949, a single stamp was issued to pay for urgent messages carried by pigeon post, as Herm did not have a telephone link to Guernsey until late 1949. Tenant A.G. Jefferies established a pigeon service which used special pigeongrams that recorded the address and message. These were rolled up and placed in a red bakelite tube which was attached to the pigeon’s leg. The stamp was designed by Captain W.E. Birch and typographed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd., line perforated 10 in a printing of 10,000 (B&F #5). The 1-shilling black on orange stamps were printed in sheets of eight (4×2).
In 1949, the States of Guernsey bought Herm from the Crown because of the “unspoilt island idyll that could be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike”. One of the island’s most influential tenants was Major Peter Wood, who looked after the island from 1949 to 1980 with his wife. The island was run down when he arrived, with the manor hidden in undergrowth, the windows and roofs of the houses having been blown off by a sea mine drifting into the harbor shortly after their arrival, but they created a school, and restored St Tugual’s Chapel. Major Wood’s daughter Pennie Wood Heyworth and her husband Adrian succeeded them; Major Wood died in 1998. Their early efforts are recorded in Herm, Our Island Home, written by Major Wood’s wife Jenny Wood.
In the 1950s, the local postal service’s office was in the island’s gift shop overlooking the harbor. In the early 1960s it was moved to the cottage at the foot of Manor Drive , only to return to the gift shop when that cottage became part of The Ship Restaurant. A converted barrel painted blue was used as the island’s posting box until the construction of an elaborate and attractive wooden box which bore some resemblance to a cuckoo clock.
To mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the 1949 map definitives were overprinted by the Guernsey Press Co. Ltd. and released on June 2, 1953 with a second printing issued in July (B&F #6-9). A provisional bisect was authorized for use between September 3-10, 1953 with the 1953 reprint of the 1-penny map definitive (pale green and bright emerald, B&F #2D) bisected diagonally. Approximately 1,000 of these were used.
A set of five definitives were released on January 7, 1954, four of which portrayed the Herm crest designed by Rev S. T. Percival. The stamps were designed by William Kerry and printed in typography by Harrison & Sons, comb perforated 15×14 in sheets of 20. A double (pronounced “dooble”) was an old Guernsey coin eight of which was equivalent to a British pemny. The four stamps bearing the Herm crest (B&F #11-14) were issued in denominations of 4 doubles (green), 8 doubles (carmine), 2 pence (blue), and 6 pence (claret). A large-sized 1-shilling stamps (steel blue) was also released on the same date picturing the North-West Beaches, printed in sheets of 10 (B&F #15).
On March 1, 1954, it was decided to reprint the 6-pence Crest stamp in a different color (orange) because of the similarity in the color of the original 6-pence stamp to the 8 doubles (B&F #16).
In 1953, British European Airways extended their letter service to the Channel Islands. Major Wood extended his postal service so that a letter could be carried by boat for delivery to the BEA office in St. Peter Port. The postage was 5 pence and was achieved by overprinting a special printing of the 2-pence map definitive (B&F #17). This service continued until July 1956.
Another provisional bisect was authorized for use from August 22 to October 24, 1954, using the 8 doubles Crest definitive bisected diagonally and is listed as B&F #18.
A set of 12 triangular stamps was designed by Peter White and lithographed by Perkins Bacon & Co. Ltd. in sheets of 100 (5×20). Perforated 11, 500,000 sets were issued (B&F #19-30). They depict some of the birds, flowers, fish and butterflies that can be seen on Herm. The 8 doubles (pink and mauve) from this set (B&F #20) was later bisected vertically and authorized for use as a provisional bisect August 23-26, 1956 (B&F #31).
There are a number of Neolithic burial sites on Herm and to commemorate these a set of five stamps were issued on May 1, 1957 (B&F #32-36). Designed by Eric Piprell and typographed by the Guernsey Press Company, they were printed in sheets of 30 for the lower three denominations — 4 doubles, 8 doubles and 2 pence — while the 6-pence and 1-shilling values were produced in sheets of 10. All were rouletted. The lower values show a Neolithic man fishing and the two higher values show two men hunting.
The Queen and Prince Philip visited Guernsey in July 1957. To commemorate this visit the Neolithic Man set was overprinted ROYAL / VISIT / JULY 26TH / 1957 in red or black ink (B&F #37-41). The set was only on sale for postal use from July 26 to August 1.
The 1956 reprinting of the 1949 1-penny map definitive (green, B&F #2E) was bisected diagonally, authorized for use as a provisional bisect from September 22 until October 16, 1957 (B&F #42). Approximately 1,000 of these were used.
The 1949 map definitives were issued in new colors printed by the Guernsey Press Company and released on June 14, 1957 (B&F43-46). Blocks of six of the ½-penny and 1-penny values were included in Herm’s first stamp booklets, released in January 1959 (B&F #B1-B2).
A new definitive set of six values were designed by Rigby Graham released on June 1, 1959 (B&F #47-52). These were typographed by Harrison & Sons Ltd. and printed in sheets of 30. The three lower values (4 doubles, 8 doubles and 1½ pence) show a rather distorted map of Herm from the south with a palm tree and were comb perforated 14¾x14. The three higher values (3 pence, 6 pence, 1 shilling 6 pence) show the MV Arrowhead which was, at that time, the boat that brought visitors to the Island. Earlier printings of the high values were perforated 13¾x14 while the later printings were 14¾x14. There are a number of printings of this issue and the stamps were overprinted on a number of occasions. The first of these were issued on June 22, `1959, on the occasion of Princess Margaret’s visit to Guernsey from June 22-24 (B&F #53-58). The royal wedding of Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones was commemorated by overprints released on May 6, 1960 (B&F #59-64). These stamps were overprinted again for a World Refugee Year set issued on June 28, 1960 (B&F #65-70) and a Europa release on September 18, 1961 (B&F #71-76).
Anti-malaria was an international theme in 1962 so two new stamps (11 pence and 1 shilling, 6 pence) were designed by Victor Whitely (B&F #78-79) while the 8 doubles 1959 map definitive received an Anti-malaria overprint (B&F #77). The new stamps were offset-lithographed by Harrison & Sons Ltd., perforated 14, and released on June 17, 1962.
New designs were prepared for the 1962 Europa issue, released on September 17, 1962. These were designed by Michael Goaman and printed in offset-lithography by Harrison & Sons (B&F #80-82). They show “Wind over Herm” (8 doubles red). a map of Herm with a mermade (11 pence) and a map of Herm with King Neptune (1 shilling, 6 pence).
In the summer of 1964 there was shortage of 8 doubles issue. To meet the demand the 4 doubles map definitive was overprinted Plus 4 / Doubles by the Guernsey Press Company on August 17, 1964 (B&F #86).
The 1963 Europa stamps depict the island’s mailboat, MV Arrowhead, and were designed by Victor Whiteley, printed in offset-lithography by Harrison & Sons and released on September 14, 1963, perforated 14 (B&F #83-85). These were overprinted with 1964 and bar and released on September 14, 1964, as that year’s Europa issue (B&F #87-89).
On May 9, 1965, a set of six stamps were released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Liberation of the Channel Islands (B&F #90-95). These were designed by Victor Whiteley and printed in off-set lithography by Harrison & Sons, perforated 14 in sheets of 20. On January 31, 1966, these were overprinted by G.F. Wilson & Co. Ltd. with the date 24th Jan. 1966 in red, black, blue, or green ink to mark the death of Winston Churchill (B&F #96-101).
For Herm’s final Europa issue, released on September 26, 1966, the Europa 1962 set was overprinted by G.F. Wilson & Company with 1966 and a bar in black (B&F #102-104).
In the summer of 1967 there was a shortage of the 1½-pence definitive issue. To meet the demand the 11-pence Anti-Malaria stamp (B&F #78) was overprinted sideways AUGUST / 1967 1-1/2d with bars by the Guernsey Press Company (B&F #105).
On July 22, 1968, four values of the 1959 map and boat definitives set were reissued with slight alterations to the designs and color changes. These were offset printed from new plates by Harrison & Sons Ltd, perforated 14¾x14 (B&F #106-109). A special printing of the reissued 1½-pence (pale lilac with metallic glow) was overprinted 2d by Harrison & Sons when the United Kingdom withdrew the ½-penny coin at the end of March 1969. The provisional stamp was released on April 1, 1969 (B&F #110).
A set of six stamps were designed by Jennifer Toombs. This was originally intended to mark the postal independence of Guernsey from the United Kingdom on October 1, 1969. Offset-lithographed by Harrison & Sons, comb perforated 14, the stamps portray boats and ships: 1-penny (red and blue) with the Henry Rose; a Norman vessel appears on the 2 pence (sepia and orange brown); the 6 pence (black and green) portrays an eighteenth-century vessel; a cutter of 1810 is pictured on the 1 shilling, 6 pence (black and magenta); the 2-shilling (black and yellow) stamp shows an early paddle steamer; and the Sarnia with a Viscount aircraft is viewed on the 3 shilling (black and blue). These were released on September 17, 1969. However, the Post Office (Guernsey) Law required the closure of Herm Island ’s own postal service so the set of stamps had a lifespan of 14 days of postal validity The last day of use of all Herm stamps was September 30, 1969. The Tenant of Herm was no longer permitted to produce stamps or allow them to be fixed to postal items.
The Guernsey Post Office Board did not wish its stamps to be regarded throughout the world as “local” issues, with accompanying negative connotation among philatelists, so it banned all local services in the Bailiwick and enacted a law that would make it an offense under penalty of a heavy fine to use local carriage labels. The Board also realized this edict would cause a severe hardship to Herm if its services were completely withdrawn. Consequently the Board opened a sub-office there on the so-called vesting day of October 1, 1969 (date of transfer of postal services from the GPO to the Guernsey authority). Major Wood, in recognition of, and as a reward for his twenty years of mail-carrying efforts, was offered and accepted the Herm sub-postmastership, and the post office on Herm became “official” once again after an interval of more than thirty years.
In the early months of 1971, a prolonged strike by British postal staff led to the suspension of the Post Office’s mail carrying monopoly so that firms or individuals could apply for licenses to operate their own delivery services during the period of disruption. Throughout Britain about one hundred and fifty such courier (or “pirate post”) organizations sprang up, many of them connected with the philatelic trade. The level of the delivery service actually performed for the public was often very limited and sometimes even non-existent, the exercise being seen mainly as an opportunity to print and sell stamps.
All six values of the 1969 definitive issue were overprinted SOUTHAMPTION/1971 STRIKE POST with Herm Island being obliterated by a series of X’s. Additional overprinting changed the values of the stamps. This “release” was produced by J Sanders (Philatelist) Ltd of Southampton, stamp dealers who had been the philatelic agents for Herm for more than ten years, and the overprinting was carried out for the company by a local printer, G F Wilson & Co. To appreciate the choice of stamps which it was chosen to overprint it is necessary to understand that Herm’s final issue was at an advanced stage of production when the Guernsey Post Office announced that it would not be allowing the use of any local stamps after September 30, 1969. The stamps were hurriedly issued but a fortnight’s use when the tourist season had effectively ended must have left a good proportion of the printing in stock for the total printing had been between 100,000 and 120,000 of each value.
Sanders’ contemporary advertisements state that five of the overprinted stamps were issued on January 22, 1971, for a “Southampton outwards” service and that the 1-shilling on 1-penny stamp was released on January 26 for a London to Southampton service. A report published in 1971 stated that 3000 sets (100 sheets) were produced, another from 2008 gives the figure as 8100 sets (270 sheets). These should be regarded not as Herm stamps but as surplus stock overprinted for another use entirely unconnected with the island. The staff of the Guernsey Post Office were not involved in the strike.
Since 1969 the Guernsey postal authorities have featured Herm on a number of their stamps and an issue of 1999 reproduced four of Herm’s local stamps together with island scenes. Today, the sub post office is located in the gift shop near the harbor and is busy during the summer season with visitors buying stamps and sending postcards. Registered and recorded delivery letters are handled as well as parcels. It is the only sub post office in the Bailiwick of Guernsey that opens seven days weekly and sometimes also in the evenings when there are large numbers of visitors arriving on the boats.
In 1989, a label to commemorate the 4oth anniversary of Herm stamps was produced as a free gift to members of The Small Channel Island Collectors Society. This label featured the Charles Coker essay design of a pigeon carrying a letter over the sea in ultramarine-blue with ‘drawn-on’ perforations and 1949-1989’ across the bottom. About two hundred covers bearing this label with a special cancellation were posted from the island. The front of these covers have an enlarged 1½-pence map definitive stamp essay as a frontispiece.
In April 2000, the same essay by Charles Coker of a pigeon carrying a letter across the sea was modified by a CISS member to read CISS 2000 in the bottom panel and produced as one of a set of labels to commemorate fifty years of the Channel Island Specialist Society. These sets were presented free to CISS members attending the Guernsey late April meeting. A few of these sets were seen to be canceled on covers by members with a commemorative cachet. Ten sets of these six labels (including the pigeon essay label) were sent as first day covers from Herm Island, canceled by the anniversary cachet as well as Guernsey postage stamps with the Herm Post Office cancellation. The mint pigeon essay labels were produced in six sheets of 20 (5 x 4), total 120 on gummed pale orange paper and rouletted. The issues were unofficial, but are likely to be collectible, especially with regard to the scarce FDCs canceled on Herm Island.
On May 17, 2008, the BBC reported that the tenants had put the remaining 40 years of their lease up for sale, with an asking price of £15,000,000. Within four days, there were over 50 potential buyers, which led to fears from residents that the island’s identity would be lost if it was bought by the wrong owner. In September 2008, it was announced that Starboard Settlement, a trust, had acquired the remainder of the lease for considerably less than the asking price. The trust formed a company based in Guernsey, Herm Island Ltd, to manage the island for the trustees.
In 2013, negotiations for a 21-year extension to the lease broke down, with the tenant offering £440,000 and the owner requesting £6,000,000 plus improvements to infrastructure.
In the northern part of the island are the Le Petit Monceau and Le Grande Monceau hills. To the north of this is a common, leading to Mouisonniere Beach on the northern coast, with Oyster Point in the northwestern corner and La Pointe du Gentilhomme or Alderney Point at the northeastern corner. To the east of the common is Shell Beach and to the west is The Bear’s Beach, leading down to the harbor. Half of the coastline of the northern part of the island is surrounded by sandy beaches; the southern half is rocky. Much of Herm’s bedrock is granite. In 2008, Adrian Heyworth, who was at the time the island’s tenant, said that two or three meters of sand were being lost annually at Alderney Point.
Tourism is Herm’s main source of income. During a busy summer season, up to 100,000 tourists visit the island, arriving by one of the Travel Trident catamaran ferries operated by the Trident Charter Company. Money is also made from vegetable growing, livestock and the occasional issue of local post stamps. The residents in Herm are workers on the island and their families.
There are three volunteer Special Constables resident on the island, trained and supervised by the States of Guernsey Police Service. On bank holidays, they are augmented by a visiting full-time Constable from Guernsey. Crime rates on the island are low.
There are no medical facilities on Herm and no resident doctor. A small team of first aiders and community first responders is maintained amongst the resident population, and receives regular training from the Guernsey Ambulance and Rescue Service, a private company operating on a charitable basis under the umbrella of the Venerable Order of Saint John. Medical evacuation to hospital in Guernsey, where necessary, is achieved by means of the ambulance launch Flying Christine III operated by the Guernsey Ambulance and Rescue Service.
A voluntary fire service operates on the island. Herm Fire Brigade operates a tractor-hauled fire tender with a hose-reel, a pump, a 2,000-liter water tank, and basic fire-fighting equipment which they use while waiting for assistance from the Guernsey Fire Brigade, who also provide the Herm volunteers with training and support.
Herm has one primary school, with around eight pupils; they are taught by a teacher who travels from Guernsey daily. Children over nine are schooled in Guernsey, usually as boarders.
Backman & Forrester #75 was released on September 18, 1964, a special printing of B&F #51 overprinted in red for Europa 1961. The original 6-pence stamp, typographed by Harrison & Sons Ltd. (who also applied the overprint) was printed in royal blue and ultramarine. Designed by Rigby Graham, it features the MV Arrowhead at sea south of Bréhon Tower.
Bréhon Tower sits on Bréhon Rock, an island in the Little Russell channel about 1.5 km northeast of St. Peter Port, Guernsey, between the port and the islands of Herm and Jethou. An obelisk was erected on Bréhon in 1744 to serve as a sea mark. However the lack of visibility of the obelisk led to its replacement in 1824 by a tower 40 feet high and 34 feet in circumference, topped by a globe.
During the tenure (1803-1813) of Lieutenant Governor General Sir John Doyle, there were plans to erect a guardhouse on Bréhon, but nothing came of these. Doyle was responsible, however, for substantial fortification efforts elsewhere in Guernsey, including the construction of the Martello towers of Fort Grey, Fort Saumarez, and Fort Hommet.
In the 1840s, there was a renewed concern about British relations with France, with particular concern for the protection of Alderney and the other Channel Islands because of their strategic importance in the Channel. Lieutenant Governor Major-General Sir William Francis Patrick Napier proposed a number of works, including the establishment of a fort on Bréhon. In 1850, the British became concerned that the French had created fortifications at Cherbourg. This led to the construction of several towers and forts in the Channel area. The Alderney cutter Experiment was wrecked off Bréhon in March 1850; eight people drowned but Guernsey pilot boat Mary of Guernsey saved 20.
A review of Guerney’s defenses in 1852 recommended the construction of three artillery barracks, Fort Richmond, Fort Hommet, and Fort Le Marchant, the upgrading of Fort Doyle, and the construction of Bréhon Tower. Work on Bréhon Tower commenced in 1854 and was completed in 1856. The builder was Thomas Charles de Putron, who carried on business at the Pierre Percée. The total cost was £8,098 18s 10d.
Bréhon Tower’s role was to guard the shipping channel between Guernsey and Herm, and help protect the harbor of St. Peter Port. The fort’s footprint measures 65 feet by 85 feet (at the widest point). The tower stands 34 feet high and has three levels. The magazine, shell room, shifting room, stores, and fresh-water cistern were all on the ground floor. It also had latrines on the same floor, a Victorian innovation. The first floor contained the garrison’s living quarters.
The original plan was to put three heavy guns on the gun platform at the top, with five guns on the (second) floor below, sharing the 14 cannon ports. However, during construction the armament was cut back to three 68-pounder and two 10-inch shell guns, all on the gun platform. In 1859, when loading the guns, each of which weighed 5 tons, a barge capsized and sank, the gun was lost. The guns had a range of 3,000 meters. When the garrison fired the cannons for the first time the concussion created a fracture that extended from top to bottom. There is also a jetty on the St. Peter Port side of the island.
The tower’s garrison was drawn from the Royal Artillery. The garrison was originally to have consisted of two officers and 60 NCOs and other ranks, but with the reduction in armament, two officers and 30 men was deemed sufficient. Boats from Guernsey brought provisions and fresh drinking water; the cistern provided the water for general use.
By World War I, the tower was obsolete and the War Office turned it over to the States of Guernsey. During World War II, the Germans installed a 4.1-inch (10.5-centimeter) coast defense gun in a new embrasure cut in the north wall. They also placed two 2-cem (0.79-inch) anti-aircraft guns on the roof of the tower. These were credited with shooting down several allied planes, and one German plane, which crashed on Crevichon. However, the German plane that crashed on Crevichon on November 19, 1940, killing all its crew, was a Heinkel He 111 that either a British night fighter shot down while the He 111 was flying from France to bomb the south coast of England, or that developed engine trouble on the way.
Bréhon Tower and the islet upon which it stands was listed as a Protected Monument on September 30, 1969.