The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands are an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. The islands are made up of two Crown dependencies: the Bailiwick of Jersey – consisting of Jersey – the largest of the islands; and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, consisting of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and some smaller islands. (The word Bailiwick means governed by a Bailiff.) They are considered the remnants of the Duchy of Normandy and, although the islands are not part of the United Kingdom, the UK is responsible for their defence and international relations.

There are three Crown dependencies (the other one is the Isle of Man) – they are not members of the Commonwealth of Nations or of the European Union. The islands have a total population of about 164,541 with a total area of 198 km2. The permanently inhabited islands of the Channel Islands and their recent populations and area are:

  • Jersey 100,080 (118 km2)
  • Guernsey 63,026 (65 km2)
  • Alderney 2,000 (8 km2)
  • Sark 600 (5 km2)
  • Herm 60 (2 km2)
  • Jethou 3 (0.2 km2)
  • Brecqhou (privately owned) (0.3 km2)

In addition to these there are several islets and large rocks which make up the archipelago such as Lihou and Crevichon.  The two Bailiwicks have been administered separately since the late 13th century; each has its own independent laws, elections, and representative bodies (although in modern times, politicians from the islands’ legislatures work closely together). The Bailiwick of Guernsey is divided into three jurisdictions – Guernsey, Alderney and Sark – each with its own legislature.

The term “Channel Islands” began to be used around 1830, possibly first by the Royal Navy as a collective name for the islands. The -ey ending may be assumed to be associated with the Norse -ey (meaning island), as seen not only in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney but also islands farther away like Anglesey and Orkney. (There is also a further group of islands called Chausey which belong to France and are situated further south than the ‘British’ Channel Islands.)

The official language of the islands is now English but the islands also have their own languages, derived from Norman French – Jèrriais (Jersey), Dgèrnésiais (Guernsey), Sercquiais (Sark) and Auregnais (Alderney).  These dialects, often known locally simply as ‘patois’ are descendants of Norman French and differ from modern French, which was the official language of Guernsey until 1948 and is still the language of administration and legal matters.

The islands were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War from 30 June 1940 until their peaceful liberation on 9 May 1945.  There is still a great deal of architectural evidence of the occupation including a museum on Guernsey. Since the records were released in the 1990s there has been a great deal of conversation and controversy about the degree of local collaboration with the Nazis.  John Nettles of Bergerac and Midsomer Murders fame has written a controversial book about the occupation as a result of his time on Jersey. (‘Jewels And Jackboots: Hitler’s British Channel Islands’ published by Channel Island Publishing and Jersey War Tunnels. Records )

This trip I visited Guernsey, Sark, Herm and the tiny tidal island of Lihou.  Coming shortly!

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