Alderney (French: Aurigny; Auregnais: Aoeur’gny) is the most northerly of the Channel Islands. It is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a British Crown dependency. It is 3 miles (5 km) long and 1 1⁄2 miles (2.4 km) wide.
The area is 3 square miles (8 km2), making it the third-largest island of the Channel Islands, and the second largest in the Bailiwick. It is around 10 miles (15 km) to the west of La Hague on the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, in France, 20 miles (30 km) to the north-east of Guernsey and 60 miles (100 km) from the south coast of Great Britain. It is the closest of the Channel Islands to both France and the United Kingdom. It is separated from Cap de la Hague by the dangerous Alderney Race (French: Raz Blanchard).
As of April 2013, the island has a population of 1,903 people and they are traditionally nicknamed vaques after the cows, or else lapins after the many rabbits seen in the island. Formally, they are known as Ridunians, from the Latin Riduna.
The only parish of Alderney is the parish of St Anne, which covers the whole island.
The main town, St Anne, historically known as “La Ville”, (or “Town” in English), is often referred to as “St Anne’s” by visitors and incomers, though rarely by locals (who, in normal conversation, still most frequently refer to the area centred around Victoria St simply as “Town”).
The town’s “High St”, which formerly had a small handful of shops, is now almost entirely residential, crossing Victoria St at its highest point, forming a T-junction. The town area features an imposing church and an unevenly cobbled main street: Victoria Street (Rue Grosnez – the English name being adopted on the visit of Queen Victoria in 1854.
There is a primary school, a secondary school a post office, and hotels, as well as restaurants, banks and shops. Other settlements include Braye, Crabby, Longis, Mannez, La Banquage and Newtown.
For taxation purposes, Alderney is treated as if it were part of Guernsey.
The flag of Alderney was granted on 20 December 1993. The flag is St George’s Cross defaced with Alderney’s coat of arms, a lion rampant holding a sprig on a green background with a golden border. The lion has a tongue, a sprightly tail and a crowned head.
This is recorded as the armorial bearings of the States of Alderney in Her Majesty’s College of Arms signed by Conrad Swan, Garter Principal King of Arms, on 20 December 1993.
It seems the arms appeared in the 19th century when the Judge or President of the Court of Alderney made clear his desire for a seal.
It came into being, bearing a crowned lion with the “Guernsey sprig” grasped in its paw.
The seal was inscribed “Sugillum curiae insulae Origny. 1745.” Which translates roughly as the states of the island of Alderney
There is uncertainty surrounding where these arms came from, a similar device formed the arms of the Arden or Arderne family.
It may be Alderney did not have a seal and ‘acquired’ one which was the arms of a family with a name resembling Alderney.
The most complicated arms are in the front of the Court Office, the shield is surrounded by a garland of leaves and below is inscribed the device “RIDUNA” which was the Roman name for Alderney.
History of Alderney
Alderney shares a history with the other Channel Islands, becoming an island in the Neolithic period as the waters of the Channel rose. Formerly rich in dolmens, like the other Channel Islands, Alderney with its heritage of megaliths has suffered through the large-scale military constructions of the 19th century and also by the Germans during the World War II occupation, who left the remains at Les Pourciaux unrecognisable as dolmens.
A cist survives near Fort Tourgis, and Longis Common has remains of an Iron Age site. There are traces of Roman occupation including a fort, built in the late 300s, at 49°43′09″N 2°10′36″W above the island’s only natural harbour.
The etymology of the Island’s name is obscure. It is known in Latin as Riduna but as with the names of all the Channel Islands in the Roman period there is a degree of confusion. Riduna may be the original name of Tatihou, while Alderney is conjectured to be identified with Sarnia. Alderney/Aurigny is variously supposed to be a Germanic or Celtic name.
It may be a corruption of Adreni or Alrene, which is probably derived from an Old Norse word meaning “island near the coast”. Alternatively it may derive from three Norse elements: alda (swelling wave, roller), renna (strong current, race) and öy or -ey (island). Alderney may be mentioned in Paul the Deacon’s Historia Langobardorum (I.6) as ‘Evodia’ in which he discussed a certain dangerous whirlpool. The name ‘Evodia’ may in turn originate from the seven ‘Haemodae’ of uncertain identification in Pliny’s Natural History (IV 16 (30) or Pomponius Mela’s Chronographia (III 6,54).
Along with the other Channel Islands, Alderney was annexed by the Duchy of Normandy in 933. In 1042 William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy (later William the Conqueror, King of the English) granted Alderney to the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. In 1057 the bishop of Coutances took back control of the island.
After 1204, when mainland Normandy was incorporated into the kingdom of France, Alderney remained loyal to the English monarch in his dignity of Duke of Normandy.
Henry VIII of England undertook fortification works, but these ceased in 1554. Essex Castle perpetuates the name of the Earl of Essex, who purchased the governorship of Alderney in 1591. Prior to the Earl’s execution for treason in 1601, he leased the island to William Chamberlain, and Alderney remained in the hands of the Chamberlain family until 1643.
From 1612, a Judge was appointed to assist the Governor’s administration of Alderney, along with the Jurats. The function of the Judge was similar to that of the Bailiffs of Guernsey and Jersey, and continued until 1949.
During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, Alderney was held by a Parliamentary garrison under Nicholas Ling, Lieutenant-Governor. Ling built Government House (now the Island Hall).
The de Carterets of Jersey acquired the governorship, later passing it to Sir Edmund Andros of Guernsey, from whom the Guernsey family of Le Mesurier inherited it, thus establishing a hereditary line of governors that lasted until 1825.
Henry Le Mesurier prospered through privateering, and moved the harbour from Longis to Braye, building a jetty there in 1736. Warehouses and dwellings were built at Braye, and the export of cattle generated wealth for the economy. The Court House was built in 1770 and a school in 1790. A Methodist chapel was constructed in 1790, following John Wesley’s visit in 1787. A telegraph tower was constructed above La Foulère in 1811, enabling signals to be relayed visually to Le Mât in Sark and on to Guernsey – early warning of attack during the Napoleonic Wars was of strategic importance. With the end of those wars privateering was ended and smuggling suppressed, leading to economic difficulties.
The last of the hereditary Governors, John Le Mesurier, resigned his patent to the Crown in 1825, and since then authority has been exercised by the States of Alderney, as amended by the constitutional settlement of 1948.
The British Government decided to undertake massive fortifications in the 19th century and to create a strategic harbour to deter attacks from France.
These fortifications were presciently described by William Ewart Gladstone as “a monument of human folly, useless to us … but perhaps not absolutely useless to a possible enemy, with whom we may at some period have to deal and who may possibly be able to extract some profit in the way of shelter and accommodation from the ruins.”
An influx of English and Irish labourers, plus the sizeable British garrison stationed in the island, led to rapid Anglicization. The harbour was never completed – the remaining breakwater (designed by James Walker) is one of the island’s landmarks, and is longer than any breakwater in the UK.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Alderney on 9 August 1854. The Albert Memorial and the renaming of Rue Grosnez to Victoria Street commemorate this visit.
At the same time as the breakwater was being built in the 1850s, the island was fortified by a string of 13 forts, designed to protect the harbour of refuge. The accommodation quarters of several of the forts have been converted into apartments; two are now private homes; and one, Fort Clonque, at the end of a causeway that can be flooded at high tide, belongs to the Landmark Trust and can be rented for comfortable self-catering holidays for up to thirteen persons. Scenes from the film Seagulls Over Sorrento were shot at Fort Clonque in 1953.
Some of the forts are now in varying stages of dereliction, the most ruined being Les Hommeaux Florains, perched on outlying rocks, its access causeway and bridge having been swept away long ago. Houmet Herbé resembles a Crusader castle with its squat round towers. Like many of the forts it included such apparently anachronistic features as a drawbridge and machicolation, which were still common in military architecture of the period.
World War II
In June 1940 the entire population of Alderney, about 1500 residents, was evacuated. Most went on the official evacuation boats sent from mainland Britain. Some, however, decided to make their own way, mostly via Guernsey, but due to the impending occupation many found themselves unable to leave and were forced to stay on Guernsey for the duration of the war. A few Alderney people elected not to leave Alderney with the general evacuation. However, boats from Guernsey came and collected them before the German Army arrived, on the basis that it was best for their personal safety. During the Second World War, the Channel Islands was the only part of the British Commonwealth occupied by Germany.
The Germans arrived to a deserted island and began to follow the orders to fortify Alderney as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. They built four concentration camps in Alderney, subcamps of the Neuengamme concentration camp. Lager Helgoland and Lager Borkum were used by the Nazi Organisation Todt and used forced labour to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters and concrete fortifications.
In 1942, the Lager Norderney camp, containing Russian and Polish POWs, and the Lager Sylt camp, a concentration camp holding Jewish slave labourers, were placed under the control of the SS-Hauptsturmführer Maximilian List.
Over 700 of a total inmate population of 6,000 lost their lives before the camps were closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944.
On the return to their island, Alderney evacuees had little to no knowledge of the crimes committed on their island during the occupation as by December 1945, the first date civilians could return home, all the slave labourers had been sent away and the majority of the German troops left behind were not senior staff.
Evidence, however, was all over the island, with concrete fortifications and graveyards for the prisoners kept there during the occupation.
The Royal Navy blockaded the islands from time to time, particularly following the liberation of Normandy in 1944. Intense negotiations resulted in some Red Cross humanitarian aid, but there was considerable hunger and privation during the five years of German occupation, particularly in the final months when the Germans themselves were close to starvation.
The Germans surrendered Alderney on May 16, 1945, eight days after the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, and seven days after the liberation of Guernsey and Jersey.
2,332 German prisoners of war were removed from Alderney on 20 May 1945, leaving 500 Germans to undertake clearing up operations under British military supervision.
The population of Alderney was unable to start returning until December 1945 due to the huge cleanup operation that had to take place simply to make the island safe for civilians. When the islanders returned home they were shocked to see the state of Alderney, with many houses completely derelict due to anything wooden, including front doors, having been burned for fuel by the Germans.
Archival and object evidence of the general evacuation in 1940 and the subsequent Occupation of Alderney can be found in the Alderney Society Museum.
The four German camps in Alderney have not been preserved or commemorated, aside from a small plaque at the former SS camp Lager Sylt. One camp is now a tourist camping site, while the gates to another form the entrance to the island’s rubbish tip. The other two have been left to fall into ruin and become overgrown by brambles.
Documents from the ITS Archives in Germany show prisoners of numerous nationalities were incarcerated in Alderney, with many dying on the island. The causes of death included suicide, pneumonia, being shot, heart failure and explosions.
A series of tunnels also remains in place on Alderney, constructed by forced labour. These are in varying degrees of safety, but are left open to the public and the elements.
After World War II, a court-martial case was prepared against ex-SS Hauptsturmführer Max List (the former commandant of Lagers Norderney and Sylt), citing atrocities on Alderney. However, he did not stand trial, and is believed to have lived near Hamburg until his death in the 1980s.
For two years after the end of World War II, Alderney was operated as a communal farm. Craftsmen were paid by their employers, whilst others were paid by the local government out of the profit from the sales of farm produce. Remaining profits were put aside to repay the British Government for repairing and rebuilding the island.
Resentment from the local population towards being unable to control their own land acted as a catalyst for the United Kingdom Home Office to set up an enquiry that led to the “Government of Alderney Law 1948”, which came into force on 1 January 1949.
The law organised the construction and election of the States of Alderney, the justice system and, for the first time in Alderney, the imposition of taxes.
The legislature and judiciary were separated. The position of Judge, which had headed the island’s government since the resignation of the last Governor in 1825, was abolished, and the Jurats were removed from their legislative function.
As a result of the small population of Alderney, it was believed that the island could not be self-sufficient in running the airport and the Alderney harbour, or providing services that would match those of the UK.
Taxes were therefore collected into the general Bailiwick of Guernsey revenue funds at the same rate as in Guernsey, and administered by the States of Guernsey. Guernsey became responsible for providing many governmental functions and services.
The 20th century saw much change in Alderney, from the building of the Alderney Airport in the late 1930s to the death of the last speakers of the island’s Auregnais language, a dialect of the Norman language.
The economy has gone from depending largely on agriculture to earning money from the tourism and finance industries. E-commerce has become increasingly important, and the island hosts the domain name registry for both Bailiwicks and over a dozen gambling website operators.
As a result of these upheavals and of substantial immigration, the island has been more or less completely anglicised.
Politics of Alderney takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic British Crown dependency, whereby the President of the States of Alderney is the head of government. Alderney is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey though is largely self-governing.
Before the 1949 reforms, Alderney’s legislature had no political affiliation as all positions in the States of Alderney were appointed. It consisted of the Governor of Alderney, until the holder in 1825 sold it back to the Crown and no further appointments were made, the Judge of Alderney, six Jurats, Alderney’s court officers, a Douzainier-Delegate and four Douzainiers appointed by the Alderney ratepayers.
In 1923, the first democratically elected members were created with three People’s Deputies being added to the States of Alderney.
In 1949, a new constitution for Alderney was instituted with Alderney becoming part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.
The States of Alderney’s membership was changed because of the law. The States of Alderney now was made up of the President of the States of Alderney and nine elected members. Two members of the States of Alderney are also selected to represent Alderney in the States of Guernsey.
There are no political parties in Alderney mirroring a similar situation in fellow Channel Islands, Jersey and Guernsey where all people standing for election are non-affiliated.
In 2005, the President Sir Norman Browse made a call for members not to become affiliated with “pressure groups and single issue causes”.
The Court of Alderney exercises unlimited original jurisdiction in civil matters and limited jurisdiction in criminal matters.
The Court sits with a Chairman (the Judge of Alderney) and at least three of the six Jurats. Appeals are made to the Royal Court of Guernsey, which also exercises some original jurisdiction in criminal matters in Alderney, and thence to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Geography & Natural History
Alderney is similar to the other Channel Islands in having sheer cliffs broken by stretches of sandy beach and dunes. The highest point is on the central plateau of the island at 296 ft.
Its climate is temperate, moderated by the sea, and summers are usually warmer than elsewhere in the British Isles.
Alderney and its surrounding islets support a rich flora and fauna. Trees are rather scarce, as many were cut down in the 17th century to fuel the lighthouses on Alderney and the Casquets. Those trees that remain include cabbage trees, due to the mild climate – often miscalled “palms” but of the lily family), and there are some small woods dotted about the island. Puffins on Burhou and gannets on Les Étacs (popularly called Gannet Rock) just off Alderney are a favourite of many visitors to the island.
About a quarter of Alderney hedgehogs are of the “white” or “blonde” variety, which does not carry fleas. These are not albinos, but descent of rarely met blonde European hedgehogs, with a blonde pair released on the island in the 1960s.
The island had its own breed of cattle, called the Alderney. The pure breed became extinct in 1944, though hybrids remain elsewhere, though no longer on Alderney.
In August 2005, the west coast of Alderney and associated islands, including Burhou and Ortac, were designated as Ramsar wetlands of international importance. The Alderney Wildlife Trust helps to manage the two nature reserves, at Longis and Vau du Saou.
The island is surrounded by rocks, which have caused hundreds of wrecks. There are treacherous tidal streams on either side of the island: the Swinge between Alderney and Burhou, just outside the harbour, and Le Raz between the island and the Normandy mainland. The Corbet Rock lies in the Swinge.
The geology of Alderney is mostly granites from the Precambrian period.
The language of the island is now English with a few minor variants, constituting Channel Island English.
For centuries the island had its own dialect of the Norman language called Auregnais, now extinct. It was primarily a spoken language, with only a few known poems and written works using it.
French was once widely used on the island, and increasingly replaced Auregnais since the late 19th century, but ceased to be an official language there in 1966.
French declined not only from neglect, especially in schools, but also because most of the population was evacuated in the Second World War.
However, there is a strong cultural legacy of both languages in the island: most of the local place-names are in French or Auregnais, as are many local surnames.
The pronunciation of various local names is also dialectal, e.g. Dupont as “dip-oh” rather than in the traditional Parisian fashion, and Saye (the name of a beach on the island) as “soy”.
One or two French/Auregnais words are still in common use, e.g. vraic (seaweed fertiliser).
Alderney has its own radio station, QUAY-FM, which broadcasts on 107.1 and online. Initially it only operated at seasonal high points such as the summer Alderney Week festival, though from 2015 it has broadcast 24 hours a day. It features local news and interviews, music, news from Sky and overnight broadcasting from BBC World Service.
Freeview PSB multiplexes 1,2, 3 are available on Alderney carrying services from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 on a local relay transmitter. Transmissions from Guernsey are also available, French services are also easily picked up on Alderney.
Alderney Week is the island’s annual summer festival, beginning the Saturday before the first Monday of August. Each year the organisers pick a different theme. It features:
The first Saturday begins with a parade and children’s sports day. There is a disco on the green and a Quarry Party starting at 11pm with a Woodstock theme. People dress in costume or just in wacky clothes.
The Sunday is the day of a traditional street market. A mixture of traditional toffee apples and bric-à-brac is laid out up and down the main street.
Clothes, ice-creams, sweets and jewellery are all sold from tables in the street, and with dancing by the KFA, the Miss Holiday Princess Competition and live entertainment.
Cavalcade Day takes place on the Monday, on which residents and organisations construct parade floats based upon a particular theme, before walking them though the high street and onto the green. Judging and prize giving takes place up there, as well as games, stalls and burger vans. The Alderney Blowers give a full concert, and there is a car and bike show.
Tuesday events may include auditions, Shakespeare in the gardens and sporting activities.
Wednesday often includes the daft raft race, though it changes days often to get the right tide. Participants build the wackiest crafts they can think up to sail around two buoys in three great races whilst being pelted with flour bombs, water bombs and hoses from the lifeboat. Although the races are friendly, many attempts at sabotage have been made, which range from standing in the way of launch, to drilling holes in the previous year’s winners the night before. In the evening is the Extravaganza – a show of sketches and acts about Alderney, the theme, and inter-island competition.
For many, the man-powered flight is the main focus of Thursday’s events. Machines vary from the beautifully decorated to ones that might actually fly, although the furthest flying usually fly no more than a metre or two. There is a duck race (of numbered bath ducks). In the evening is the Battle Of The Bands, with both local and visiting bands taking part. It is held in the quarry, where people of all ages go to dance, cheer, and sit around the bonfire.
Friday is given over to the sandcastle competition. The competitors are split into age groups – 0-5, 5-7, 7-10, 10-13 and Adult, and time-limits set for each group. The evening is given over to entertainment by the talented. The under-16 talent show (Alderney’s Got Talent) is held early on, followed by the Alderney X-Factor at 9 pm.
The torchlight procession, on the Saturday evening of the week, sees a parade of people walking through the town centre, carrying torches towards a large bonfire upon the green.
The evening ends with a fireworks display and an open-air music event held in a disused quarry.
This starts at midnight and finishes at 8:00am the next morning, although it has been known to continue on until 10 am with some nocturnal people, who use the radio for music. Other people make their way to the airport for their flight in the sleeping bags they slept in on the nearest soft floor they could find.
Regular entertainment during Alderney Week includes:
The Alderney Blowers play every year. These are a group of musicians who fly from England every year to play throughout Alderney Week.
Live music, dance acts and the very popular pig-races
Healthcare & Emergency Services
The St John Alderney Ambulance Service operates the ambulance service on the island, and is staffed by volunteers. It has served Alderney since 1952 and is registered as a private company.
Patients are transferred to the Mignot Memorial Hospital in St Anne, and any having major complications are then transferred to Guernsey or Southampton by the Aurigny Air Services on a 24-hour emergency basis. In the event of bad weather preventing an air evacuation the transfer is achieved with the aid of the RNLI lifeboat service. However, there is currently no paramedic service available on the island.
The Alderney Voluntary Fire Brigade has a crew of 10 volunteer firefighters, and a fleet of one water tender (with ladder), two further water carriers and also one Land Rover Defender.
A new station was officially opened by Lt.-General Sir John Foley, the Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey, on 20 October 2004. Located near Braye Harbour, it gives an average response time of just 9 minutes and includes four appliance bays, a workshop, kit room, mess and a training room. The Alderney Airport Fire and Rescue Service is sometimes called to help with larger conflagrations.
Because of Alderney’s low crime rate, day-to-day policing of Alderney is provided by a team of five locally based officers from the Guernsey Police, consisting of a sergeant in charge, two constables, and two special constables.
They are assisted by visiting constables from Guernsey on a regular basis. The police station is in QEII Street.
The Alderney lifeboat station was established in 1869, closed in 1884 and re-established in 1985 by the RNLI, which serves Alderney with its all-weather Trent class lifeboat Roy Barker I.
Search & Rescue
Search and rescue services are provided by Channel Islands Air Search, which uses a Britten-Norman Islander to search large areas of water using infrared cameras and a number of other technologies.
Formed in 1980, it is staffed entirely by volunteers and is based in Guernsey. When a major search is underway, the French coastguard and the Royal Navy are often also involved, co-ordinated by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Jobourg, France.
The island of Alderney has its own currency, which by law must be pegged to that of the United Kingdom.
Schedule 2 of the Government of Alderney Law provides that the States of Alderney may, by Ordinance, prescribe “the legal currency and denominations of the legal currency, and those denominations shall be the same in Alderney as in the United Kingdom; and prescribing those notes and coins the tender of which is a legal tender of the payment of money”.
In normal use in Alderney, Guernsey and Bank of England banknotes and coins circulate side by side year round, while in the summer tourist season, Jersey notes and coins are also common, as well as Scottish and occasionally even Manx, or Northern Irish notes.
Alderney coins are widely available to collectors but not in general circulation. Since 1989, Alderney has issued occasional commemorative coins of £1, £2 or £5 face value in cupro-nickel, silver or gold.
A very rare 1 pound banknote was issued in 1810 by the Alderney Commercial Bank. It is catalogued in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money as PS181. 1 pound. 26 December 1810. Black. Alderney coat of arms at left.