History of La Seigneurie
It is impossible to describe the history of La Seigneurie without also explaining a little history of Sark itself. The earliest recorded building on this site was the Priory of Saint Magloire, built in stages from the 6th century onwards. The monks ran a school, cultivated the land and built a water mill in the nearby valley above Port du Moulin. The Priory lasted until the late 14th century but little remains of it today except the tall enclosure wall seen from the drive and a small portion of the west wall of the Chapel. The land bordering La Seigneurie is still known as ‘La Moinerie’, the monastery, a reminder of the area’s past.
Today’s main house dates from 1675 and has been home to two of Sark’s three Seigneurial families: the Le Pelleys (from 1730) and the Collings (from 1852), ancestors of Seigneur Michael Beaumont. (The manor built by the first Seigneur, Helier De Carteret, in 1565 stands opposite the Visitor Centre and is known as Le Manoir.) When Susanne Le Pelley bought the fief of Sark in 1730 she already owned this tenement. She did not want to leave her family home so this became La Seigneurie, the home of the Seigneur. Dame Susanne continued the gentrification of the house begun by her family, erecting a dovecote and modernising the south front. The Jersey design of four windows downstairs and five above using Jersey stone was very fashionable. In 1852 Dame Marie Collings bought Sark from the Le Pelleys (to whom she had lent money for their ill-fated silver mining venture in Little Sark) and La Seigneurie was again extended and modernised.
At the back is another early house, originally separate and 15 feet to the north. Seen from the rear, near the Battery, it appears to be single-story. In fact it is built into the sloping ground and from the south the windows on three floors are visible. The buildings have been much altered over the years, most notably by the Reverend WT Collings, the great great grandfather of the present Seigneur. With typical Victorian passion for both military and ecclesiastical architecture, he added the large drawing room wing and the tower and joined the two separate houses with a crenellated link.
The complete house of La Seigneurie as we see it today was therefore never planned as a whole but rather evolved in stages under the whims of successive Seigneurs. The result is a house of great character which has often proved most bewildering to guests who find it easy to lose themselves inside the building. Starting from anywhere there are at least two ways to nearly every room and no less than sixteen flights of stairs, excluding those to the tower.
To own a Colombier or dove-cote is an exclusive right of the Seigneur and they are a common feature of Channel Island manor houses. It is a privilege dating back centuries when pigeons were bred for food and when, as now, uncontrolled breeding would have endangered the tenants’ crops. This elaborate Colombier was built in 1855 by Seigneur WT Collings. The house behind the Dove-cote was built in the 1970s for the Dame of Sark’s cook. Officially called Le Colombier, it is still known by many as Cook’s Cottage or Cookie’s.
Though the west wall of the Chapel incorporates some medieval stonework, the building is essentially a Victorian re-make of an older building. The bell, dated 1853, and Gothic windows show WT Collings’s enthusiasm for linking La Seigneurie to Sark’s early monastic settlement. There is no record of the building ever being consecrated. It now houses our exhibition on the history of Seigneurs and La Seigneurie as well as associated artefacts.
This tower probably dates from the Napoleonic wars. It was used for signalling to Guernsey before the view was obscured completely by trees. The ornamentation around the top of the tower was added later by Seigneur WT Collings, the brickwork being a clear indication of Victorian construction.
Until the 19th century cider making was common throughout the Channel Islands. Apples were crushed by the heavy stone wheel pulled around the trough by an ox or horse. The pulp was removed and pressed to extract the juice. Half a ton of apples could be crushed in a day to produce around 100 gallons of cider. Many farms had their own pressoir and hundreds of apple trees grew in Sark. Now only a few old specimens remain, notably in Dixcart Valley. This apple crusher is made from Jersey granite and may have came to Sark with the Elizabethan settlers.
Dame Sybil Hathaway used the area between the Signalling Tower and the Colombier as a pets’ graveyard and plaques on the wall commemorate her treasured cats and dogs.
By the tower doorway is a rare Pot Quern, a household mill for grinding grain. It is probably Elizabethan, as it is not of Sark stone and was likely brought from Jersey by the settlers. Milling was a valuable Seigneurial monopoly and the De Carteret arms carved on the outside also appear on the windmill (1571AD). The crest shows that the first Seigneur owned the quern (the initials H and M may stand for Helier and Margaret) or merely that he authorised its use. Grain was fed into the centre hole, the top stone rotated and meal emerged from the spout.
Cannons & Gun
The pièce de résistance here is undoubtedly the Elizabethan bronze cannon, a bastard Falconet with reinforced breech, presented by Queen Elizabeth I to the first Seigneur, Helier De Carteret. It’s inscribed ‘Don de sa Majesté la Royne Elizabeth au Seigneur de Sercq A.D. 1572’. The carriage, not representative of the original, was made recently of timber from HMS Victory. The iron ship’s cannon are 18th century and come from a Privateer owned by John Allaire, one of the present Seigneur’s forebears. The Field Gun is a relic left by the Germans in 1945 after their occupation of Sark.
The telephone box contains a hand-wound, magneto-operated telephone. It was the last manual call box in operation in the British Isles and was originally sited at the top of the Harbour Hill.
The present Seigneur, Michael Beaumont OBE, inherited from his grandmother, Dame Sibyl Hathaway, on her death in 1974. Dame Sibyl’s (nee Collings) first husband, Dudley Beaumont, died in 1918. In 1929 she married Robert Hathaway, hence the change of name. The Seigneur married Diana La Trobe-Bateman in 1956 and they have two sons, Christopher and Anthony.