29th July 1946
Guernsey bought Herm from the mainland
Guernsey bought Herm from the British government for £15,000 on 29 July 1946. The plan had been mooted 12 day earlier. At the time, Herm’s population stood at 30 and Guernsey announced that it intended to open it for visitors.
According to The Times,
The Guernsey States have agreed to purchase the island of Herm from the British Government at a cost of £15,000… the governing principle is the preservation of its natural attractions.
The price would today be worth around £610,000, making it a very worthy investment for Guernsey – and certainly a better option than renting it, as the UK had suggested in April. The Belfast News-Letter reported,
In Guernsey Parliament the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Philip Neame, [had] warned the House that unless Guernsey bought the island there was a danger of a private company establishing a casino and ruining Herm’s ‘fairy-like beauties’. A nudist colony had previously applied to view it.
The 500-acre island had gone on the market in March, less than a year after it had been liberated at the end of the Second World War, throughout which it had been evacuated. At the time, boasted a 9-hole golf course.
The first tenants
Once it had gained possession, the States of Guernsey leased the island to a series of tenants upon the condition that they promoted it as a tourist destination. The first tenant under the new regime was, briefly, AG Jeffries. Jeffries had taken the lease in 1948 but, just the following year, it passed to Major Peter Woods and his wife Jenny. Jenny wrote a book called Our Island Home about the couple’s experiences of renovating the island after moving there.
She outlines how they came to be acquainted with both Jeffries and Herm when Jeffries visited Peter’s parents:
He arrived and brought with him an album full of photographs. He spoke about his island which he said was called Herm, and after coffee was over, opened the album to show his photographs. I drew in my breath sharply as he turned the pages. ‘But I know that island!’ I cried. ‘It’s the one near Sark. I’ve sailed round it and it’s beautiful!’
Although she was raised in the West Riding of Yorkshire, Jenny had frequently holidayed on Sark as a child, and would look across to Herm, which then was occupied by the author Compton Mackenzie.
Jeffries suggested that she and her husband ought to pay it a visit. When they did, they found it in a rotten state. Many of the buildings were close to collapse and, apart from the hotel, seemingly nothing had been renovated since before the war. Nonetheless, aware that they were taking on what would amount to years of hard work, they agreed to buy the lease and organised an overdraft.
They then had to convince the States of Guernsey that they would be worthy tenants – which, over many years, they proved to be. However, Jenny recalls a Guernsey official “gazing speculatively first at Peter then at me, and I was more than a little startled to hear him mutter to himself, ‘You poor people, my heart bleeds for you’.”
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