4th November 1140

The original Torteval church was consecrated

Torteval has one of the most distinctive churches on Guernsey. Its round tower is unique, and it has both crenellations and a spire. That’s not a bad claim for the smallest parish on the island.

However, the current church hasn’t always been the focus of its residents’ worship. It is actually built on the site of an earlier church, for which the date of its consecration is disputed. The Strangers’ Guide to the Islands of Guernsey and Jersey by JE Collins (1833) puts it on 1 November; the History of Guernsey by Jonathan Duncan (1841) says 4 November. The one thing they both agree on is the year: 1140.

The original church, dedicated to St Philip, “appears to have consisted of a chancel, nave, south aisle and porch, and a low square tower, pinnacled and surrounded by an octagonal spire at the west end of the nave,” according to Duncan’s History of Guernsey.

The Strangers’ Guide delves into its founding:

It is said to have been built by Philip de Carteret, a native of the island of Jersey, who encountering a dreadful storm at sea made a vow, that if Providence should spare his life, he would build a church on the first land to which he came. The vessel miraculously made the harbour in Rocquaine Bay, about midnight on the thirteenth day of September 1129, and he accordingly performed his vow by erecting the church; this edifice falling to decay, a new church has been recently erected: it is a neat building in the gothic style, with a tower and lofty spire, a part of the latter was blown down, but will be shortly replaced.

The original church had fallen into disrepair, so was demolished in 1816 to make way for its replacement.

The “new” building was designed by Cumbria-born John Wilson who is responsible for several other buildings on Guernsey, including St James, Castle Carey, Elizabeth College, Fountain Street, the meat market and Town Church.

He had arrived on the island in 1813 to supervise the building of the local garrison’s barracks, as well as barracks on neighbouring Alderney. His work on the current Torteval church was therefore one of his earlier jobs on Guernsey.

Changes in Torteval

The present Torteval church has the tallest steeple on the island, containing Guernsey’s oldest bell. Indeed, the steeple is so tall that it was previously used as a navigation aid for mariners.

The Hampshire Chronicle in 1820 published a description of Guernsey from the sea. It warned that its appearance had changed since the erection of the church and the rebuilding of the Doyle monument. The steeple would, it said, “appear very lofty and remarkable – so that mariners will never be deceived… by taking Guernsey for the Land’s End or the Scilly Isles”.

It was even suggested that a light should be installed at the top of the steeple to make it an official navigation point. However, Trinity House, the British lighthouse authority, discounted this idea after conducting its own survey.


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Other events that occured in November

Car plane air crash caused airport fireball 1st
A hospital worker stood accused of murder 2nd
Sark’s vineyards were vandalised 3rd
The original Torteval church was consecrated 4th
Sibyl Beaumont married Robert Hathaway 5th
The papers were excited by a Guernsey execution 6th
The States agrees to pay the Bailiff 7th
States of Guernsey hired its first independent vet
The Little Theatre was reprieved… for a while 8th
Guernsey was declared free of cholera 9th
Guernsey optician Specsavers was founded 10th
The court considered a Guernsey porn dealer’s testimony 11th
Guernsey Yacht Club was founded 12th
Guernsey aimed for equal adoption rights 13th
Jethou’s tenant fell off his own cliff 14th
Dad’s Army actor John le Mesurier died 15th
A Guernsey recruit regretted signing up 16th
Horticultural painter William Caparne was born 17th
German forces confiscated Guernsey’s radios 18th
A plane crashed on Crevichon 19th
Sark featured in the music charts 20th
Guernsey recruits caused concern in Parliament 21st
First Guernsey competitor took part in Miss World 22nd
A Lancaster bomber crashed on Sark 23rd
Sark women get the right to inherit 24th
Spanish flu arrived on Guernsey 25th
Guernsey held its first full marathon 26th
Admiral Thomas Le Marchant Gosselin died 27th
HMS Boreas sank at Hanois 28th
Radio station Contact 94 went off the air 29th
Royal Guernsey Light Infantry memorial was unveiled 30th