Peat with squares where peat was cut in the occupation
St Ouen peat
What looks like remains of tree
Tree root in peat
Circa 1850 Article on Guernsey peat known as “Gorban” which is a Hebrew word meaning a gift from god.
The supply of gorban from the beach is nearly drained, (it having been such a value as fuel,) I should be sorry to see no record kept.
In the eastern part of Vason bay, had lain for ages this gorban, unnoticed and unvalued until about eighty years gone by, when an ancestor of the Guille family, having, it is said, dried a few pieces, and found them good fuel, recommended its use among his poor neighbours; like most other things newly brought under notice, it was not, however, for a long time fully appreciated; it was only about thirty years since, that farmers began to be alive to its value; and, uniting in gangs of two or more families, dug regular pits for the gorban, during the low tides. Before this time, small quantities only were hoed at the surface. Few of the minor works of man can be more interesting than that at these pits. As soon as the tide receded, and after having sounded the soil with pointed rods, the pit, the pit was begun by removing, in a diameter of ten or twelve feet, and sometimes to a depth of two or three feet, the sand or pebbles that had accumulated, as the surface of the gorman had been lowered, making a defence of it against the sea. When arrived on the firm gorman, stakes, supporting boards, were stuck into it to preserve the sides; a little drain was also cut all around to receive the water that oozed through the sand, and a boy placed to bale it out and kepp it dry. The men set to, and worked with a will, not like slaves, but like freemen who are working for themselves and families; two or three of them, armed with heavy hoes as sharp as knives, whirling them with force over their heads, cut into it, whilst others flung up pieces, which were carted on shore. They also gained the sides, making the pit much in the shape of a decanter. I have been let down into one of this kind, and found it a most comfortable refuge against the sleet that was sharply drifted above. They worked unceasingly, until the rising tide obliged them to abandon it, but not until the sea had repeatly broken in. I have seen, in a very deep pit the sea break in at once, bringing down shingles, sand, and boards, on two or three men, and hurling them down the ladder; one of them, an old man was not seen for some seconds; the first part that appeared was a hand, holding the spirit bottle, which, in his danger, he had not lost sight of – the man himself twirling round with the eddy formed by the sea falling into such a funnel, until rescued by his companions.
This precious substance – it may be so called, when its value, as stated below, is considered- to which we can only give the English name of peat, is very unlike the description given of that article; it is firm and perfectly dry, composed entirely of oak, hazel and willow, and other trees, with their leaves mixed with the soil; some of these trees have been found so hard that pits were obliged to be abandonded. Although the gorban is sometimes covered with shingles, a single stone was never found in it; there have, however, often been found nuts, very well preserved, birds nests, and also more rarely, earthen jars, glass bottles, pieces of copper and druids Celts* One was found by, and is now in the possession of Mr De La Rue, Du Croc. How and when all this jumbled together, I am not aware that any thing certain is known. The only thing tradition has left us is, that this was a forest, chiefly of oaks, since submerged by the sea, in which swine were formerly sent to fatten on acorns in the autumn, on paying a certain duty called pesnage, which is continued to this day, and paid to the Lord of the Manor. The gorban occupied a space of about thirty two acres, or one hundred and sixty thousand square yards, and the farmers who have worked it, compute that it has been dug on an average at least three yards in depth- some pits, where the tide gave leisure, have been sunk as deep as eighteen or twenty feet, but others, at the lower part of the beach, only three or four. This gives a total of four hundred and eighty thousand cubic yards, or loads, which, (and it is rather below the above value,) at two shillings and six pence a load, makes the vast sum of £60, 000; as the great demand for it lasted some twenty years, it may be calculated that about £2,000, was, during that period, yearly got out of the Vason. Of its value, as fuel, those can chiefly judge who have been obliged to retreat to the extremity of our farmers large halls, on the evening of a grande querue (big plough), from the intense heat of a fouaie d’gorban, piled on the hearth in lumps, the middling size of those of sea coal, well sheltered behind with smaller pieces, or dried turf, cut for that purpose.
The gorban is also found in other parts of the beaches, but in such triflling quantities as are not worth recording. It has been dug to some extent in the estate called “Mare de Carteret,” where it is sold for £5 a perch, or forty nine square yards, as the surface, as well as the “Grande Mare,” the “Marais,” and in some valleys in the interior of the island, such as that along Talbot’s road, and others, where imense quantities of hazel nuts are found, some with the kernel surrounding them. I have such in my possession. The gorban in these places is however, no where so good as that of the Vason, but yet very valuable and eagerly sought after as winter fuel.
* It would be useless to attempt to persuade some of our countrymen, that Celts, of which a great number have been found in this island, are not thunderbolts (Axe heads). According to them they also act as insurers against fire, the house where they are kept not being subject to being burnt! There are several of these at the Mechanics Institution of Guernsey.
“studied by Coventry University in the 1980′s. The uppermost surface of the peat was found to be 90cm thick and a sample from its base gave a radio carbon date of between 6073 – 5848BC for the start of its formation. The study suggested that the St Ouen’s peat beds were formed from an an area of freshwater marshland and fen that had formed between the land and a coastal sand barrier.”
In 1902 the beach had an exceptional exposure and 500 tree stumps were counted.
legend of the lost Manor of La Brecquette, it is said that in 1356 a hurricane hit the island and the sea engulfed the area and the manor was lost for ever.
Pictures of area in the middle of the Bay by Nigel Utting: http://utting.org/wordpress/jerseys-stone-age-past/
Jerripedia – Historical land masses: http://www.theislandwiki.org/index.php/Jersey%27s_separation_from_France
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