Guernsey — History and Culture
Guernsey has seen a fair amount of upheaval over the years and evidence of the Dukedom of Normandy, Napoleonic wars, and WWII still remains. There is influence from both Britain and France in the language, food, and music, but the island is like an extension of southern England.
The Bailiwick of Guernsey has an interesting history on account of British and French interests over the eons. Famers from Neolithic times were here first, when the Channel Islands were still a part of the French mainland, and tombs and standing stones remain dotted around the island.
Britons on their way to Brittany, France settled here later on, while the Channel Islands chose to remain loyal to England after the Norman conquest of England. King John granted the islands special privileges, including autonomy and this separate identity remains today.
Absconding, wealthy Frenchmen built nice houses on Guernsey after fleeing from the French Revolution, while Hauteville House was later settled by Victor Hugo in the mid-19th century, the French writer of Les Misérables. Forts were also erected around the island during the Napoleonic wars.
St Peter Port has been the main settlement on Guernsey since Roman times and its locals would be known as les Villais. It has a multitude of historical attractions including Castle Cornet in the harbor. The current version hails from the 1800’s though there has been a castle here since the 1200’s to protect the island from the French.
Another bout of fortifications went up during the Germans’ occupation of the Channel Islands in WWII. The islands were the only part of the Empire occupied and were liberated by the Allies on May 9, celebrated today as Liberation Day. The German Military Underground Hospital is a popular side attraction, along with forts and museums from this period.
Evacuees returned to the islands after the war and a reduction in taxes brought in many migrants to a declined Guernsey in the 1960’s. Tourism was soon realized and has today made the island a booming center, together with its offshore finance aspirations.
Guernsey is very similar to UK proper with largely reserved, polite people, albeit with a French twist in the street names and places. The local lingo known as Guernésiais, is also decidedly French and, although rarely be heard by visitors, is taught in some schools in an effort to preserve the local heritage.
French foodstuffs are also apparent, such as fruit breads and elaborate, overly pricey seafood dishes, while traditional Guernsey folk dancing can be enjoyed at St Peter Port fairs and the Valestock Music Festival. Local crafts include the ever popular sweater, pottery and candles.
The literary works of Guernsey’s migrant poets and writers are all too evident, including those of renowned French poet Victor Hugo. Book shops and galleries reveal the esteemed works of many other past residents.