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You are in: Guernsey > History > Local History > Chateau de Marais

Chateau de Marais

Entrance to Inner Bailey covered in Ivy

Chateau de Marais

What's in a name? Well quite a lot actually as the name Chateau de Marais or as it is otherwise known the Ivy Castle tells us about two periods of this area's history.

The Guernsey French word Marais means marsh while Chateau translates as house. So Chateau de Marais means the house of marshland.

But the colloquial name - the Ivy Castle - comes from one of the site's periods of disuse.

The rocky knoll on which the stone walled castle now sits was first inhabited by Neolithic settlers who made use of the granite mound in the middle of a marsh.

Jewellery, pottery and flints found during excavations in the 1970s show the area was settled in at least the late Neolithic period if not earlier.

But there is a large gap of evidence of human habitation until the medieval period so it seems the area wasn't important to the Iron Age people and fell into disuse.

Chateau de Marais

Inside the Inner Bailey

In 1170 a fortified structure existed on the site which was probably used as a refuge from pirates.

But it was King John's loss of Normandy in 1204 that led to a more substantial fortification being built.

It was built as a standard Motte and Bailey typical of the time with the top of the hougue or mound flattened, the ditch or moat dug out and the soil being used to level and raise the inner and outer defences.

Both baileys were encircled by walls on the new solid ground as the marsh had been drained by a channel cut towards the shingle bank on Belle Greve Bay.

It was a massive and expensive development but with the dispute between the English King John and Philip II of France the threat from French invasion meant a defence was needed in what was seen as a strategic position.

Chateau de Marais

The Magazine built in the 18th Century

It was one of the earliest structures built in Guernsey to repel an invasion and was the island's main defensive structure for 20-30 years before the focus shifted to Castle Cornet as the island's primary stronghold when work began on it in 1250.

The first documentary evidence referring to the Chateau de Marais as a defensive structure is dated to six years earlier.

We then have to skip forward 500 years to 1726 for the next reference, a first hand account of how the castle has been left to fall to ruin. Botanist Thomas Knowlton was visiting the island to research the cultivation of the Guernsey Lily and while here went to the site and described it as "formerly a strong place, but now is nothing but a heap of ruins and walls covered with ivy, which I suppose gives it its name".

The castle deteriorated in this forgotten state until the late 18th Century when the renewed threat of invasion from France prompted action.

The stone fort at the site today was constructed, the ditch was re-cut, musket firing steps were built around the outer bailey, the inner bailey was walled in and a powder magazine was built as well as other buildings probably including a barracks.

Chateau de Marais

The outer bailey is also covered in Ivy

But again it seems it was only used for a short period of time as archaeological finds have not been identified from after the late 18th century.

During the 19th Century it was used by a variety of different people as agricultural land including a period as the governor's garden and being the home to several pigsties.

During the Second World War came the final stage of military building on the site as the German occupying forces built a concrete command bunker, machine gun posts and communication trenches which destroyed much of the archaeological evidence of the earlier motte and bailey structure.

In the middle of the 20th Century it was transferred from the War Department and Her Majesty’s Commissioners of Crown Lands to the ownership States of Guernsey.

Restoration work was carried out by the States' Ancient Monument Committee in the 1970s and today it is maintained by the Guernsey Museums Service.

last updated: 20/06/2008 at 11:10
created: 19/06/2008

You are in: Guernsey > History > Local History > Chateau de Marais

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