Lillie Langtry, Love and Life Expressed in a Jewel

A gold, diamond, ruby and enamelled brooch in the form of the King’s Royal Cypher, given by Edward VII to Lillie Langtry

This week I am returning to the Parish of St Saviour on the Island of Jersey.

The church has a particular place in my heart as it was here that I was blessed to marry Teresa a little more than twenty-five years ago.

Today, though, my visit has been inspired by a jewel that was discovered and sold recently by Toovey’s. This gold, diamond, ruby and enamelled brooch in the form of the King’s Royal Cypher is set with rose cut diamonds, designed as a crown above the initial ‘E’ and a ruby set number ‘7’ against a blue enamelled ground. It was accompanied by a note from Lillie Langtry’s granddaughter, Mary Malcolm, in which she writes ‘this jewellery was given to my Grandmother Lillie Langtry in 1879 by Edward VII (she was his mistress)’.

Lillie Langtry, née Le Breton, (1853-1929) was the youngest child of the Dean of Jersey, The Very Reverend William Corbet Le Breton.

Lillie met her husband Edward Langtry, a wealthy widower, at the wedding of her brother. They were engaged and six weeks later they married at St Saviour’s Church on the 9th March 1874.

During her first season in London she was acclaimed as a great beauty. Her beauty and character was captured in portraits by artists including Millais, Watts, Whistler and Burne-Jones, Oscar Wilde even published a poem about her. It was this same beauty which drew the attention of a series of wealthy admirers and lovers as the years went by, including the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.

The Prince of Wales had arranged to be seated next to Lillie Langtry at a dinner party given by Sir Allen Young in the May of 1877. As his infatuation with her grew Lillie became his mistress and she was even presented to his mother, Queen Victoria. The affair lasted until 1880 and the diamond and ruby encrusted brooch would have been given during this time. They remained friends even after the affair had ended.

Lillie Langtry turned to acting touring Britain and the United States filling theatres and attracting huge crowds. The scale of her fame is difficult to imagine even in our own age of mass media and celebrity.

She bred racehorses in America and Britain which connected her with high society on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1918 Lillie Langtry retired from the stage and built a villa at Monte Carlo where she lived until her death in 1929. In America she had been known as the Jersey Lily and in accordance with her wishes her body was returned to the island of her birth and she was buried at St Saviour’s. As you can see her grave is marked by a carved marble bust portrait by J Galle.

Rupert Toovey at Lillie Langtry’s grave in St Saviour’s, Jersey

As an antiquarian it delights me that objects give us a window onto the past and it seems fitting that this small brooch is returning to Jersey too where it will be on display at the Jersey Museum in St Helier with a number of items left to it by Lillie Langtry herself.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Lalique Masterpiece

The Lalique glass font at St Matthew’s
The Lalique glass font at St Matthew’s

I am in the Channel Islands visiting family as I write this week’s column. My cousins, the De La Hayes, today, decided to take me to St Matthew’s. The church exterior has been described as the ‘the ugliest church in the Island’. But it has hidden delights for those who venture inside!

The Lalique glass reredos of angels at St Matthew’s, Jersey
The Lalique glass reredos of angels at St Matthew’s, Jersey

St Matthew’s is to be found at Millbrook halfway round St Aubin’s bay, on the south coast of the island of Jersey. It has been a grey day and the fine drizzly rain enfolded us as we walked from the car park towards this plain, concrete clad building. Nothing of the exterior prepares you for what awaits inside. The interior is entirely decorated with Lalique glass.

As you come into the church you are gathered into a space of great peace and light. The unity of design afforded by the work of the famous Parisian glass art designer René Lalique, and the Jersey architect A. B. Grayson, is unexpected and beautiful. Behind the altar the illuminated four metre high glass cross is decorated in relief with lilies. The Madonna lily motif is repeated throughout much of the glass decoration. The cross is flanked by two glass pillars creating a scene which brings to mind the Crucifixion. The Lady Chapel and Vestry are enclosed by glass screens. The Lalique font lends an intimacy to this sacred space.

The Lalique interior of St Matthew’s church
The Lalique interior of St Matthew’s church

The interior was transformed in memory of the first Lord Trent, Jesse Boot, who founded Boots the chemists and lived in Jersey with his wife Florence. René Lalique and the Boots met in the South of France where they were neighbours. The Lalique glass works were famous for their bold Art Deco designs on vases, bowls and decorative objects. René Lalique was delighted when Florence offered him the commission to decorate St Matthew’s, near Villa Millbrook her Jersey home, to the glory of God and in memory of her late husband.

Lalique had accepted a commission in 1930 to redecorate La Chapelle de la Vierge Fidèle a la Deliverande at Calvados which was severely damaged during the Second World War. This design incorporated six pillars crowned with Madonna lilies, six angels formed the reredos and there was a fifteen panel glass communion rail. All these elements from the French chapel were assembled in the Pavillon de Marsan at the 1933 Paris Exhibition. Many of the components of this earlier design appear to have been incorporated at St Matthew’s, which provides the best surviving example of Réne Lalique’s important glass interior designs. The refurbished St Matthew’s church was completed and dedicated in September 1934.

I am drawn to the Lady Chapel. The heavy glass panel opens smoothly revealing the breath-taking reredos formed of four sculptural Lalique glass angels. Their arms are crossed framing their faces which express a timeless serenity. These monumental figures lead your eyes heavenwards as you pause in prayer, gathered in a space radiant with light.

On Remembrance Sunday we will reflect on the courage of those who fought, and continue to fight and give their lives, so that we might live in freedom. The courage of the Allied forces who fought in the Second World War liberated Europe and the Channel Islands from Nazi occupation. Our corporate acts of remembrance will take place in spaces like St Matthew’s, Jersey and at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, with familiar services marked by church and state. As we approach Remembrance Sunday each of us will reflect on points of love in our lives, and those we have loved and lost in acts of personal remembrance.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 4th November 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Spring Unites Sussex & The Channel Islands

Postcard titled 'Weighbridge during Potato Season, Jersey'
Postcard titled 'Weighbridge during Potato Season, Jersey'

As March draws to a close it marks the procession towards the end of the great reflective Christian season of Lent. The name Lent probably has Anglo-Saxon origins coming from a word meaning ‘spring’, which refers to lengthening days. Recently we have been blessed with some beautiful bright days punctuating the grey skies.

Colin De La Haye in the granite potato sheds at Bel Val Farm, Jersey
Colin De La Haye in the granite potato sheds at Bel Val Farm, Jersey

Last Sunday I found myself in the company of my cousins, Colin and Paulette De La Haye. They farm Jersey Royal potatoes on land bought by Paulette’s family in the late 19th century. Bel Val Farm sits confidently in its landscape in the North East of the Island of Jersey. For them this is not work, it is a way of life filled with dedication and love.

Our conversation moves, as it usually does, from the world of fine art auctioneering to the important business of this year’s potato season. One of my great delights of the year are the first Jersey Royal potatoes. There is something hopeful in their arrival. Their flavour, texture and colour, for me, marks them as the finest potatoes in the world, especially when they come from Bel Val Farm!

I comment on the chill in the wind and note that the covers are back on the early crop. Colin has the most extraordinary connection with the land. He observes and understands the language of the seasons and nature in a remarkable way. He says “We’re expecting the largest tide of the year tonight, it’s a full moon and the tide comes with the moon. If you are going to get a frost it will be with the Easter moon. Frost comes with the tide this time of year.”

Jersey Royals have been a major export for the Island for more than a century. The postcard illustrated here was sold in a Toovey’s specialist Paper Collectables auction. It depicts the bustle at the harbour during the potato season in the early 20th century. At this time there were hundreds of small farms and growers. Today there are just twenty growers. The Jersey Royal is one of the few truly seasonal crops. Its season lasts just a few months. Each year approximately 30,000 tonnes of Jersey Royals are exported to the UK, worth some £29 million pounds. The value of this crop comes from its unique flavour and that it is one of the earliest new potatoes of the season.

Being early to the market is important to a successful season as there is a premium to the price. Colin explains that each potato seed is individually stood up by hand in some 20,000 boxes over the winter months. They are stored in their potato sheds, some of which are built of granite and overlook the bay. With the eyes facing up it gives the seed an advantage once planted. The earliest Jersey Royals traditionally came from the steep sloping fields known as côtil which catch the sun and guard against the frost. Colin and Paulette’s côtil are so steep that they have to be ploughed with an ancient horse plough attached to a winch at the top of the slope. Vraic, gathered seaweed, is still put on some of the crop to improve the condition of the soil and the flavour.

Colin’s organisation, care and stewardship of the land always impresses me. He and his team will plough, plant, prepare and cover a field in a single day. But there is always the unknown in farming and in particular the weather. I ask Colin how this season is looking, he replies optimistically, as he always does “We haven’t had any frost since the 8th and 9th of January so that’s been ok.” He pauses and smiles wryly and continues “We’ll see what tonight brings. We need a bit of sun now to warm them up.”

Colin’s Jersey accent reminds me that whilst Jersey is part of the British Isles its rich history and traditions mark this proud Island people’s independence.

Always optimistic, attentive to the seasons and tides Colin is rooted in his landscape. Paulette and Colin’s hard work, stewardship and generosity is always inspiring and is to be admired.

Lent affords us time to reflect, a punctuation mark in our busy lives, a time to be reminded of things that we might, for a moment, have forgotten and to rediscover the familiar anew. So look out for the first of the seasons Jersey Royals they may well be from Bel Val Farm!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 25th March 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Sussex History, Heritage and Culture and the Local Community

My cousin Colin De La Haye digging the early Jersey Royals with his Polish team
Rupert's cousin Colin De La Haye digging the early Jersey Royals with his Polish team

“Our Sussex history, heritage and culture are vital to the health and prosperity of our local community”

Our culture and heritage is vital because it provide us with a common narrative, a shared story. It gifts us with a sense of identity. It builds and makes strong and healthy communities.

Visiting my family in the Channel Islands I have been reminded how important my knowledge of Jersey history is to me. Limited as it is, it allows me to celebrate the island’s past and present and to belong.

Common narratives bind communities together. The story is on-going. It changes and evolves as people come and go. Jersey has long embraced migrant labour from across Britain, from Madeira and now from Poland especially in the finance industry and farming. Many of these peoples have returned home, many have stayed and made a life there.

Rupert Toovey and Frank Falle in conversation by Archirondel’s Jersey Round Tower
Rupert Toovey and Frank Falle in conversation by Archirondel’s Jersey Round Tower

My father-in-law, Frank Falle, is a passionate and well regarded Jersey historian. As we walk along a favourite beach in the October sunshine he reminds me that Jersey has often found herself under attack. The Vikings invaded and settled there under the leadership of Hasting. Some historians believe that he gave his name to the town of Hastings in Sussex. In the 18th century French invaders were defeated by Major Peirson whose death during the battle in the centre of St Helier was recorded in the oil painting by John Singleton Copley. The Jersey Round Towers, like the one at Archirondel, are forts which were designed to defend the island and are found around Jersey. In the Second World War the German’s invaded, occupied and fortified the Island.

For many years Frank has run courses on Jersey history and has built a community of historians. I ask him how many of them are from old Jersey families like his. He responds enthusiastically saying “Most of the people on my courses are people who have come to live in Jersey in recent times. They’re proud of Jersey’s history and the place where they have made their lives”. We go down to The Jersey Museum to see the ‘Jersey Hoard’ where we find Reg Mead who discovered this ancient hoard of coins with his colleague Richard Miles. Reg is a man gifted with humble enthusiasm. It is quickly apparent that he has a deep sense of service and responsibility to the Island he has called home since he moved to Jersey in 1976. “I came to the Island to teach having worked as a satellite systems electronics engineer” he explains. Reg is the past President of the Jersey Detecting Society. I ask Reg what drove him forward over all the years he has been a metal detecting enthusiast. He responds “It’s nothing to do with the money. This discovery represents thirty years of hard work often in the pouring rain! The coins were very deeply buried. We had to use a metal detector used to discover Hurricanes, Spitfires and deep finds” Reg’s skill with electronics and his love of history have been important to the success of this find. The reward for their dedication will be shared with the land owner, though the farmer’s name and the field are being kept a secret. But for now Reg is working with a team of archaeologists to preserve, identify and record the hoard using the latest three dimensional mapping technology. Reg explains “Once the hoard has been broken down into its component parts we will be able to show where each coin was located in the mass.” It is Europe’s largest discovered hoard of Celtic coins numbering some 70,000 examples.

Reg Mead with the ‘Jersey Hoard’ at the States funded Jersey Museum
Reg Mead with the ‘Jersey Hoard’ at the States funded Jersey Museum

Reg Mead and Richard Miles have written themselves into Jersey’s history and added to the richness of its future story. The work on the hoard is on full public view at the Jersey Museum. The Jersey Museum is funded by the Island’s government. The States of Jersey understand the importance of history, heritage and culture to the local community in terms of its identity and also the enormous, positive economic impact it has on their economy and employment.

Our Sussex history, heritage and culture are equally vital to the identity, health and prosperity of our local community. History, heritage and culture is a major contributor to our local economy and will continue to provide us all with a common narrative. Like me in Jersey it will allow those who move to West Sussex to belong and add to the richness of our evolving local identity. Our community and quality of life is something which should never be taken for granted. If we are to preserve our county’s distinctive identity and quality of life it is important that our local politicians continue to understand, value and support our museums and art galleries. It is work that only government can do and they are deserving of our thanks for their support and continuing investment.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 12th November 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.