About the Channel Islands


Ship Building
Government and Finance
Places of Historical Interest


The Channel Islands are a group of islands located in the English Channel 30km from the coast of France and 120km from the south coast of England. Jersey is the largest (118 sq km with a total resident population of 97, 000), then Guernsey (63 sq km/ 62,000) and Alderney (7.8 sq km/2,400), all of which have airports with direct flights serving the UK and mainland Europe. The smaller no-car policy Sark, Herm, Jethou and Brecquo are connected only by boat. The climate is temperate with mild winters and cool summers. These granite-covered islands have winding coastlines revealing the natural beauty of the landscape with stretches of white sandy beach against a bright blue sea and ever-green coast. There is a large tidal range where Jersey doubles in size between low tide and high tide.

The Channel Islands are not part of the United Kingdom or a member of the European Union, but are part of the European Community allowing free movement of goods and trade between the islands and member states of the EU. The islands are independently self-governing and with their own financial, legal and judicial systems. However the Queen of England appoints a head of state, known as the Lieutenant-Governor, in both Jersey and Guernsey and local government assigns a Bailiff as the head of the judiciary who presides over government meetings. The islands issue their own coinage and bank notes: the Jersey pound and the Guernsey pound which are on parity with the English. French was the official language until the 1920s when it was replaced by English. The local patois dialect of Norman French is still used and taught on the islands and can be seen in road and place names.

Left: St. Peter Port harbour circa 1850.

Right: Clarke’s shipyard circa 1850.

A vibrant fishing industry has always sustained the islands. 1815 also saw the birth of shipbuilding in Guernsey; over twenty shipyards were based on the island, leading to a rich history of islanders’ adventures with the sea and privateering and smuggling. The yards were occupied with the construction of small fishing crafts and fully-rigged ships destined for the tea trade of China, coffee trade of South and Central America and the transport of Guernsey granite, quarried from the island, for building in the UK.

Shipbuilding declined in the second half of the nineteenth century, as traditional wooden ships produced by the shipyards could not compete with the iron steamer. Fortunately, shipbuilders were able to put their skills to good use in constructing greenhouses for the island’s horticulture industry. The skills required to build greenhouses were similar to those necessary for building ships, and some islanders commented on how the glass structure of greenhouses often resembled upturned boats. The horticulture industry flourished on the Islands, with Guernsey becoming known for tomatoes and flowers, and Jersey for potatoes. The people of the Islands have always been resourceful and often generate more than one source of income at a time. Small farms are maintained to this day, and with Guernsey’s and Jersey’s distinctive breeds of dairy cattle, these islands are famous also for their rich tasting dairy products.

The 656-ton ‘Golden Spur’ was the largest ship ever constructed in Guernsey.

She was built by Peter Ogier at St Sampson’s 1864 and, after making a voyage as a China tea clipper, the ship was wrecked in 1879 off Haiphong, Vietnam.

The tourist industry began in the 1850’s and continues to thrive. Each season, the deep-water ports and large harbors of Guernsey are filled with visiting yachts and cruise liners. Seasonal workers from all over Europe work in restaurants and hotels, creating an international atmosphere to the Islands.

The harbour at St. Peter Port, Guernsey today

As dependencies of the British Crown, the Islands have evolved separate legislatures, and by convention, Guernsey and Jersey both have the right to legislate without the involvement of the United Kingdom in domestic matters, including taxation. For several decades, there has been a flat rate of personal income tax in Guernsey at 20 per cent. A stable financial environment and low income tax levels have attracted people to come live on these islands. Business-friendly laws too have encouraged companies based in London, New York and other major financial centres to establish offices on the islands. Finance is the mainstay of the economy: of over 30,000 people employed on the Island, approximately 7,000 (23%) are employed in the finance sector, which at 40% is the largest single contributor to GDP.[1] Guernsey alone has over fifty merchant banks and over 1,000 investment funds. It is one of the world’s leading offshore financial centres for private equity funds, trusts and insurance companies. In 2009, the Island’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is £39,553 [2] (approx USD 61,228 or RMB 382,492). The islands have also become an important centre for e-gambling operations that take advantage of the established financial institutions.

High Street in St. Peter Port, Guernsey

Guernsey’s high economic output per capita in turn provides islanders with a high standard of health care and education. Unemployment in Guernsey has continued at low levels and stands at less than 1% of the workforce. [3]  Crime or poverty rates are also significantly lower in comparison to the UK.

Places of Historical Interest

During the Neolithic period 5,000 years ago (3,000 BC), the islands were considered by prehistoric man to be a sacred place, as evident from a large number of dolmens, megaliths and burial chambers scattered across the Bailiwick of Guernsey. In the sixth century AD, the neighboring island Herm was once a centre of monastic activity.

Left: Le Dehus, the second largest monolithic tomb in Guernsey;

Middle: Inside the burial chamber in Dehus;

Right: Face carving on the capstone in Dehus.

Exiled from France, the human rights activist, poet, novelist and dramatist Victor Hugo lived in Guernsey from 1856-1870 where he wrote Les Miserables and later Les Travailleurs de la Mer, the novel he dedicated to the island. His home in St. Peter Port, Hauteville House, is now a museum administered by the city of Paris. [4]

Left to right:

Victor Hugo memorial in St. Peter Port;

Hauteville House, Victor Hugo’s residence during his exile in Guernsey;

Looking from the rooftop of Hauteville House to St. Peter Port.

The drawing room in Hauteville House

In 1883, the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir spent the summer in Guernsey and created fifteen paintings in little over a month. Most of these vibrant images feature Moulin Huet, a bay in Saint Martins at the eastern end of Guernsey’s rocky south coast. The resort was hailed in nineteenth century guidebooks as the Island’s finest scenic attraction, and was fashionable with artists of that period. [5]

Left to right:

Pierre-Augste Renoir’s paintings Brouillard à Guernsey (Fog in Guernsey), Enfants au bord de la mer à Guernsey (Children by the Sea in Guernsey), Vue de Guernsey (View at Guernsey), 1883
Art and Islands Foundation

Back to the Top



[1] Guernsey, International Finance Centre,

http://www.guernseyfinance.com/about-the-island/economy/ , 15th February, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/274974/Victor-Hugo/3353/Exile-1851-70

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Hugo , 19th February 2013.

[5] John House, Renoir 1841-1919: Artists in Guernsey, (Guernsey Museum and Art Gallery, 1988), 3. Digital facsimile of original text –