SAD to say, the heydays of St Sampson’s harbour are long gone. Any substantial revival to its former glories lies in the hands of commercial opportunities nobody has yet to identify. And the odds are very much against the island’s second port, for so long its main industrial maritime haven, ever becoming much more than a marina for local boat owners.
But, long, long ago, in the days of sailing ships and a local stone industry that was every bit as vital to the Guernsey economy as finance is today, it is said – perhaps an exaggeration – that a man could hop from South Side to North Side via the decks of merchant ships tied up across the harbour.
A place which had its own little jail next to the harbourmaster’s office on Le Crocq to counter a distinctly lively night life where the pubs were guaranteed to be packed with visiting mariners.
And with the legendary Leale’s Yard guaranteeing employment for dozens of men, the coal merchants strung out along one flank and the likes of Huelin’s and Griffiths Yard down the opposing side, St Sampson’s was very much alive – day and night.
To this background of gritty, dusty, noisy harbour life once a year, tools were downed, cranes came to a standstill and the locals utilised the port for a summer day of festivity – the St Sampson’s Regatta.
It must be knocking on 20 years since life in the old regatta was finally extinguished, but thanks to the photographic work of the late Bob Allez, a keen amateur photographer, the huge popularity and fun of the annual spectacular has been captured on print, along with scenes of the haven as a working port.
The Allez collection, made available to LOOKback by his nephew Andre Whiteway, will surely stir the memories of the northern parishes older generation who would have looked forward to the event as much as ‘Castelites’ would the North Show and the people of St Peter’s and Rocquaine, the West Show.
These shots show how spectacular and lively a 1950s regatta could be, with floral floats that would challenge for a ‘North’ prix d’honneur these days, and any number of events on the water long before the pontoons came in.
On shore there were children’s running races and adult coal-carrying challenges between pubs, best decorated shop window competitions and, on the water, sailing and rowing races.
All manner of games and events went on to amuse the public including, in 1955, a football match on the harbour bed between North and Vale Rec, where it was less a case of a long-stud, more wellies.
As the tide came up the football slowly dissolved into water polo and before he could blow the final whistle, referee Harry Bisson suffered the indignity of a ducking from the players.
Winner of the best dressed window in 1955 was Gerrish, the ironmonger stores akin to a modern Bougourd & Harry, which was already in operation across the Bridge in Vale Avenue.
These were the days of the port’s legendary pilot, Captain Fred Noyon, sitting at the helm of the St Sampson’s and Vale Regatta Association committee, with sons Steve and Ted also heavily involved.
The two Parsons brothers were big Regatta players of the period, too, one as secretary and commentator, the other serving as vice-president.
And when you think that ultimately the event would struggle to find people to run it, at the end of the 50s the committee was as many as 19 strong.
Back then the regatta was held on Thursday afternoons to take advantage of the traditional half-day, but in latter years it moved to the weekend.