The History of Oatlands
Oatlands Village hit the headlines when Oaty and Joey’s opened in January 2019. But, looking back through the history books, it’s apparent that Oatlands has a rich history.
The Napoleonic Wars (between 1803–1815) saw a series of major conflicts, pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, against an array of European powers, formed into various coalitions, and usually led by Great Britain. Guernsey, therefore, though strategically placed, was under threat, being a stepping-stone between France and the South Coast of England.
Until 1806, Oatlands was a farm on marshland, sitting on the edge of an inland sea, Le Braye du Valle, which separated the north of the island from the south. Prior to Le Braye du Valle being drained, and reclaimed, there were effectively two Islands of Guernsey. At high tide a channel, some 5,500 metres long and up to 1,800 metres wide, ran from Vale Church to St Sampson’s Harbour.
Interestingly, it was a comment purportedly made by Sir John Doyle, Lieutenant-Governor Major of Guernsey at the time, which is thought to have prompted the British government to drain and reclaim the land, as a defence measure during the Napoleonic War.
‘I won’t know whether to fight them as an Admiral or a General, as it will depend on the state of the tide’.
To this day, travelling from St Peter Port to Oatlands, via the coast road, you will come across ‘The Bridge’, a road that runs across the end of the harbour at St Sampson’s, which recalls ‘the bridge’ that formerly linked the two parts of Guernsey at high tide.
Bricks and Pots
Today, at Oatlands Village you will enter the old courtyard by walking between two kilns (there were three kilns originally). These kilns were built at Oatlands around 1892. They stand as a reminder of the Guernsey brick and pot making industry. The bricks were mainly used for chimneys as the clay was too soft for house building. The Oatlands kilns were just two of twenty-two kilns that collectively produced up to 500,000 bricks per year, but this industry thrived for only 20 years.
Guernsey granite was in high demand in London (used to dress the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, The Strand and The Embankment) but this led to the return voyages carrying mass-produced bricks from the London Brick company. In Guernsey, demand for Oatlands’ bricks dried up.
It wasn’t over for Oatlands’ kilns though, as the Guernsey tomato growing industry was just sowing its first seeds.
For a decade, Guernsey’s twenty-two kilns (including those you see at Oatlands) worked over-time to produce various sized clay pots that were required for growing millions of tomato seedlings. Social historian, Peter Brehaut, noted that, in the late 1960s nearly half a billion tomatoes were picked and exported to England. Many of the glasshouses that were used for growing tomatoes remain today, although very few of them operate on a commercial scale and those that do, tend to specialise in Guernsey Freesias.
The clay-pot industry became defunct in the 1920’s, when cheaper tarred pots were introduced to sow the tomato seedlings. This resulted in Oatlands’ kilns closing for business around 1927.
The Occupation and Beyond
The economic depression in the 1930’s affected Guernsey, although its growing industry continued. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by German troops – in June 1940, until they were liberated on the 9th May 1945.
In the late 1940’s the government offered grants under the ‘Channel Islands (Property) Rehabilitation Scheme’ for property damaged or affected by The Occupation. This applied, to a limited extent, to Oatlands.
The late 1940’s and 1950’s Oatlands was a farm, with its barns mainly used for general storage and stabling. However, there was something else in store for one of Oatlands’ larger barns. With the maritime industry having receded in Guernsey, many boat-builders transferred their skills to construction of glass houses used for growing tomatoes. But some ended up working in one of Oatlands’ barns, boatbuilding, and in 1954 a 45ft Bermudan Cutler boat, aptly named Saint Sampson, was completed and launched.
Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, Oatlands was a farm and no further boatbuilding is recorded.
Guernsey – The Sunshine Island
In 1981, with tourism flourishing, a local businessman, Tony Raix obtained planning permission to turn Oatlands into a tourist attraction, re-locating his Guernsey Pottery business there. He installed pottery wheels and electric kilns.
At this time, the barns were thatched (as they are today), and new stables were built to the rear of the site. As one of the island’s main tourist attractions, the business thrived with local craft shops ranging from embroidery, patchwork, goldsmiths and even a chocolatier. The now, much-loved, Kiln Restaurant and Café, and tea garden emerged in the eighties.
It was in the 80s, too, that the aeroplane G-JOEY made his first appearance in Guernsey. Joey, who is now suspended from Oaty and Joey’s Playbarn at Oatlands Village, flew people between the Channel Islands, St Malo, Dinard and Southampton, for over 40 years. So popular was he, that, in 1982 Joey became the protagonist of a children’s book-series published by author, Peter Seaborne. Little did Joey know that Oatlands would, decades later, become his new home. In 1988 eyes and a red nose were painted on G-JOEY, in recognition of the BBC’s first appeal for Comic Relief.
Oatlands changed hands a few times since Mr Raix’s ownership but continued to operate as a tourist destination, as well as serving the local community as a town-from-town. Oatlands was home to children’s play barns, mini-golfing, crafts and restaurants.
Arrival of Oaty and Joey
In the summer of 2015, Oatlands Village was acquired by local investors who set about refurbishment and improvements. The barns were re-thatched, the kilns restored, new toilets built, and two new shops added.
The development of a state-of-the-art children’s playbarn, which is one of the largest in Britain, coincided with the retirement of the iconic and much-loved G-JOEY Trislander aeroplane. Joey is happily displayed in Oaty and Joey’s Playbarn and the first of a new series of Joey books has been written by author Dana Lynn Coles.
Today Oatlands comprises ten shops and restaurants, 18 hole mini-golf and a playbarn including party-rooms, corporate entertainment space, ‘make a bear’, paint your own pottery, ten-pin bowling and ride on e-cars.