St Peter Port is the capital of Guernsey as well as one of Guernsey’s 10 parishes. In addition to being the Bailiwick’s main port it is the most populated of all the parishes.
St Peter Port town began as a small fishing village and grew to be a busy trading port by the Roman era. The Parish is on the Island’s east coast. It borders St Martin in the south, St Sampson in the north, St Andrew in the west, and Vale in the northwest. On the seaward side, across the Little Roussel, we find the island of Herm, with Sark and Brecqhou in the distance beyond. The islands of Herm and Jethou also form part of the parish.
One of the most prominent features of the parish is the large island castle of Castle Cornet, which forms part of what used to be a tidal island known as Cornet Rock or Castle Rock. The island is now joined to the mainland by a raised stone pier. The castle and pier now form the southern arm of the harbour.
The castle was built in the 13th century and was the residence of the Governors of the island until the magazine of the castle was struck by the lightening in 1672. The keep and much of the living quarters were destroyed killing a number of staff. During The Occupation it was occupied by a small garrison. The castle now houses several museums.
The parish church, Town Church, is notable for being the closest church to a pub in the British Isles. Records suggest that there was a place of worship on the site from approximately 1048 AD, however it was not until the 15th Century that the church was completed in its present form.
Guernsey has had many famous visitors and residents. Perhaps the most famous is Victor Hugo who lived as a political refugee in Guernsey from 1855 to 1870. During this period, he wrote much of Les Misérables and one of his novels, Toilers of the Sea, was dedicated to the people of the island.
Hautville House, his residence during this period, and its gardens are now a popular tourist attraction. The house remained in the family until 1927, when it was donated to the City of Paris by Victor Hugo’s granddaughter Jeanne Negreponte and the children of his grandson Georges Hugo.
Victor Hugo was not only a talented author and poet, he was also a gifted artist. He decorated much of the house himself in a variety of styles. Perhaps one of the best views of St Peter Port is available from the Lookout on the 5th floor where Hugo was known to write standing up!
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made a surprise visit to the island in 1846, which marked the first time a reigning monarch had ever visited the island. Following this, a 100 ft. tower was built to commemorate the visit. The site chosen was a former location of a menhir, La Pierre L’Hyvreuse. A time capsule containing coins from England and Guernsey was buried beneath it.