The castle was constructed in 1212 under the Duchy of Normandy division and acted as the forefront of defence in Jersey. However, this became threatened when weapons developed, and Mont Orgueil became insufficient in defending the port of St Helier from ships armed with cannons.
This predicament initiated the construction of Elizabeth Castle in the parish of St Helier. The new castle was set to supersede Mont Orgueil after it was built in the late 1500’s, yet the older fortress was saved from demolition by the Governor of Jersey at the time, Walter Raleigh. When it was suggested that the building blocks for the older castle could be reused for the new, Raleigh rejected this and stated “twere pity to cast it down”.
The castle was then used as a prison and contained some of the men who signed the death warrant of Charles I, including Henry Smith and Thomas Waite, both of whom were thought to have died in the castle.
The arrival of St Helier prison at the end of the 17th century then made Mont Orgueil redundant of prison duties and the castle was left in poor condition, prompting repairs between 1730-1734. After the refurbishment, parts of the castle were then used for military troop accommodation.
The castle has been sprinkled with its fair share of royalty and was visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1846. Records state that the Queen climbed up to the grand battery, and the Prince enjoyed the views overlooking the sea to France. The royal visit has been recorded in the Castle’s Visitors Book, as well as the proceeding royal ceremonies such as the welcoming of George V in 1921 and Elizabeth II in 1957.
It was in a generally ruined state at the time of its handover to the Crown in 1907. The castle has been managed as a museum since 1929, excluding the period of the Occupation in 1940-1945 when the castle was seized by the German military.
Mont Orgueil has since had a £3 million grant for restoration work and was re-opened to the public in 2006. The castle is showcased in all its glory on a Jersey £1 note that was put into circulation in 2004 and is also depicted on the 2010 Jersey £50 note. Jersey Heritage have transformed the historical castle with newly built additions to create an attraction for visitors to explore and discover the exciting past that the island holds.
The medieval fortress brings Jersey’s gruesome history to life and it is now open to the public so you can explore the towers, discover the secret hideaways and wonder up its looming staircases. Visitors can descend into the dungeons to experience the ‘Witches in Hell’ exhibition and see the infamous ‘Dance of Death’ statue, before climbing the turrets to find the unusual 'Wheel of Urine'.
Outside and high on the battlements, with a commanding view of the surrounding hillsides and distant French coast, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with wooden soldiers who guard the castle and represent the fate that could befall those fighting to save the castle and gardens from invasion.
The castle is also home to several exhibitions, including ‘The Queen’ by light artist Chris Levine and holographer Rob Munday, which features, ‘Equanimity’, a world-renowned holographic portrait of Her Majesty commissioned as part of Jersey’s celebrations of its 800-year-old relationship with the monarchy.
Mont Orgueil’s surroundings are equally appealing with Gorey harbour at its feet, a pretty pier and village where cafés, bars and restaurants are ready to welcome you. One to try is the Jersey Crab Shack - an inviting eatery perched up high next to one of the best-known Jersey Royal potato cotîls with views right over Gorey Castle, the French coast and the Royal Bay of Grouville.
The castle plays host to an abundance of events, ranging from Halloween parties to Shakespeare’s plays, falconry and even workshops on the traditional art of herbal medicine. Families can spend fun afternoons on the beautiful doorstep of Gorey Harbour with the ‘living history’ days where actors bring the castle’s amazing past to life.
Mont Orgueil is a castle that is definitely not to be missed out, and with free tours of the castle with a Jersey Heritage Guide on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, there is no better way to uncover its magic.
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