Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Shady Side of Sunny Jersey by George Seymour Tett

It is very unlikely that a copy of this book will be included in the house contents auction sale that has attracted so much attention in Jersey this week.

In fact it’s not a book that can be found in any public library, bookshop or even on “Amazon.” It is a truly rare first edition with a plot set in Jersey - any copy would be unique – yet nobody seems even to know of its existence.

Surely the prize item in such a sale of rare items - since it was actually written by George Seymour Tett himself (with a little help from a paid professional “ghost writer”) - but it has strangely been consigned to oblivion. Why?

Of course, the book was not very flattering about Jersey, as might be gathered from the title.

When I last saw Mr Tett in December 1978 he was trying to decide what to do next with the typescript of the book. Publish and be damned he wondered or go back to the courts to seek further satisfaction for the wrongs that had been spoiling his life for the past decade?
He even had a scheme in mind whereby he would donate a piece of land as a play space for local children near his home in St Saviour to be paid for out of the award of damages he was expecting.

He was planning to spend that Christmas and New Year at “Reid’s Hotel” in Madeira enjoying some good food and company and mulling over the various possibilities.
My last sight of him was of an incredibly agile 82 years old man skipping between the traffic in a town street just a few days before he was due to depart.

Sadly, his departure was to be much more final because he died within a day or two. He never reached Madeira and any thoughts of seeking justice or publishing the book evaporated. Yet strangely he apparently left final instructions that the contents of his house should only be sold after his wife had died too. That came to pass last year – hence Mr Tett’s extraordinary life-time collection of antiques is being sold off.

Death was no stranger to Mr Tett.
He had served in the First World War and had experienced mustard gas and been marooned in no-man’s land in freezing temperatures.

The gas more or less destroyed his teeth and his first greeting to me (having discovered my bachelor status) was to urge me to have all my teeth removed and to find a wife.
But he was also a great believer in proper “behaviour,” just like the sort of Edwardian gents that might have been encountered at Reid’s Hotel or on the Orient Express in the 1920s. He really belonged to another long-gone age. He was that almost mythical beast - the English gentleman – but he was very angry about what had happened to him in Jersey.

George Seymour Tett, born 1896 in Kent, went to France in 1916 and probably served with the “Household Battalion” at Ypres and Passchendale where his battalion suffered very heavy losses. They were disbanded in 1918.

He returned to civilian life and prospered.
In 1933 he patented a design for a dish washing machine but he was mainly involved in industrial water treatment, so far as I know.
He moved to Jersey as the equivalent of an 11K in 1958 and soon settled down into the pleasant life.
On arrival he had asked his bank to suggest a Jersey lawyer to him and was somewhat surprised when a living, breathing example was promptly produced, without much prior negotiation. But in those days there were only about 50 Jersey lawyers and this one was as likeable a Methodist Freemason as any other.
In the event they worked together satisfactorily for some years and life was good.
Mr and Mrs Tett were soon part of the croquet playing set at Government House.

For their own home, Mr and Mrs Tett had finally fallen in love with “Alphington House,” St Saviour just handy to the Church and the Parish Hall. It was the inherited property of Francis de Lisle Bois (Deputy Bailiff and OBE in the fullness of time) but at the last minute Bois became reluctant to sell for some reason.
Nevertheless the Tetts bought it and spent many happy years there having renamed it “Priors.”

They also bought some properties for investments such as a small block of flats at Gorey.  All the purchases and transactions were of course contracted through the ever-attentive Jersey lawyer and several of the flats were let through the then Housing Department to States employees. The leases included a payment for external maintenance and looking after the gardens and such like as a “global rent.”

Then one day, Mr Tett was advised by William Hamilton, the States Housing Officer, that he had arbitrarily reduced one or more of the rents to exclude the global part of the rent. Mr Tett was outraged and of course consulted his ever attentive lawyer for advice…

How could the Housing Department tear up an agreed contract and re-write its terms wondered Mr Tett. What sort of “behaviour” was this? Surely it was just some simple mistake?

Of course, Mr Tett did not then know that the upstanding ex-colonial Colonel Hamilton was a former senior police officer and magistrate in Madras or that he was married to Marguerite de Lisle Bois or that he occupied premises adjacent to the Rent Control Tribunal office.
But, of course these are the sort of things we must expect in such a small Island as Jersey and Mr Tett also learned that his ever attentive Jersey lawyer – who was also an elected States Member - was about as useless as a chocolate teapot too. He had no useful advice to offer except to accept the new arrangement.

Eventually, after complaining everywhere and speaking to anything that moved, Mr Tett resorted to Mr Falle, the charming, aged librarian at the Central Library and he searched through local States enactments….
…and low and behold discovered that not only had the States (the Jersey government) recently voted for a specific amendment to the relevant law that prevented the Housing Department from arbitrarily altering a rent – but the chocolate teapot had actually voted for it!!!

So the jubilant Mr Tett went back to his lawyer and protested – but it was all a waste of time because the Jersey system, then as now, is based upon the rule of never admitting to a mistake.

Mr Tett’s frustration boiled over in 1968 when William Hamilton was sworn-in before the Jersey court as a Jurat.
He protested again by shouting from the back of the royal room – appealing for justice and against the swearing-in – but of course was removed and silenced. The JEP duly reported on the scandalous outrage and in their fine journalistic tradition failed to investigate what Mr Tett’s behaviour was really about.

So what happened next? The croquet invitations to Government House stopped arriving of course and Mrs Tett sometimes returned from the supermarket in distress because old friends had snubbed her. For Mr Tett it was all very upsetting too but he had served at Ypres and was not to be defeated by such a spat over such a silly, simple dispute.

His circle of friends changed a bit.  Norman le Brocq became an invitee at Priors and Mr Tett started writing to other Jersey dissidents and even UK MPs.

He also managed to get some hearings before the Jersey courts and lost – at least until he engaged Linklaters, an important and large law firm in the City of London to advise and instruct. As a wealthy man, Mr Tett could afford to employ them but they then held the hand of a Jersey lawyer based in London who duly appeared for him in the Jersey court

Eventually he won. The global rent was restored. But of course the illusion of paradise had been damaged. That could never be fully restored.

For the full story of Jersey’s “shady side” it may be necessary to find a copy of that very rare typescript at the auction but for those who have an eye to see, the same or similar administrative defects are ever apparent today.

After all, the States' building, which houses the courts and the government assembly, is sited on the shady side of the square.


  1. Fascinating story, thanks!

  2. I remember reading about that kerfuffle in the Courts. How tragic that more was not done at that time. I agree with the previous comment: a fascinating story and as you imply probably many similar stories are still left forever untold.

  3. Re: The Jersey Way, which is the implied subject of this post. Anyone who listens to the conversations of those who follow and support elections notices that the Jerseyite supporters often talk about successful candidates for political, honorary police or social office "getting in" in a seemingly meaningful way.

    I personally believe that "Getting In" is regarded by far too many of the politically active populace as an entry into a charmed inner circle that gives the candidate special privileges, a presumption against the draconian application of the law that ordinary people or opposition types are prone to receive.

    All the candidate has to do to reap the "carte blanche" rewards is to uncritically accept the situation and not rock the boat.

    What do you think, Mike?

  4. Good stuff Tom. The good old Jersey Way in action way back then!

  5. Perhaps we should read this blog in conjunction with the previous one on Ronnie Allan. Nothing much has changed. For some reason the Jersey system is so often incapable of responding to such human dilemmas. Is it just simply a lack of humanity or are people so absorbed in themselves? I don't understand why States Members have not contacted me regarding Ronnie Allan's tragedy - especially since suicide is clearly a major problem in Jersey.

    It is to be contrasted with the public concern recently expressed over Dyson the dog.

    If people want the status of being in government I can only assume that they want to do something with it. Unfortunately this does not seem to be so.

    I remain as mystified now at the "Jersey Way" as I was when I discussed it with Mr Tett before 1978.

  6. William Hamilton is not the only Jurat in Jersey to be associated with a dodgy past. They don't seem to vet the candidates very well.

    A Jurat mentioned in the Sharp Report (he was not a Jurat then) seems to have overlooked his part in that matter.

    At least, we know they check magistrates thoroughly to ensure they are as white as snow, or a white Christmas!

  7. As I recall, the method of picking Jurats was openly discussed during the Carswell enquiry, and eyebrows were raised at the way that certain people thought it was OK to ring up the parish hall and see if there was any "dirt" on a given candidate (I'm still hunting for chapter and verse on who said it).

    Aside from any question about Data Protection, this is normally the quickest way to ensure that the jurats remain a self-selecting clique.

  8. A copy of "The Shady side of Sunny Jersey" manuscript by Seymour Tett does still exist. Perhaps it is the only surviving one. It rests amongst a lot of other material and will surface in due course. Then it can be lodged with the Public Library, should they accept such things and hopefully be put on line in some fashion.