Its turbulent past is recorded in Alderney's many historic buildings and monuments which fascinate historians and amateurs alike.
Alderney has been described as offering rich layers of human cultural history. Where else can you find such an intriguing mix of Roman, Napoleonic and German architecture within a single site?
Alderney has been continuously inhabited for at least 5000 years. Many Neolithic artefacts have been found on the island and these can be seen in the award-winning museum. As a result of this, the island has a rich material culture and intriguing historical sites.
The ancient open-field system of agriculture shaped the modern landscape of Alderney. As far back as the Neolithic there is evidence of farming on Alderney, including stone tools in the Longis Bay area (which was dry during that period). The population originally centred around Trigale and St Martins and gradually expanded out as the town of St Anne evolved.
From 1721 Alderney came under the control of the Le Mesurier family from Guernsey. This heralded the start of an era in which privateering was an attractive alternative to agriculture. Visitors to the island can see the Clock Tower (part of the original church), Les Mouriuax House, Island Hall and the Town School (now the museum) from this period. The islanders repeatedly resisted external authority until 1948, despite numerous attempts by the Crown.
Like all the Channel Islands, Alderney’s history has been shaped by its importance as a staging post between England and France. This fact was quickly recognised by the Romans whose incredible building work was later incorporated into the site known as the Nunnery. Alderney has played an important role in military strategy ever since and this is reflected in the major historical sites on the island.
During the 1850s Alderney was heavily fortified by the British in response to the French extending the fortifications and harbour at Cherbourg, which seriously threatened Britain’s naval dominance in the English Channel and the country’s south coast harbours. The Victorians built 18 separate forts and batteries to protect the island and harbour, was Intended to be the base for a British fleet. Later in the century, the danger of war with France receded somewhat but the island continued to be fortified until after WW1. Read more about Alderney’s Victorian history.
Work on the enormous breakwater was abandoned in 1864 after a difficult construction project. By this time the original proposals for the harbour were no longer fit for purpose following the introduction of ironclad warships. It was, however, still considered to be an essential base for torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers. The Breakwater at Braye Bay was completed in 1864.
On 23 June 1940, after the retreat from Dunkirk, the islanders were evacuated to Britain, since Alderney and the Channel Islands were considered by the British Government to be undefendable. On 2 July Alderney was occupied by German forces, who made it and the Channel Islands one of the most heavily defended fortresses in Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Read more about WWII on Alderney.
Alderney offers visitors unparalleled access to these incredible sites and there are local experts on hand to unlock some of the mysteries for you. The best place to start is in the Alderney museum.
Alderney Wildlife Trust in co-operation with the Alderney Society organises town walks, history and heritage tours. The schedule for these is dependent upon demand so please call 0044 (0)1481 822935 for details.