History of Sark Island

History History History History

Sark’s history has been varied and colourful: from early Celtic settlements, through adoption by the Roman Empire to St Magloire’s establishment of a monastery in the 6th century, there has been more or less continual occupation in some shape or form from early times.  Part of the Duchy of Normandy, Sark became subject to the English crown on 1066 when William, Duke of Normandy became king of England.  A 1274 census recorded a population of more than 400, but the Black Death saw a decline.  In 1530 Rabelais wrote that Sark was an island of thieves, murderers, brigands and assassins.

In 1565 Helier de Carteret, the seigneur of St. Ouen in Jersey, was granted Sark in perpetuity by Elizabeth I.  The island was divided into 40 farms, known as tenements which survive to the present day.  One of the tenements included the site of St Magloire’s ruined monastery and was called “la Moinerie” in recognition of its previous monastic status. The development of the silver mines in 1834 raised Sark’s profile in the outside world, although by 1847 the mines had failed. Tourism, by the wealthy and fashionable, began to develop from this point.France’s great author and poet, Victor Hugo, was a frequent visitor during his Channel Islands’ exile from 1852-1870, as was the poet Charles Swinburne in the second half of the nineteenth century.  At the beginning of the twentieth century a colony of artists, authors and poets had become established, lured by Sark’s beauty and seclusion.  From this time English began to assert itself as the island’s spoken language, gradually replacing the Sark French which is still spoken by a few islanders today.

During the war years from 1940-1945 the island was occupied and the legend of the Dame of Sark was born. Mains electricity was introduced onto the island in 1948 and was resisted by some until the lure of television won them over. Horses no longer had to make the steep ascent up Harbour Hill when the tractor-drawn bus was introduced in 1975. In 1951 the film “Appointment with Venus”, starring David Niven, was made on Sark and in 1986 the four-part Channel Four television series of the book, Mr Pye. Its author, Mervyn Peake, lived on the island before the war.

In 2008 the old system of government where each tenement owner sat in the island’s parliament, Chief Pleas, was replaced by a completely elected 28 seat assembly.