It’s all too easy to visit a destination without finding out what made it the place it is today. But that won’t be the case on future visits to Guernsey, with the launch of Colonel Richard Graham’s book ‘At Their Majesties’ Service’, looking into the island’s allegiance to the English Crown throughout the land’s tumultuous history. What’s more, by staying at The Old Government House Hotel & Spa, you’ll be in this absorbing story’s very setting. We speak to the author to find out more.
From as far back as the days of William the Conqueror, Guernsey has shared a special relationship with the English Crown, with key characters throughout history who ultimately defined the evolution of this secluded piece of land. Amidst the architecture that sprang up, The Government House – now the luxury hotel and spa of the same name – was central to this story as the official residence of each Lieutenant-Governor who served as personal representative of the monarch.
History writer Colonel Richard Graham is undoubtedly an expert on this topic. “My fourteen years of service at The Government House as Secretary and ADC to four Lieutenant-Governors gave me a privileged insight into Guernsey’s very special relationship with the Crown,” he enthuses, “In particular, I learned that Guernsey’s ancient and rare status as a Crown Dependency continues both to define who the islanders are and to dictate the island’s place in the world, close to one thousand years after it all began.”
“The story of the bond between the island and the Crown is not well known,” he adds, “and that’s even among the most patriotic islanders, so I felt it was my duty to tell this story.”
But embarking on this project didn’t come without its challenges: “I had to be sure of the facts and cautious in my speculations, which is especially difficult when looking back so far into the past. And I had to resist the temptation of straying down interesting side-alleys, which any writer of history encounters during the research process.”
Situated in a prime location on a hill looking over St Peter Port, The Government House was Guernsey’s official Governor’s residence – as well as for the islands of Alderney, Herm and Sark – from 1796, while the island’s tumultuous history unfolded.
“Sir Hew Dalrymple was the first Lieutenant-Governor to take up residence in the house when the British War Office purchased it on behalf of the Crown.” Graham explains, “Perhaps Dalrymple’s best service to Guernsey was his deft handling of a potentially dangerous episode when the island found itself the reluctant host to around six thousand Russian soldiers awaiting repatriation to Russia. Tension was high between the islanders and hard-drinking Russian soldiers, and at one stage threatened to spill over into violence. But Dalrymple and the Russian commander managed to keep an uneasy peace until the foreign soldiery were safely embarked on the ships which eventually arrived to take them home.”
“A total of six Lieutenant-Governors resided at Ann’s Place. In those days the house, although elegant and well-proportioned, was far smaller than the hotel we know today. Some Lieutenant-Governors complained it was too small and that the stables and coach-house were too far away.”
From 1842 the house was then let until being sold in 1880 to be converted into a hotel. “Those six 19th century Lieutenant-Governors would no longer recognise their former home,” Graham exclaims. Although the hotel did briefly serve again as the Lieutenant-Governor’s residence in 1914, since that time, its service to the Crown has been commemorated in the hotel’s name.
Published by Gateway Publishing Ltd and filled with pages of full-colour illustrations and photography, the 300-page hardback book is a pleasure to become absorbed in. Stay in The Old Government House Hotel & Spa yourself – which, while having been renovated for comfort and style, still has its original character and charm – and hike between the rugged coastline’s stone forts, to really feel a part of the history of Guernsey as you follow this fascinating story.
Header image: A view of Alderney Fort, just one of Guernsey’s historic sites © Visit Guernsey.