In the late 1830s, the construction of huge new harbour works along the French coast raised concerns for the British Government, and even more so for people in Jersey. They feared a French invasion and petitioned Queen Victoria. Although the petition was mislaid in Whitehall, a plan to construct ‘a harbour of refuge’ for sailing ships, went ahead.
Several locations were suggested, but St.Catherine was finally chosen. The designer was James Walker, whose work included the East and West India Docks in London, and the Bishop Rock lighthouse off the Scilly Isles. The rather reticent contractors were Jackson and Bean, who despite being well respected for canals and railways lines, had no experience of breakwater building.
Nevertheless land was purchased and construction started in 1847. Around 350 men were engaged, most were quarrymen and labourers. This workforce, with their wives and children, created a small community of almost 1,000 people living in the bay.
The northern arm was finished in 1854; while the southern arm suffered various delays, and was never finished. Had the harbour been finished, the southern arm would have run out to Le Grand Fara beacon; then turned north to form the mouth of a huge harbour.
Why the project was never completed has been open to debate. Certainly before the breakwater was completed, relations with France were on a stable footing and a naval presence so close to the French coast would have been unacceptable. In essence though, the depth of water in the bay was never sufficient for such ships, and this was overlooked at the project’s inception.