One of the most characteristic features of Jersey is its small historic harbours, which also rank amongst the Island’s greatest architectural and engineering achievements.
St Helier Harbour has played a pivotal role in the Island's trade and transport links, as well as to its fishing industry and to the defence of the Island. Before the 18th century, the growing number of merchant vessels collecting and delivering cargo and goods to the Island landed at St Aubin's harbour, with carts driven across the sands at low water to take goods to town.
The earliest part of St Helier Harbour, known as La Folie, was built in the early 1700s. The stone fronted quay was open to the south-westerly gales and provided little protection for the tavern that was built here in the 1720s and to many people it was a foolish project - a folly.
As the harbour developed, the berths on the Town side were referred to as the English Harbour as early as 1768 while those on the south were known, in 1765, as the New Harbour and later the French Harbour. The harbour expanded throughout the 19th and 20th century.
New North Quay houses a rare survival – a 7-ton rail-mounted level-luffing crane manufactured in 1949 by renowned crane-makers Stothert & Pitt Ltd of Bath. This is the oldest crane in St Helier Harbour. The original harbour cranes were replaced by German forces during the Occupation but these cranes were returned to France after the War.
There are many other smaller fishing harbours. By 1810 a regular oyster fishery had been established in Jersey with Gorey as its principal base, and the States of Jersey rebuilt the decaying pier 1815-17 to serve the 150 or so visiting oyster-fishing boats stationed in the port during the season. Slipways were not constructed, outside of the harbours, until the threat of French invasion had passed in the early 1800s, as they were feared to provide ideal landing points for troops.
A handful of slipways are shown on the 1849 Godfray map, but most date from the mid-19th century until the early Edwardian period. Slipways were constructed in each parish, designed principally to allow access to the shore to gather vraic or to launch a small boat. The cobbles, or setts, were traditionally laid at a raked angle to provide a firmer footing and to prevent cartwheels and horses hooves from slipping.