Saint Helier (; French language: Saint-Hélier , Jèrriais: Saint Hélyi) is one of the twelve parishes of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands in the English Channel. St. Helier has a population of about 33,500, roughly 34.2% of the total population of Jersey, and is the capital of the Island (although Government House is situated in St. Saviour). The urban area of the parish of St. Helier makes up most of the largest town in Jersey, although some of the town area is situated in adjacent St. Saviour, with suburbs sprawling into St. Lawrence and St. Clement. The greater part of St. Helier is predominantly rural.
The parish crest is two crossed gold axes on a blue background, symbolising the martyrdom of Helier and the sea.
It is thought that the site of St. Helier was settled at the time of the Roman control of Gaul.
The medieval hagiographies of Helier, the patron saint martyred in Jersey and after whom the parish and town are named, suggest a picture of a small fishing village on the dunes between the marshy land behind and the high-water mark.
Although the Parish Church of St Helier is now some considerable distance from the sea, at the time of its original construction it was on the edge of the dunes at the closest practical point to the offshore islet called the Hermitage (site of Helier's witness and martyrdom). Before land reclamation and port construction started, boats could be tied up to the churchyard wall on the seaward side.
An Abbey of St. Helier was founded in 1155 on L'Islet, a tidal island adjacent to the Hermitage. Closed at the Reformation, the site of the abbey was fortified to create the castle that replaced Mont Orgueil as the Island's major fortress. The new Elizabeth Castle was named after the Queen by the Governor of Jersey 1600-1603, Sir Walter Raleigh.
Until the end of the 18th century, the town consisted chiefly of a string of houses, shops and warehouses stretching along the coastal dunes either side of the Church of St. Helier and the adjacent marketplace (since 1751, Royal Square). La Cohue (a Norman word for courthouse) stood on one side of the square, now rebuilt as the Royal Court and States Chamber (called collectively the States Building). The market cross in the centre of the square was pulled down at the Reformation, and the iron cage for holding prisoners was replaced by a prison gatehouse at the western edge of town.
The Royal Square was also the scene of the Battle of Jersey on January 6, 1781, the last attempt by French forces to seize Jersey. John Singleton Copley's epic painting The Death of Major Pierson captures an imaginative version of the scene.
As harbour construction moved development seaward, a growth in population meant that marshland and pasture north of the ribbon of urban activity was built on speculatively. Settlement by English immigrants added quarters of colonial-style town houses to the traditional building stock.
Continuing military threats from France spurred the construction of a citadel fortress, Fort Regent, on the Mont de la Ville, the crag dominating the shallow basin of St. Helier.
Military roads linking coastal defences around the island with St. Helier harbour allowed farmers to exploit Jersey's temperate micro-climate and use new fast sailing ships and then steamships to get their produce to the markets of London and Paris before the competition. This was the start of Jersey's agricultural prosperity in the 19th century.
From the 1820s, peace with France and better communications by steamships and railways to coastal ports encouraged an influx of English-speaking residents. Speculative development covered the marshy basin north of the central coastal strip as far as the hills within a period of about 40 years, providing the town with terraces of elegant town houses.
In the second half of the 19th century, hundreds of trucks laden with potatoes and other export produce needed access to the harbour. This prompted a programme of road-widening which swept away many of the ancient buildings of the town centre. Pressure for redevelopment has meant that very few buildings remain in urban St. Helier which date to before the 19th century, giving the town primarily a Regency or Victorian character.
Pierre Le Sueur, reforming Constable of St. Helier, was responsible for installing sewerage and provision of clean water in St. Helier following outbreaks of cholera in the 1830s. An obelisk with fountain in the town centre was raised to his memory following his premature death in office from overwork.
In the 1970s, a programme of pedestrianisation of the central streets was undertaken.
The sculpture was originally to depict islanders releasing doves of peace, but this came under fierce criticism, with some islanders remarking that had any doves been on the island during the occupation, they would have been eaten by starving German soldiers. Therefore the sculpture was revised to show islanders raising the British flag, as they had done on the day of liberation 50 years previous.
Liberation Square is now a focal point in the town - the former terminus of the Jersey Railway housed the Jersey Tourism office until 2007.