Alderney’s human history can be dated back to Mesolithic times, and includes Roman, Victorian and German military architecture, as well as fascinating evidence of settlement and culture over 12,000 years.
Bibette Head, or Strongpoint Biberkopf, has a great variety of different types of bunker in a small area, as well as a spectacular view over both Braye Harbour and the sandy crescent of Saye Baye. Both could have been of strategic importance to any invader, and therefore needed effective defences.
Few small parcels of land in the British Isles can have had such an eventful and turbulent past. Created as sea levels rose some 10,000 years ago, Alderney is less than 1000 hectares at high tide. It was once part of the European mainland, a hilltop adjacent to a deep valley now flooded by the sea, and named La Manche (“The Sleeve”, in French) – or the English Channel. It is fascinating to explore the island, and get a feel for the way the centuries of defences against external threats have left their mark on the landscape and its wildlife.
Alderney’s human history is remarkably long and varied, with evidence of settlement from at least the Neolithic period. The excellent Alderney Museum is a good starting point for the visitor with an interest in island heritage. It is centrally located in St Anne on the High Street between Connaught Square and Victoria Street.
The Roman fort at the Nunnery, Longis, calls for much improved presentation and interpretation, as probably the best preserved military structure from the era in the Channel islands, or indeed north western France.
Essex Castle, on the bluff overlooking the Nunnery is a late period Henry VIII fortification, now converted to residential use.
With a steady population of about 700 people since Tudor times, Alderney started to become more prosperous in the Georgian period, through two activities which remained illegal or at the very edge of legality. Smuggling was illegal, but was a clear profit opportunity, through leveraging the difference in excise duties between Alderney, France and England.
Victorian fortifications, including the enormous breakwater and several large and prominent forts, are obvious features of the landscape.
During World War Two, Alderney was occupied from 1940 to 1945 by German forces, who took advantage of the many well-sited forts and batteries. They built hundreds of well-engineered concrete bunkers and modified some of the existing fortifications, basing some of their extensive defences on Alderney’s Tudor, Victorian and Roman forts. There is a very detailed guide to these German fortifications in the book Festung Alderney, by Dr Trevor Davenport. Trevor has kindly contributed much of the Victorian and German military history content of this website.