23rd December 1958
William Hedley Cliff buys Jethou
Tiny Jethou, with its single granite house and 45 acres of land, was sold for £10,000 on 23 December 1958. Its owner, Herman Stockey, had contracted agents Knight, Frank and Rutley to handle the advertising and sale of the property in the previous May. The new owner, who took possession just in time for Christmas, was Group Captain William Hedley Cliff DSO.
Sir Compton Mackenzie, author of Whisky Galore and one of the co-founders of the Scottish National Party, had previously been a long-time resident of Jethou. Through 14 years of owning the island, while simultaneously being the tenant of Herm, he had found that it provided the solitude he he needed to write fifteen books. He also added a library to the only house on the island, as would befit someone of his profession.
Mackenzie was still alive when Hedley Cliff became Jethou’s 19th tenant and is reported in the Daily Herald of Christmas eve 1958 to have called the £10,000 that Cliff had paid “a fair price”. It would equate to around quarter of a million pounds today. However, he wasn’t buying it outright; just the remainder of the lease, which still had 37 years to run. Throughout this time, the Group Captain would be required to pay the Crown a rent of £100 per annum (around £2500 annually today).
Jethou as a tourist attraction
Although there is a requirement for the tenant of neighbouring Herm to keep the island open for public visits, no such requirement is incumbent upon the leaseholder on Jethou. Nonetheless, William Hedley Cliff did open his island home as a resort for the duration of his tenure. He established a bar and gift shop and even printed the island’s own stamps. He welcomed more than 5000 visitors a year to the tiny dominion when the holiday season was at its peak. He also took advantage of its position, and the fact that the Channel Islands have a longer growing season than the mainland, to grow and export daffodils.
A little over five years after completing the sale, though, Hedley Smith put Jethou back on the market, perhaps with mixed emotions. Despite the success he had evidently had in running the island as a viable business, one incident will have marred his time there. In 1962 he had set out on a punt to visit Herm with his friend, and been rescued the following day after spending the night clinging on to his upturned craft. His unfortunate friend drowned.