The museum consists of five galleries.
- The Main Gallery
- The Issue Room of 1946
- The Natural History Room
- The Maritime Gallery
- The Temporary Summer Exhibition Gallery
The main gallery displays key objects and documents relating to three sections, Alderney Prehistory and Geology, Alderney Military History and Alderney Social History.
Evidence of Late Neolithic culture, characterised by the beginning of settled farming, has been found in the peat at Longis. Some of the peat is well below the present high tide level and would have been formed at a time when the sea was perhaps half a mile further out, several metres lower, and the Island several times larger than today.
By the early Bronze Age, the rise in sea levels and encroaching sand dunes reduced areas of cultivation, and threatened it with inundation by sand. Traditions of terrace building to protect and increase cultivation areas may have begun at this time.
The earliest Bronze Age artefact found to date on the Island is a copper-bronze axe-head-shaped ingot which analysis suggests came originally from Ireland. Bronze and Iron Age artefacts have been found on Longis Common, and an Iron Age Pottery site has been identified immediately west of Longis Bay.
The oldest rocks at the western end of the island - the granodiorites - solidified over 2200 million years ago in the southern hemisphere; since then plate tectonics and continental drift have brought them to their present position. The central section of the island is also composed of igneous rocks, namely diorite and granite and, although more than 1000 million years younger, are still very ancient; these can be seen with many associated dykes at Roselle Point and Chateau À L'Étoc.
The eastern, and much of the southern cliffs are composed of the attractive Alderney sandstone, which was laid down by turbulent streams flowing from a landmass, which had been raised to the northwest after the intrusion of the granites. The islets of Casquets, Ortac and Burhou to the northwest of the island are also composed of this same sandstone
Alderney Military History
Alderney, third largest of the Channel Islands and lying seven miles from the coast of Normandy, possesses one of the finest concentrations of 19th and 20th century military architecture in north-west Europe. For such a small island, Alderney has a chequered history that has often been the result of its strategic position in the English Channel. There is a wealth of archaeological and historical remains that both visitors and residents cannot fail to encounter almost at every step or viewpoint. Due to its strategic position it was heavily fortified by the British government during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, during the Victorian period, and by the Germans during the Second World War. Every headland and bay is bristling with fortifications, particularly with fine examples of the latter two massive fortification programmes. Equally, if not more, important is the well-preserved Roman fort at Longis known as the 'Nunnery'. This has been in almost continuous use, mostly for military purposes, for the last 700 years. Its final martial occupation was by the Germans who converted it into an infantry strongpoint.
During the 1840s, the French had begun to strengthen Cherbourg and to complete the construction of its harbour. This caused considerable alarm in the Admiralty, which feared for the safety of the naval dockyards of Portsmouth and Plymouth that lay within easy reach of the new steam driven warships. By 1842 plans for 'Harbours of Refuge and Observation' were proposed for the three main Channel Islands. However, only Alderney was considered by the Admiralty to be of prime importance as a lookout station for vessels of war. Consequently the original proposal for a harbour at Longis was abandoned with the decision in 1844 to build it at Braye. From 1852 until the early 1860s, the fortification of Cherbourg and the building of its massive breakwaters were completed. It was during this period that the proposed size of Alderney's harbour was continually increased and the main period of fort construction, which was to protect the island and its new harbour, was underway.
Alderney's Victorian fortifications are the most dominant features of the island's coastal landscape particularly when viewed from seaward where nearly every headland boasts a formidable array of ramparts in the eighteen forts and batteries that would have bristled with more than 220 smooth-bore, muzzle-loading cannon, their intended targets were enemy ships, still wooden but often steam-driven in the 1850s. The landward sides of all the forts, including the hundreds of musketry loopholes, were designed to defend against infantry that might have reached the shore from enemy ships.
German Occupation 1940 - 1945
On 23rd June 1940, the entire population of some 1,400 residents of Alderney was evacuated, nine days in advance of the German arrival. Between July 1940 and December 1945, the Island was extensively fortified by the German military. It was used by the Nazi government to house three forced labour camps and an SS Concentration camp, holding up to 1,500 prisoners each.
When the Islanders began returning in December 1945, they found their homes stripped of everything, many containing not a scrap of wood. The winter of 1944 - 45 had found two thousand German soldiers, sailors and airforce gunners without fuel, resulting in that many houses that had been habitable until then were lost by the time of the surrender. The Museum's 'Issue Room' displays some of the basic supplies which the British Government issued to Islanders on their return to help them reinstate their homes.
Alderney Social History
Roman and Medieval Alderney
Alderney is often arguably dentified as the 'Arica' referred to by Antoninus, though this is disputed. Coins, pottery, fragments of high-status glass, and other Roman artefacts have been found in the Longis area, some of which are in the Museum. Finds suggest that in about the fourth century a Roman military unit was stationed in the Longis area, with a building on the site of The Nunnery, as part of their system to control the growing menace of piracy. Roman building material is found scattered on and around Longis Bay.
In 911, the Viking leader Rollo and his Norsemen, having laid siege to Paris, was allowed to settle in what became known as Normandy. His son, William, annexed the Channel Islands as part of the Duchy of Normandy. In 1204, when France reclaimed Normandy, Alderney and the other Channel Islands remained loyal to the English Crown (Our Duke of Normandy). As a reward for their loyalty, in 1341, Edward III issued a Royal Charter which ensured the independence of the Channel Islands and granted them special trading and tax privileges that continue to the present day.
The three original lights on the Casquets rocks, to the North West of Alderney, were built by Thomas Le Cocq after he had acquired a patent from Trinity House on 3 June 1723. On 30 October 1724 the coal fires burning in the glazed lanterns became the only lights to be seen in the Channel Islands until 1860. The three towers were named St Peter, St Thomas, and Dungeon or Donjon (possibly a corruption of St John) and could be distinguished from any other lighthouse on the shores of England and France by their triangulated position. Thomas Le Cocq lease lasted for sixty-one years and in 1785 the Casquets Lights reverted to Trinity House, which enabled improvements to be made. The original, rather inefficient coal fired lights were replaced by metal reflectors and Argand lamps in 1790 and by 1854 the towers had been raised by nine metres, the revolving components fitted and larger lanterns installed.
In 1877 the number of lights was reduced to one on St Peter's Tower and at the same time the other two towers were lowered. St Thomas is now topped with a helipad with a further helipad on a section of flat rock, Dungeon houses the foghorn. In the early 1950s the light was electrified and in 1990 the Casquets complex was fully automated and controlled by Trinity House.
Around three hundred ships are recorded as having come to grief on the Casquets, including the famous SS Stella, wrecked in 1899. According to the Board of Trades List of 2 June 1899, passengers and crew, around 105 lives were lost and 112 saved. During World War Two the keepers, their families, having been evacuated in June 1940, Les Casquets was occupied by German Forces using it as a small fortress to assist their own ships and aircraft. In September 1942 twelve British Commandos raided the lighthouse and took the seven German occupants prisoner of war, destroyed their radio equipment and took their case books. It was two days before the harbour Commandant realised something was wrong.
The Casquets are noted in Literature, in A. C. Swinburne's poem Les Casquets, based on the Houguez family who lived there for eighteen years, and Victor Hugo's L'Homme qui Rit.
The Alderney Cow
The term "Alderney Cow", found in literature from Tobias Smollet to A.A.Milne, indicates a small, fawn, dairy cow, once popular in England with the landed gentry and prosperous farmers, often used as a house cow and yielding delicious rich milk and yellow cream. These animals were probably known as "Alderneys" because all Channel Island cattle, whether transported for sale from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney or even France, arrived in England from the last port of call - Alderney- in what was known in the ports as the Alderney Boat. In fact, not more than 4% of the cattle known as "Alderneys" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were actually from this Island. All Channel Island cattle and some French were so similar that English buyers could not distinguish between them.
That the true Alderney cattle, between 1900 and 1920, were very fine animals is witnessed by their success. For instance, our most famous bull, Masher 63, had no less than 32 daughters who achieved the Advanced Register in America and the cow, Hayes Rosie, born and bred on Alderney, was named as World Champion Guernsey for her milk production in 1904
Some Islanders still remember the last of these cows and a few photographs exist. They were smaller than the Guernsey, even of that time, but not so small as the Jersey. They had deep chests and rather short legs. Their faces were long, like a Guernsey, but "dished" like a Jersey and they had the prominent eye of the Jersey, in-turning horns and a pronounced white area round the nose. They were famous for the richness and quantity of the milk they produced from scanty food, their easy temperament and especially for their well attached and capacious milk bags. . The Island has every reason to be proud of its cows and regret their disappearance.
Rosemary Hanbury and Felicity Crump for the Alderney Society, 1988.