Alderney (French: Aurigny; Auregnais: Aoeur'gny) is the most northerly of the Channel Islands and a British Crown dependency. It is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. It is 3 miles (5 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.5 km) wide. The area is three square miles (8 sq.km), making it the third largest island of the Channel Islands, and the second largest in the Bailiwick. It is around ten miles (16 km) to the west of La Hague in the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, in France, twenty miles (32 km) to the north-east of Guernsey and sixty miles (97 km) from the south coast of England. It is the closest of the Channel Islands to France as well as being the closest to England. It is separated from Cap de la Hague by the dangerous Race of Alderney (Le Raz).
The island has a population of 2400 people, and they are traditionally nicknamed vaques after the cows, or else lapins after the many rabbits seen in the island. The only parish of Alderney is the parish of St Anne which covers the whole island.
The main town, St. Anne, or ('La Ville' or simply 'Town' in English) is referred to as 'St Anne's' (more accurately: 'St Anne'). It features an imposing, pretty church and unevenly cobbled high street. There is a primary school, a secondary school, and a post office as well as hotels, restaurants, banks and shops.
The etymology of the Island's name is obscure. It is known in Latin as Riduna but as with the names of the all the Channel Islands in the Roman period there is a degree of confusion. Riduna may be the original name of Tatihou, while Alderney is conjectured to be identified with Sarmia. Alderney/Aurigny is variously supposed to be a Germanic or Celtic name. It may be a corruption of Adreni or Alrene, which is probably derived from an Old Norse word meaning "island near the coast". Alternatively it may derive from three Norse elements: alda (swelling wave, roller), renna (strong current, race) and oy or ey (island).
After choosing independence from France and loyalty to the English monarch in his role as the Duke of Normandy, in 1204, Alderney developed slowly and was not much involved with the rest of the world. That is, however, until the British government decided to undertake massive fortifications in the 19th century and to create a strategic harbour to deter attacks from France. These fortifications were presciently described by William Ewart Gladstone as "a monument of human folly, useless to us ... but perhaps not absolutely useless to a possible enemy, with whom we may at some period have to deal and who may possibly be able to extract some profit in the way of shelter and accommodation from the ruins." An influx of English and Irish labourers, plus the sizeable British garrison stationed in the island, led to rapid Anglicization. The harbour was never completed - the remaining breakwater (designed by James Walker) is one of the island's landmarks, and is longer than any breakwater in the UK.
The last of the hereditary Governors, John Le Mesurier, resigned his patent to the Crown in 1825, since when authority has been exercised by the States of Alderney (as amended by the constitutional settlement of 1948).
The island was occupied by German forces during World War II. Before German troops landed in June 1940, almost the entire Alderney population evacuated, leaving only 6 of the population. The Germans built four concentration camps on the island, dependent on Neuengamme. Each camp was named after one of the Frisian Islands and included Norderney located at Saye, Borkum at Platte Saline, Sylt near the old telegraph tower at La Foulère, and Heligoland. Each camp was operated by the Nazi Organisation Todt and used forced labour to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters, and concrete fortifications. In 1942, the Norderney camp, containing Russian and Polish POWs, and Sylt camp, holding Jews, were placed under the control of the SS-Hauptsturmführer Maximilian List. Over 700 of the inmates are said to have lost their lives before the camps were closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944. The German officer left in charge of the facilities, Kommandant Oberst Schwalm, burned the camps to the ground and destroyed all records connected with their use before the Germans surrendered the islands on May 16, 1945. The German garrison on Alderney surrendered a week after the other Channel Islands and was one of the last garrisons to surrender in Europe. The population was unable to start returning until December 1945. There remains several concrete fortifications on the island from the German occupation.
For two years after the end of World War II, Alderney was operated as a communal farm. Craftsmen were paid by their employers, whilst others were paid by the local government out of the profit from the sales of farm produce. Remaining profits were put aside to repay the British Government for repairing and rebuilding the island. Resentment from the local population towards being unable to control their own land acted as a catalyst for the United Kingdom Home Office to set up an enquiry that led to the "Government of Alderney Law 1948", which came into force on 1 January 1949. The law organised the construction and election of the States of Alderney, the justice system and, for the first time in Alderney, the imposition of taxes. Due to the small population of Alderney, it was believed that the island could not be self-sufficient in running the airport and the harbour, as well as in providing services that would match those of the United Kingdom. The taxes were therefore collected into the general Bailiwick of Guernsey revenue funds (at the same rate as Guernsey) and administered by the States of Guernsey. Guernsey became responsible for providing many governmental functions and services.
The 20th century saw a lot of change in Alderney, from the building of the airport in the late 1930s to the death of the last speakers of the island's language (Auregnais, a dialect of Norman language). The economy has gone from depending largely on agriculture to earning money from the tourism and finance industries. Due to these upheavals and large immigration, the island has been more or less completely Anglicised.
The States of Alderney is the legislature of the island; it sends two representatives to the States of Guernsey as well. The origin of the States is unknown, but it has operated from the mediaeval period.
The States of Alderney consists of the President, directly elected every 4 years, and 10 States Members, half elected every 2 years for a 4 year mandate. The President of the States of Alderney is Sir Norman Browse (since 2002). The whole island is a single constituency.
Until the reform of 1948, the States of Alderney consisted of:
In terms of geography Alderney is similar to the other islands in that it has sheer cliffs broken by stretches of sandy beach and dunes. It has a temperate climate, moderated by the sea, and summers are usually warmer than elsewhere in the British Isles. Trees are rather scarce, as many were cut down in the 17th century to fuel the lighthouses on Alderney and the Casquets. Those trees that remain include some cabbage trees (due to the mild climate - often miscalled "palms" but of the lily family.), and there are now some small woods dotted about the island.
Alderney and its surrounding islets feature a rich flora and fauna. Puffins on Burhou and gannets on Les Étacs just off Alderney are a favourite of many visitors to the island. The Blonde hedgehog is a species native to Alderney. The island has its own breed of cattle, called the Alderney; the pure breed became extinct in 1944, but hybrids remain elsewhere, though no longer on Alderney itself. In August 2005, the west coast of Alderney and associated islands, including Burhou and Ortac, were designated as Ramsar wetlands of international importance.
The island is surrounded by rocks, which have caused hundreds of wrecks. There are two treacherous tidal streams on either side of the island: the Swinge between Alderney and Burhou, just outside the harbour, and Le Raz between the island and the Norman mainland.
Auregnais, the local dialect of Norman is almost extinct, with only one or two islanders being "rememberers", and French is no longer spoken in the island (except by tourists); it ceased to be an official language in 1966, declining a great deal from neglect, especially in the education sector, and also because most of the population was evacuated in WWII. To this day however, many, if not most of the local placenames are in French or Auregnais. One or two words linger on in the local English, e.g. vraic (seaweed fertiliser), and the pronunciation of certain local names, e.g. Dupont as 'Dippoh' rather than the French way.
Golf, Fishing and other water sports are popular, though there are many clubs and associations for sports and other leisure activities (List of Clubs & Associations). Alderney competes in the biannual Island Games.
Due in part to the large numbers of tourists, there are a large number of restaurants and public houses. There is a vibrant and lively nightlife which is enjoyed by many especially in the summer -- such as the Quarry parties.
It is legal to smoke in pubs, shops, restaurants and other indoor public places.
Alderney has a somewhat ageing population, being popular with people wanting somewhere quiet to retire. Being a quiet and secluded island, Alderney has attracted a number of famous residents, including authors T. H. White (The Once and Future King) and Elisabeth Beresford (The Wombles), cricket commentator John Arlott, cricketer Ian Botham, Beatles producer George Martin, actress Julie Andrews, and Olympic swimmer Duncan Goodhew.
Regular entertainment during Alderney Week includes
Boats sail regularly between the island and France, as well as the other Channel Islands. There are also frequent boat trips available.
Due to the island's size, vehicular transport is often unnecessary, although taxis, cars and bicycles are often used. The Alderney Railway is the only railway now remaining in the Channel Islands. During the summer season, there is an occasional bus service around the island.
Alderney allows people to drive motorbikes and mopeds without helmets and drive cars without seatbelts. Alderney's international vehicle registration code is GBA.