My Martel family


The surname Martel is another good old Anglo-Norman surname. It comes from the Norman French word for hammer (marteau in modern French). It is probably the closest equivalent to the English surname Smith. A Geffroi Martel was allegedly one of the knights who accompanied William the Conqueror in 1066. He is also mentioned as a sub-tenant in the Domesday Book. King Charlemagne's grandfather was one Charles Martel (abt 688 - 741), King of the Franks. And it was a Channel Islander, Jean Martel (1694-1753), who was responsible for establishing the famous Martell Cognac.

My Martel family come from a long line of millers. There has been a mill at Les Niaux in the Talbot Valley of Guernsey since around 1366, when it was referred to as le neuf moulin or the new mill, in an old document. The origin of the name Niots (or Niaux as it is spelt today) is not known. It is probably named after the first owners, although there is no record of a family of that name in the island. There have been Martels associated with this mill and the surrounding houses since at least the early 1700s.

Les Niaux Water Mill today
(Photo © Janice Potter)

On Gardner’s map of 1787, five buildings are shown, including the mill. Two of these have been dated to the period 1625-1700, the mill itself and one other building (now ruined) date from 1700-1750, and the fifth 1750-80. On Cochrane’s map of 1832, there were 13 water mills in Guernsey, most of which were for grinding corn. This was the original use of Les Niaux, but it was converted to a flock mill in the late 1800s to tear rags for use as padding for uniforms. The stream which drives the mill used to be carried over the yard by a wooden flume supported by a stone pillar. The 1861 census shows five households of Martels and their relatives in the Talbot valley – although none of them gave their occupation as miller.



Last update: 14 Mar 2004
© Stephen Foote 1996-2004