The Briars situation on the island
The name ‘The Briars’ has evolved over time. In 1678, the estate was called ‘Parsley Bed Hill’. The estate was unproductive and was sold in 1739 for the meagre sum of £94 by the East India Company. The new owner then baptised the new property ‘The Bryers’ due to all the sweet briar that grew wild throughout the valley. The spelling changed to ‘briers’, then eventually ‘briars’. In 1811, William Balcombe became the owner of The Briars and established a brewery there with his associates. He lived in Briars House with his family.
The Briars, after the return of Napoleon’s remains, 1851
To accommodate the officers he needed to look after as part of this business, he had a cottage built atop a hill twenty metres to the west of his house in the style of the follies of the late 18th century. The small single-roomed pavilion with garret and surrounding terrace could also be used as a ballroom if necessary. To do this, a tent just needed to be attached over the small square of lawn in front of the entrance to the north.
For company, Napoleon had the Balcombe family and its four children, including the cheeky little Elisabeth, better known as Betsy.
Willian Balcombe (1777–1829)
Napoleon and The Briars
The Briars today
Cable & Wireless decided to have it destroyed. On learning of this decision, Dame Mabel Brookes – a descendant of Betsy Balcombe – decided to buy the property and give it to France, which accepted her donation in 1959.
Today, only the pavilion that was occupied by the emperor is open to the public. In 2008, the governor decided to agree to the request of the current curator, Michel Dancoisne-Martineau, donating the land surrounding pavilion at The Briars to France. This donation to France complements the other donation – made privately two years earlier to the National Trust – of the valley leading to the foot of the ‘Heart Shaped Waterfall’.