Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a small port on the east coast of the Cotentin peninsula, some ten miles east of Cherbourg. Turner was there in 1826, arriving at Cherbourg on 9 September (Warrell, op. cit., p.31); a rough pencil drawing in the 'Contances and Mont St Michel' sketchbook shows the cattle to be seen in the centre of the present watercolour (Turner Bequest CCL f. 53 verso; Warrell, op. cit., p. 32, illustrated fig. 13). As well as another drawing in the sketchbook (TB CCL 50; see Warrell, op. cit., p. 217, no. 37) three if not four 'colour beginnings' may have led to the present watercolour: TB CCXX L (Warrell, op. cit., p. 217, no. 37, illustrated p. 171, fig. 168), and CCLXIII 143, 295 and 326 (see Shanes, Turner's Watercolour Explorations, loc. cit.)
None of the sketches shows the crowd of fishermen and women jousting in boats that fills most of the foreground of this watercolour. Shanes suggests ('A Happy Coincidence', loc. cit.) that Turner made up a 'local pastime' in tribute to the great naval battle of June 1692 at La Hougue, just offshore from St-Vaast when the Anglo-Dutch fleet roundly defeated a French fleet supporting the return of the deposed James II, an event that could have been brought to Turner's attention some years earlier when Benjamin West exhibited a second version of his Battle of La Hougue in his own studio in 1806 (H.v. Erffa and A. Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven and London, 1986, p. 210, no. 90, illustrated; the earlier version, at the Royal Academy in 1780, is ibid, pp. 209-10, no. 90, illustrated in colour pp. 71-3).
Shanes also suggests ('A Happy Coincidence') that the finished watercolour could have been one of a group of works designed to be engraved for The Keepsake, for which Turner supplied illustrations between 1830 and 1834. He also notes its similarity to the finished watercolour of Granville (sold Sotheby's, London, 18 July 1970, lot 94; A. Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg and London, 1979, p. 424, no. 1050; illustrated Warrell, op. cit., p. 169, fig. 166). However, Warrell has suggested that these two works, together with Le Havre (Indianapolis Museum of Art; Wilton loc. cit., no. 1048, illustrated), were all three done in connection with a projected publication of 'a work of twelve numbers, to be called 'The English Channel or La Manche', mentioned by the potential publishers John and Arthur Arch in a letter of 16 January 1827 (see Warrell, op. cit., pp. 158 and 211 no. 4, and, for the project as a whole, pp. 158-71). For this reason Warrell advances Shanes's suggested date for the present watercolour of 'circa 1830' to '?1827'. He also suggests a number of English subjects as comparisons (ibid., pp. 169-71).
The first known owner of this watercolour, John Edward Taylor (1830-1905) was the proprietor, and son of the founder in 1821, of The Manchester Guardian and owned some 125 works by Turner, 22 of which he gave to the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, in 1892.