IVY ELLICK made a vow when St Helena lost one of its best-loved landmarks. One day, she said, she would see the steeple put back on the oldest Anglican church in the Southern Hemisphere. Here, she tells the story behind the loss.
I was the vicar’s churchwarden, in my late twenties, when the decision had to be made to remove the steeple of St James’ Church.
Being the first woman on the island to hold such an office in the Anglican Church, I was probably considered young and foolish, but I resolved to see the steeple restored.
The parochial church council was advised by the bishop that the plaster rendering on the steeple was falling away, and cracks were appearing at the base towards the top.
He had spoken with the resident civil engineer and the officer in charge of the Royal Engineers, who were on the island at the time. They had advised, after making an inspection, that it should be taken down.
Two public meetings were held to get the views of the parishioners, one in St James’ Church and the other in the Church of St John, which is near the general hospital at the other end of the town.
There were those people who agreed that the risk was too great to ignore: that at the top of the 17 feet of the spire was a solid block of concrete weighing in the region of two tons, which could cause serious damage to people and the surrounding area should it tumble.
There were people who were of the opinion that the steeple should remain, as was too solid for anything to happen and that the cracks were superficial and should be filled.
The steeple was a landmark. Fisherman took their bearings from it to lay their nets for crayfish, and it was used as a point for navigation when they went deepwater fishing. It was a landmark for ships entering and exiting the harbour.
Because there was a 50/50 split between those for and against removal, the decision had to be taken by the church council, which was supported by Governor Geoffrey Guy and the Lord Bishop of St Helena, Edward Cannan.
The account of the demolition process was recorded in Bishop Cannan’s book, Churches of the South Atlantic Islands.
I am very proud of St James’ Church. It has always been part of my life. I was born and brought up in Jamestown and for many years my grandfather, Robert Francis Bizaare MBE, held the same position that I now hold in St James’ parish. So my love or obsession for the church goes back to the first memories of my life.
And in the vast expanse of the Southern Hemisphere, here on the tiny island of St Helena, in the middle of nowhere, stands the oldest Anglican church.
I was upset and sad when the steeple was taken down. It was then that I made a vow that I would do all in my power to put the steeple back. I have become more adamant than ever since St James’ Church was voted as one of the Wonders of St Helena.