Ivy Ellick’s dream of restoring the steeple to Jamestown’s parish church has taken a first step to being realised – more than 30 years after she vowed to make it happen.
She and fellow churchwarden Cathy Hopkins have launched an international fund-raising campaign to replace the spire, which was dismantled in 1980 after warnings that it might collapse.
Their aim is to have the work finished in time for the bicentenary of Napoleon’s arrival on St Helena. His death is recorded in St James’ church register.
The amount needed was not yet known, said Ivy. “At the moment we are in discussion on what material we are going to use for the steeple. We don’t have an exact figure, but we are looking for a lot of money.”
Some money was left over from the £50,000 raised since 1999 to pay for two previous phases of restoration.
In July 2012, Ivy told St Helena Online that the new spire could be glass fibre, or a steel frame covered in lead. Stone was ruled out on cost and safety grounds.
Ivy, who was churchwarden when the old spire was dismantled, said: “St James Church is the oldest Anglican church south of the Equator. It is also one of the seven wonders of St Helena, and we are very proud of it.”
She said that building a new steeple would recreate a landmark “that has for generations guided ships and our local fishermen into the safe haven of St James Bay.”
Modern navigation means it would no longer be needed for that purpose – but the captains of the RMS St Helena have offered to support the appeal.
In an address to fellow worshippers at a Sunday service, Governor Mark Capes said: “St James’ Church is part of the fabric of this historic town and so has an importance even to those who do not worship here, including to our welcome visitors to the island.
“We must be sure to preserve those things that we value, the things that make St Helena the special place that it is and which we and those who visit the island find so attractive.
“I urge you to do whatever you can to support the appeal.”
Cathy Hopkins, who is the appeal secretary, said: “The church is an important part of island heritage and Christian witness.
“Every visitor coming here sees St James’ as they come through the Archway into Jamestown, and many come into the church to look around or to say a quiet prayer.
“It will be good to finish off the overall restoration for which we started raising funds about 12 years ago.”
The first church in Jamestown was probably built soon after the arrival of the East India Company’s first chaplain in 1761. A century later, the explorer Captain Cook found it in ruins.
The current church was completed in 1744. It has actually had two steeples, both of which became unsafe and had to be dismantled – the first in 1835.
The church itself was so badly ravaged by white ants in the early 1860s that services had to be held elsewhere, and complete demolition was considered.
The second spire was built from compressed volcanic ash. Large metal rods that held the spire in place eventually rusted and expanded, cracking the fragile ash blocks.
Replacing the spire will need works to the tower, adding to the cost – but a statement said they needed to be done before there was further deterioration to the structure.
Local expertise is now available to undertake the necessary restoration, as a result of training in traditional building skills organised by the St Helena National Trust.
History of St James’ Church – John Grimshaw’s website