St Helena Online

Tag: heritage

Hopes remain for archive plan as store is put on market

The old PWD store has been empty since 2005
The old PWD store has been empty since 2005

Heritage campaigners on St Helena remain hopeful that the island’s precious archives can be moved to the old Public Works store in Jamestown – even though it has been put up for sale.

The historic warehouse was earmarked to house both historic documents and the island’s public library, in a partnership with the Museum of St Helena.

But on 10 December 2013 it was announced that it was being advertised for sale on the open market, along with Head o’Wain clinic and Wranghams House in Sandy Bay.

pwd store 300
The PWD has ‘redevelopment potential’

One councillor is demanding to know why elected politicians and the public were not consulted.

“For sale” notices appeared on the PWD store while museum representatives were still waiting for a response to their latest proposal to open the building to the public.

The scheme would have helped solve problems with the archives, which are kept in a room off the courtyard in The Castle that is acknowledged to be inadequate.

Concern has been expressed about preservation of documents that date back to the time of the East India Company’s rule in St Helena.

The archaeologist Dr Andy Pearson visited the island in 2013 to begin work on making digital copies of the most important and vulnerable documents.

The team behind the archives and library plan has promised to continue to push for it.

But the government clearly sees scope to exploit the empty store’s prominent position in the historic heart of Jamestown, next to the museum and across the Grand Parade from The Castle.

'For sale' signs came as a surprise
‘For sale’ signs came as a surprise

The government’s press release describes the PWD store as “a large prime building in Jamestown with substantial development potential”.

It adds: “It has the potential to transform the area and possibly set the tone for other regeneration in the area.”

The release said the government’s property department was trying to “lead the way in creating a more open and transparent property market,” with assets offered for sale on the island before being advertised internationally.

The PWD store has been empty since December 2005.

An audit report in February 2011 said there was no maintenance programme for the historic building. Five years of inaction had led to deterioration.

It said: “It is planned for the existing Public Library to be moved to the Ex-PWD Store. Plans are currently being drawn up for a new Learning Resource Centre, to be taken forward under the Jamestown Improvement Project initiative.”

Island historian Nick Thorpe said he and fellow heritage campaigners were not giving up on their plan.

“It might still happen if our proposal that they lease the building to the Heritage Society at a peppercorn rent comes about,” he said.

“We will raise money to transform the building into Library Archives and cultural centre.”

Offers for the old store – which has three large rooms, each taking up an entire floor of the building – must be submitted by 26 February 2014.

Offers for Wranghams House must be made by 5 February, and for the Head O’Wain Clinic by 12 February.

Further information is available from

SEE ALSO: Writer praises reprieve for historic St Helena house

READ MORE: 2011 audit report on empty properties

Writer praises reprieve for historic St Helena house

A fresh call has been made by a writer on St Helenian heritage to protect what remains of its grand country houses.

John Tyrrell also praises executive councillors for refusing to lift some of the protection from Wrangham’s in Sandy Bay, to allow it to be sold by St Helena Government.

“These fine Georgian country houses, reflecting the aspirations, life styles and aesthetic tastes of St Helena’s elite, are a vital part of the island’s heritage, and an unique part also of British colonial history,” he writes.

“Wrangham’s has in the past had some unsympathetic alterations, but it could be restored to something approaching its original state, and it is encouraging that the new crop of councillors are sensitive to such issues.

“I do hope that the means to save Wrangham’s will be found before it is too late.”

His article is illustrated with photographs from a return visit to the island in early 2013.

He highlights the “beautifully restored” Oakbank and also Farm Lodge, now a boutique hotel.

“But Rock Rose, and sadly now Teutonic Hall, look to be past the point of no return.”

And Rose Cottage, the home of the late Tony Thornton until he was ordered to leave the island, had become so swallowed up by plants that it was not visible until he reached its walls.

“This provides a graphic illustration of what can happen quite quickly to houses that are neglected on St Helena,” writes John, in his Reflections on a Journey to St Helena website.

Wrangham’s wrangle exposes conflicts over heritage
Nature reserve lease ‘could bring restoration’, says the Castle

Revealed: plan to tunnel through to Rupert’s Valley

J C Melliss reported on the possibility of digging a tunnel from Upper Jamestown to Rupert's Valley
J C Melliss reported on the possibility of digging a tunnel from Upper Jamestown to Rupert’s Valley

Records found abandoned on St Helena’s rubbish tip reveal how the island’s administrators considered digging a tunnel between Upper Jamestown at Rupert’s Valley.

When John Charles Melliss was the Colonial Engineer on St Helena, the only path leading into Rupert’s Valley was the coastal route round Munden’s Point.

The island’s prison had been built in the upper part of Rupert’s, and attempts had been made in the early 1860s to establish a settlement there, known as Hay Town after Governor Drummond Hay.

Now a brief report on the planned tunnel has been saved from being destroyed before island historians had even realised its existence, in a hand-written book found by Denis “Oxie” Young on the island’s landfill site.

Melliss’s copy of the report is dated 14 January 1870.

It is headed: Memorandum with reference to a proposed tunnel Rupert’s Hill for the purpose of connecting Rupert’s Valley with James Town. 

As Colonial Engineer, Melliss advised that the tunnel could be dug through 580 yards of Rupert’s Hill, starting in the quarry that still exists near the hospital in Upper Jamestown.

His report described a thick bed of volcanic rock running almost horizontally through the hill.

He wrote: “…it is proposed to drive a tunnel through this bed of stone, which is soft and easily worked, for the purpose of connecting by level way Rupert’s Valley, which contains a good building ground, with James Town…”

The commencement of Hay Town had been made possible in the 1850s with the establishment of a reliable water supply for Rupert’s Valley, piped into the valley from The Briars.

At the time of Melliss’s report on the tunnel scheme, Rupert’s Valley was still being used intermittently as a holding camp for Africans liberated from slave-running ships.

The island’s 32-year role as a liberation station would not come to an end until two years later. The horrors of the time were revived by the excavation of hundreds of graves in the valley in 2007.

In 1875, Melliss published an account of the unloading of a slaveship – “a scene so intensified in all that is horrible that it almost defies description.”

He recounted going aboard one ship, and finding that “the whole deck, as I picked my way from end to end, in order to avoid treading upon them, was thickly strewn with the dead, dying and starved bodies of what seemed to me to be a species of ape which I had never seen before.”

Despite this recent memory and the associations it must have had for islanders, he was able to comment in his tunnel report on the “good building ground” to be found in Rupert’s Valley.

Melliss’s own father, G W Melliss – the man who built Jacob’s Ladder in Jamestown – had drawn out a plan dividing the length of Rupert’s Valley into building plots.

Modern-day historian Nick Thorpe said he could not recall ever reading about Melliss’s report of the tunnel scheme.

In fact, the tunnel idea would emerge again in the 20th Century, according to a document held in the UK’s National Archives at Kew in London.

The record is dated 1932-1946 and headed: St Helena: construction of roads; proposed road tunnel from Jamestown to Ruperts Valley.

In the 21st Century, the need for a good road route between the two places has surfaced once again, with plans for Rupert’s Valley to become the main location for unloading goods brought by sea.

National Trust seeks new director to fight heritage threats

Trust logo 200A search is on for a new campaigner to lead the fight to protect St Helena’s threatened heritage.

St Helena National Trust is looking for a new director who can defend the island’s historic buildings as well as enhancing its natural assets – including critically endangered species.

The job advertisement says: “The remote island of St Helena is a treasure trove of world heritage, including hundreds of historic monuments and over 400 plants and animals which occur nowhere else on the planet.

“Yet today this extraordinary heritage is threatened by lack of information, neglect and lack of funding.”

A new director is needed after Adam Wolfe stepped down from the role at short notice.

The job involves leading up to 20 staff and volunteers on several fronts, as well as fund-raising, setting strategy, advising the island government, and working alongside the island’s environmental directorate.

The Trust has secured Darwin Project funding to help regenerate native species on the island, including at the Millennium Forest.

LINK: St Helena National Trust Strategic Vision

Slavery tourists to voyage into island’s dark past

Slavery is to become the theme of a educational cruise on the RMS St Helena, island tourism chief Cathy Alberts has revealed.

It will tie in with the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery in December.

It will also draw on the excavation of the remains of 400 Africans from captured slave-running ships that were brought to St Helena. Those who reached shore alive endured harrowing conditions at a liberation depot in Rupert’s Valley.

Cathy told Saint FM presenter Tony Leo: “That is going to be the theme of the whole voyage.

“We will have archaeologists on board who will give talks. People will be able to go and see where some of the artefacts have been found.” 

In September 2012, executive councillor Bernice Olsson called for the island to become a place of commemoration for all Africans who were transported across the Atlantic on the notorious Middle Passage of the slave trade. 

She said: “These people are a reminder and a symbol of all those who, over 300 years, were enslaved and lost their lives in the journey from Africa to the Americas.

“Today, many people living on St Helena, and millions of others living in northern and suthern America, are descended from slaves who survived.

“Many would like to come to St Helena to learn about their ancestors, their families and the business of slavery.”

She also called for the urgent reburial of the human remains that had been exhumed to make way for airport works in Rupert’s Valley.

The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, 2 December, marks the date of the  United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others in 1949. An estimated 21 million women, men and children are reported to be trapped in slavery around the world.

Graphic: soundwave overlaid on image of graveyard map from book coverPODCASTS: Hear the story of St Helena’s anti-slavery fight

Slavery role should boost World Heritage case, says experts
AUDIO SLIDESHOW: ‘My intense grief for St Helena slaves’

Jamestown plan looks like a cut-down Cape Town, writer warns

Further criticism has been aimed at the proposals to turn Jamestown into a tourist centre – this time by historian John Tyrrell, after a return visit to St Helena.

His internet journal describes the “rather bad tempered” public meeting held on the Jamestown 20-20 Vision document in mid-March 2013.

He writes: “The author, off the island at the time of the meeting, seems to envisage Jamestown as a kind of up-market las Americas, and the wharf area perhaps as a cut-down version of Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred waterfront.

“I was told by someone in the know that I would be shocked at the cost of the project.

“I was also confidently informed by a number of residents that nothing would happen anyway, certainly not before the completion of the airport: gossip and rumours are the only things that move fast on St Helena.”

Read the full piece here.

Lemon Valley restoration will revive old skills

Island craftsmen are to restore a historic group of buildings in Lemon Valley – while learning traditional skills.

Master stonemason Henry Rumbold will pass on his techniques to building trades students at Prince Andrew School, and unemployed young people.

Established builders will also be able to increase their skills on the project, run by the St Helena National Trust (SHNT).

It continues a Trust skills programme that led to student Clint Fowler winning a Prince of Wales apprenticeship, which gave him seven months’ further training in the UK.

The new work is being given funding by Enterprise St Helena, and involves the school, St Helena Tourism, and the adult education service, Aves. It is being supported by CITB Construction Skills in the UK.

The training is internationally accredited.

Mr Rumbold, who has been awarded an MBE, will teach a range of traditional building skills while his students restore a cottage complex built in traditional St Helena style.

The programme is intended create a pool of skilled labour to maintain and improve the island’s unique and rare historic buildings, including its many coastal fortifications.

These are seen a vital to creating a tourist industry on the island.

Rob Midwinter of Enterprise Saint Helena said: “To make these projects work we need to work as a team.

“The opportunities are fantastic and our combined efforts will make Lemon Valley a great place to visit.”

Honeymoon Chair is swamped as tree surgery goes wrong

Bougainvillea and broken support post slumped over the honeymoon chair
The damaged bougainvillea slumps over the concrete Honeymoon Chair (picture: Saint FM / Facebook)

The Honeymoon Chair on Jamestown waterfront – one of St Helena’s best-loved spots – has been badly damaged.

Saint FM reports that a tractor was used to remove a branch from the bougainvillea that grew over the seat… and the entire tree toppled over.

The school swimming gala was taking place just a few yards away.

Visit Saint FM’s Facebook page to see pictures, and read comments. Here are some of them:

Shirley Gillian Green that honeymoon chair means a lot to us Saints. Lots of cherished memories.

Gilly May Key what a shame. If only that Honeymoon Chair could talk.

Dave Stevens No care for the sentimental value such a historic icon holds. Those of us abroad think about going home and sit there watching the sun set. That’s that ruined..

AUDIO SLIDESHOW: ‘My intense grief for St Helena slaves’

Victims of a barbaric trade: “To see them in such a graphic way is extraordinary” – Mark Horton (copyright:

Television archaeologist Mark Horton has described his emotion on coming “face to face” with the remains of slaves whose bodies were excavated from a mass grave on St Helena. They were among thousands of Africans brought to the island aboard captured slave-running vessels. “It was a moment of intense grief. Those were people. That was someone.”

Click here for Mark Horton interview and slideshow
(warning: features images of skeletons)

PODCASTS: Hear the story of St Helena’s anti-slavery fight

‘Aid cash used to destroy heritage,’ says Trust

Cobblestones said to date back more than 200 years have been broken up in St Helena’s Main Street to make way for a trench as part of ‘improvements’ funded by overseas aid.

Trench warfare: 'We are destroying our heritage' - Rebecca Cairns-Wicks

Island historian Nick Thorpe said: ‘The 18th Century pavement has now been destroyed – like getting rid of the evidence. This is St Helena’s equivalent of a Roman pavement.’

The head of tourism in Jamestown, Mike Dean, said there was ‘no proposal to cause damage to our shared heritage’.

But the acting director of the St Helena National Trust has protested that the work has not gone through the planning system, and an offer of expert advice was not taken up.

‘St Helena is using overseas aid to destroy genuinely historic, authentic, unique and valuable heritage,’ said Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, in a letter to Executive Council member Bernice Olsson.

St Helena Government (SHG) has been given money by the European Union and the UK’s Department for International Development to fund ‘enhancements’ in the island’s capital.

The cobbles were exposed when the concrete pavement outside New Porteous House was broken up to make way for new paving – already the subject of a separate argument over heritage. Much of the ancient workmanship survived unharmed, though some sections of cobbles were damaged.

Digging a hole: 'It is important we get it right' - head of tourism, Mike Dean

In a letter to the St Helena Independent, Nick Thorpe said there was no need to break up the exposed stonework: ‘Having uncovered the cobbles, SHG are digging a trench through them which I understand will extend the length of Main Street. There is a tunnel five feet high under the length of Main Street which can be used for ducting.

‘The cobblestone pavement in front of New Porteous House was perfectly happy for 200 years until it was covered in concrete in the 1960s, a period generally considered the dark ages in good taste. The 1960s are still with us.’

In a statement, Mr Dean said: ‘We recognise it is important that we get the work right and protect our heritage, both here and along the rest of Main Street.

‘The original paving surface of cobbles will be left in situ and carefully covered in order to protect it.

‘The cobbles will only be affected when it is necessary to trench for essential utilities ducting or for other agreed work.  In such an event the beetle stones will be retained and stored for use in future heritage projects.

‘There is absolutely no proposal to cause any damage to our shared heritage, and the contractors are well aware of their responsibilities in the regard.’

In her letter of 5 March 2012, Rebecca Cairns-Wicks said: ‘We can’t continue to con ourselves and others about the results of our actions. At the moment we are doing nothing to protect Saint Helena’s cultural heritage. There has not been a single example of good protection of the historic environment within a development.

‘If SHG mean what they say about cultural heritage being their tourist product, then it has to be at the top of their considerations. It will cost money and it will be hard work. It means a huge change in the way they think about things. But it does mean we will keep our uniquely Saint assets.’


‘Heritage damaged’ as Trust calls for new law

‘The island needs a new law that puts Saints at the centre of decisions about protecting their heritage; one that makes those in charge listen, no matter who takes over at the top.’

Progress on Main Street, Jamestown: statement by St Helena Tourism