St Helena Online

Tag: Jamestown

Hotel plans win support from ExCo

A large hotel could be built on Jamestown’s Waterfront.

Executive councillors gave approval for the idea to be explored as a future option – after endorsing a separate plan to convert numbers 1, 2 and 3 Main Street into four-star accommodation.

Both ideas were put before the council at a special meeting on Tuesday, 23 September 2014.

A press release says tourism experts have advised that accommodation of a high standard will be needed when the island’s airport opens in 2016.

The council approved the option to develop the Government-owned building into a hotel with at least 30 bedrooms.

The former East India Company building would have a restaurant and bar that could cater for up to 90 people.

A new building would be constructed at the rear to provide accommodation, including hotel rooms with disabled access – if planning permission is given.

The press release said: “This four-star hotel will complement other local initiatives in developing tourist accommodation, and will serve as a catalyst for economic development, including the involvement of local producers and service providers.

“Executive Council also considered an option for the development of a larger hotel at the Waterfront and approved the exploration of this option for the future.

“Further detailed design work will now proceed for the development of 1, 2 and 3 Main Street as a quality hotel. The public will be kept informed and will have an opportunity to view the plans and drawings once these have been finalised.”

  • Executive Council also noted a positive meeting at the Rock Club to consult on the development of a solar farm around the site of the current rifle range at Half Tree Hollow.  “There was overwhelming support for the project,” said the press release.

Take a trip into Jamestown – at breakneck speed

gravity rush 2014 by Julian Beard 640Click the pic above to experience the thrill of the 2014 Gravity Rush kart race down the hill into Jamestown, courtesy of Julian Beard’s YouTube video. It’s bumpy, and a bit scary.

gravity rush 2014 by Andy Day 300Then click the image on the right for Andy Day’s film over Nick Yon’s rather less successful run down the hill, waved off by Napoleon himself. Unless it’s Andy Crowe dressed up…

Gravity Rush 2013 in pictures

Don’t stay too long at St Helena’s craziest attraction…

In seven years of non-stop travelling to more than 140 countries, Gary Arndt has photographed some extraordinary sights: the rainbows over the Victoria Falls, a diving penguin in Antarctica, even human skulls in the killing fields of Cambodia.

But on St Helena, what caught his eye was the parking sign in Jamestown.

Click here to see his picture of what he believed to be “the world’s most complicated parking zone” (and he’s in a good position to judge).

True, he also took pictures of Sandy Bay and Jonathan the tortoise.

Within a couple of days, his shot of the 58-word No Parking sign had been given more than 50 “likes” on Facebook. Catch Our Travel Bug commented: “By the time you read the sign, your time is up.”

St Helena was one of 13 places around the world that Gary most wanted to visit, on a list he published on his Everything Everywhere travel blog in 2011. While on the island, he marked the seventh anniversary of the day he handed over the keys of his house to go travelling. When he left, he told friends he’d wander the world for a year, but privately thought it might be two years.

He’s since taught himself to become an award-winning photographer. His website attracts more than 100,000 readers a year – many of whom will doubtless savour his descriptions of St Helena.

He was not disappointed by a “gorgeous island with some of the most interesting people in the world”.

And perhaps, with the eye of a travel expert, Gary has identified a tourist attraction that hasn’t been properly appreciated by those whose job is to promote St Helena.

World’s Oldest Tortoise, World’s Toughest Stairs and World’s Most Remote Nearly Everything are all great claims to fame, but World’s Craziest Parking Sign might appeal to an entirely new breed of tourist.

Those who cross oceans to see it are unlikely, one feels, to pull up in a car.


SEE ALSO: Everything Everywhere – Gary Arndt’s travel blog.

Rockfalls reported in Jamestown

A boulder lies in the garden to the right of the white building. Picture: Ed Thorpe
A boulder lies in the garden to the right of the white building. Picture: Ed Thorpe

A large boulder landed in the garden of a house in Upper Jamestown in the early hours of Saturday, 4 January 2014, and Mike Olsson of Saint FM has reported hearing rocks hitting the safety netting above the homes before sunrise on 6 January. Click on the thumbnails below to see Ed Thorpe’s pictures from Saturday’s fall.

RFA Darkdale: Mystery of the torpedo that failed to explode

The German submarine U-68 fired off four torpedoes at the RFA Darkdale, then sped quickly away to escape the attention of the gun crews positioned above Jamestown.

The logbook recorded that all four struck home. But investigators from the Ministry of Defence say their examination of the wreck casts a new light on the historical accounts of the wrecking.

And that leaves an intriguing question for St Helena.

Kaptain Karl-Freidrich Merten’s account has been translated into English as follows:

00h15 ready for action – approach on surface

01h43 4 single shots – 4 hits

Enormous thin flame. Ship is illuminated as by day, the whole coast, harbour, barracks and batteries are lighted up in red glow.

But the December 2013 report into the state of the wreck, 73 years on, says the commander may have miscounted the number of torpedoes that struck home.

“There remains the likelihood that one may have missed its target or not exploded on impact,” it says. “This was a known problem with some types of German torpedo.

“This is supported by the evidence in the Harbour Master’s report of the Darkdale loss. He noted only three loud explosions.”

And when the investigators examined the wreck, they found evidence of only three hits, to the stern and midships.

“The only report that notes the explosion of all four torpedoes is the Torpedo Officer’s log. It would be in his interest to declare all four torpedoes as confirmed explosions but the damage to the ship does not support this statement.

“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.

“The fate of the fourth torpedo remains unknown.”


“If a torpedo missed or failed to detonate there is a possibility that it may have come to rest on the surrounding seabed. The wider bay area was surveyed using side scan sonar and no evidence of a torpedo was found.”

Simon, I know you didn’t write this but these were probably contact torpedoes, not
magnetic.  So it it missed it would have hit the coast and there would likely have
been a fourth, delayed explosion.

Side scan sonar picks up objects that are visually sticking up above the seabed.
James Bay is mostly deep sand.  The likelihood of a very heavy, long, tubular
object still sitting on top of the sand after nearly 70 years approaches zero.

They looked like these:

Cables versus cobbles: the battle of Main Street

Revealed, and then lost: 18th Century paving. Picture by Museum of St Helena
Revealed, and then lost: 18th Century paving. Picture by Museum of St Helena

With fibre-opting cables linking government buildings up and down Main Street in Jamestown, government staff will in future be spared from having to pop across the road to deliver documents.

And if there’s no need for people to walk anywhere, then perhaps one can see why pavements might not seem very important.

Cobbles exposed. Picture: Museum of St Helena
Cobbles exposed. Picture: Museum of St Helena

Not even pavements that were laid in when the East India Company built the fine array of Regency buildings that are so admired by visitors to St Helena’s capital.

The government and Enterprise St Helena might be pleased with this step into the digital age, but Nick Thorpe, defender of island heritage, is not.

The pavements – of carefully-laid cobbles edged with flagstones – have been hidden beneath concrete for years, but the important thing for Nick was that they were still there, intact. Their restoration remained a possibility.

The Museum of St Helena was asked to keep a watching brief on the ducting work, in the hope of discoveries – of a tunic button from the uniform of the St Helena Regiment, perhaps.

Nick mourns the loss in a letter to St Helena Online and the Independent:

“The accompanying pictures show expertly crafted and laid 18th Century paving stones in Main Street,” he writes. “These flagstones no longer exist: they have been destroyed in favour of communications ducting. It is a very sad thing when a government has too much money and no taste. The Castle courtyard is a good example of how things can be done well.”

Nick also despairs of a new pavement with “old-fashioned” bollards outside new Porteous House in Jamestown. He says it has “no historic or aesthetic value”.

(One other point raised by Nick is being clarified with St Helena Government). 

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.

Steeple appeal is launched as Ivy clings to her dream

Sepia print of church and steeple, looking up Chapel Valley
St James’ Church, photographed in 1860 by John Lilley (with thanks to Nick Thorpe)

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.

How Jamestown lost a landmark – and Ivy vowed to restore it
Fundraisers plan global push in Jamestown steeple campaign

History of St James’ Church – John Grimshaw’s website

Castle Plaza? Tourist chiefs get twenty-twenty vision

Possible changes to Jamestown’s historic centre are to be put to the public as St Helena prepares for the advent of air travel.

Ideas such as a plaza outside The Castle for open-air dining have been set out in a paper called “Jamestown – a vision for 2020.” Executive councillors have agreed to a two-stage public consultation.

The island government said it needed “to give Jamestown a new role when, in just a few years, it ceases to be the point of entry to St Helena for both passengers and cargo.

“The vision seeks to enhance the charming, historic and cultural attractions of Jamestown, while developing creative new uses for some buildings and areas, including the provision of more residential accommodation, especially in lower Jamestown.”

In 2012, property advisers suggested that East India Company offices, the prison and even part of The Castle could be converted to tourist accommodation.

The vision document will be made public by Enterprise St Helena in February.

Graham beats Jacob’s Ladder record – hands down

picture by Tina Yon-Stevens, St Helena
I’ll crawl if I have to: Graham Doig sets a new Jacob’s Ladder record. Picture by Tina Yon-Stevens

The record for climbing Jacob’s Ladder has been broken by less than a second – by a “runner” who went up on all fours.

Graham Doig cleared the 699th step of the St Helena landmark in a time of 5 minutes, 16.78 seconds, using feet and hands. Then he rolled on to the ground at the feet of spectators.

copyright: Tiny Yon-Stevens, St Helena
That hurt: Graham reaches the top. Picture: Tina Yon-Stevens

The previous record was 5 minutes 17 seconds.

And island resident Martin Squibbs set a new record for others to try to beat – five ascents of the Ladder (and four descents) in a time of one hour, 14 minutes and 4 seconds, with the clock running throughout.

Martin is an outdoor enthusiast who has made a practice of climbing the notorious flight of steps out of Jamestown at least twice a week.

He had previously managed three ascents in succession before deciding to set himself the five-climb challenge.

Charlotte Hubbard climbed three times.
Charlotte Hubbard climbed three times.

School student Charlotte Hubbard also completed three ascents, but her overall time was not recorded because organisers had not known in advance that she would do so.

Graham is a visiting consultant working for engineering firm Fairhurst, due to leave the island on 25 January 2013 after a two-week visit. He is a keen mountain biker.

He passed up on the technique used by most Ladder challengers, who use the wide handrails to pull themselves up, and instead pitched forward and placed both his hands and his feet on the steps, as though climbing a fireman’s ladder.

The same approach could be adopted by future runners – especially those with short arms.

Martin leads the way
Martin leads the way

In all, 24 people took part in the Ladder Challenge in aid of New Horizons youth centre – many of them members of the organisation. Chairman Derek Richards and his wife Linda joined the climb, as did manager Nick Stevens.

Ten-year-old Josh Benjamin managed the climb in 9 minutes and 28 seconds, six seconds faster than Aiden Yon-Stevens – Nick’s son – who was the youngest challenger, aged just seven.

Every participant was asked to raise at least £5 in sponsorship.

All pictures by Tina Yon-Stevens


Each of the Ladder’s 699 steps is roughly 11 inches high and 11 inches deep, making an incline of about 1:1. But cruelly, it’s much steeper at the top.

There used to be 700 steps. The bottom one is now below ground.

Jacob’s Ladder was originally built as an inclined railway for hauling animal dung and guano out of Jamestown, and to lower fresh produce into the town. Construction was supervised by Lieutenant G W Mellis during the governorship of Brigadier-General Dallas. Trucks were pulled by ropes linked to a capstan, powered by donkeys. The railway fell into ruin when the East India Company lost control of St Helena.

Island children learned to slide down the rails of the ladder, extending their arms along one rail and using their feet to brake against the other. It is said they carried hot food down to soldiers, on their stomachs.

The original Jacob’s Ladder appears in the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible. It led to Heaven. The St Helena Jacob’s Ladder leads somewhere else.

Several other places around the world have flights of steps called Jacob’s Ladder. They are found in the UK at Sidmouth, Cheddar Gorge and the iconic Kinder Scout hill, and in Massachusetts (USA), Auckland (New Zealand) and Perth (Australia).

Andrew Gurr, governor from 2007 to 2011, climbed the Ladder regularly. He invited islanders to join him on his hundredth ascent, and many did.

Ladder challenges are staged every two years as the final event in the St Helena Festival of Running. If it was the first event, runners would suffer “ladder legs” and be unable to manage the run up Diana’s Peak.

Records are now kept of the fastest ascent times, but they do not include the results of a challenge staged for the first Governor’s Cup yacht race carnival in 1996. For the record, a yachtie from New Caledonia won a crate of beer for running up in 5 mins, 33 secs. Second place – and no beer – went to the future editor of St Helena Online, with a time of 5 mins 45.12 secs. Chris, a UK half-Saint from Portsmouth, was third in 5.52.

Matty John, a legendary squeezebox player in the mid 20th Century, would climb the Ladder every Saturday night after sessions in the White Horse. Once, near the top, he fell, but was saved when his braces got snagged. He was spotted by an inmate in the prison below, and rescued.

When first-time climbers think they’re half way up the Ladder, they’re not.

Twenty four people took part in the Ladder Challenge on 21 January 2013. With the eight ascents completed by Martin Squibbs and Charlotte Hubbard, the total number of steps climbed was 20,970.

For more Jacob’s Ladder facts, visit John Turner’s St Helena website

Henrietta says island running is ‘spectacular’