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.
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.
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.’
‘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.’