St Helena Online

Tag: Museum of St Helena

New hope for culture centre despite £250k asking price

The asking price for the former Public Works store in Jamestown has been put at more than a quarter of a million pounds.

But the island’s Executive Council has stated that it will not necessarily be sold to the highest bidder.

That offers some measure of hope to heritage campaigners who want to see the PWD store used as a cultural centre, giving a new home to the island’s historic archives, as well as the public library.

Supporters of the Museum of St Helena were still waiting for a response to their proposal when “for sale” signs appeared on the one-time customs warehouse.

Nick Thorpe, one of the promoters of the scheme, pointed out that the United Nations had put up 250,000 dollars to establish the cultural centre.

He said: “The archives are a worldwide asset for St Helena researchers.

“One floor of the PWD store offers at least twice the amount of space the Archives occupy now.

“The library is more of a local thing and needs bringing into the 21st Century.

“In 1997 Kelly and Robinson wrote a report to kick-start the tourist industry. The UN granted $250,000 for a cultural centre encompassing museum, library
and archives.

“The Heritage Society was allowed $80,000 and a 20-year lease on the old Power House. The Museum opened in 2002.

“Predictably perhaps, nothing similar happened for the archives and library.”

The ExCo report for this week said any decision on the sale of the PWD store would have to be made by the Governor in Council because of the building’s significance. It would also be considered by the Estates Strategy Panel.

“The building will not necessarily be sold to the highest bidder,” said the report. “All factors, including proposed usage, will be taken into account prior to any decision to sell.”

Councillor Ian Rummery said: “The criteria for sale of a building such as the ex-PWD store includes its potential for the common good as well as commercial considerations.

“Personally I welcome the move to put it on the market with these safeguards as it will motivate those with an interest to explore ways in which they could fund development of the site.

“As there is no market we need to start somewhere.”

Hopes remain for archive plan as store is put on market
Tell it like it is, excrescences and all…

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

Museum celebrates 10 years on St Helena Day (with audio)

Copy of advertisement for the museum's tenth birthdaySt Helena Day 2012 was celebrated with the first firework display the island had seen in ten years. But a decade earlier – on the 500th anniversary of the island’s discovery – it was marked with an even more significant event: the opening of its museum.

It was the result of an enormous logistical challenge, with a designer on the island having to liaise with the Friends of St Helena in the UK.

Museum logo: a big red M with silhouette family figures holding hands underneathClick here to listen to the story behind the museum

Edward Baldwin, who acted as the UK contact, said: “We were relying very heavily on a very slow internet.

“I would get home of an evening, set my dial-up internet to download the designs and whatever was being sent form the island. Two hours later I could start editing the files and leave them to upload overnight, and I did that night after night after night in the main design period.”

As with so many projects on St Helena, getting materials to the island was a significant headache, said Edward.

Screen grab, museum website homepage
Visit the museum online at

“The showcases were built on the island by a local carpenter but we ordered steel fronts for them with laminated glass, which were shipped out from the UK.

“A couple of the crates broke loose in the hold of the ship in bad weather and a lot of the glass arrived cracked, and much of it was unusable.

“We had enough fittings but not enough glass, and a complete set of new glass had to be shipped out. Needless to say, it didn’t arrive in time for the opening.

“We are still working on changing glass because it is incredibly difficult to get the old glass out of these steel frames. Ten years on there are still frames with cracked glass.”

Tessa Smith, whose husband was chairman of the Friends of St Helena, was one of an army of volunteers who worked to get the new museum ready for its opening.

“We just used to go down every day and say, ‘Who wants what done?’

“I was painting at half past ten the night before the opening, and hoping it dried overnight.

“Everybody was excited. The speeches went on and on and on.

“What we have heard since is that many people who know museums say this is as good as many museums all over the world.”

Pat Reynolds, who runs heritage services in Surrey, in the UK, visited the island as a tourist. She said: “I was really, really impressed. It’s built with design values and the quality of interpretation one would expect in Britain that one would expect from a new-build county museum – and it’s in a place that’s like an English parish.

“The museum in St Helena has achieved the really difficult balance between the people who know the place intimately and know its story, and the people like me drifting by for a few days. It has to tell the story of St Helena to people like me who drift in and to St Helenians, and I think it achieves that magnificently.

“The care for users of all ages is very evident. I was very impressed with what I saw about how the museum works with the community.”

Asked what could be done to improve the museum, Pat said: “I would look at its shop. I think it could do more to work with local producers to create more for the tourists to buy and take away.”

The tenth anniversary was due to be celebrated with a programme of video screenings.

St Helena Museum: 10th anniversary (interview)

Museum of St Helena
Friends of St Helena