For years, it had been believed that the deeds of several historic houses on St Helena had been destroyed by fire. But then someone pulled out a drawer from a desk in Jamestown, and made a most surprising discovery.
Behind the drawer, lost to sight for decades, were papers documenting the sale of properties once owned by the island entrepreneur, Saul Solomon.
The desk was in the basement of the building taken over by the St Helena National Trust, the very organisation set up to preserve and protect the island’s historic riches.
Island historian Nick Thorpe said: “There are quite a few deeds, mostly relating to the Metcalfe family, who owned Willowbank and Robinsons in Fisher’s Valley, together with a house in town.
“The gem of the find is a deed relating to the sale of several town properties for £16,000. The seller was Saul Solomon, who established Solomon’s in 1790. The buyers were his son Nathaniel Solomon, baptised 1800, and George Moss.
“Many years ago an old man called Billy Peters told me that Solomons had a fire in their office which destroyed all their deeds, but not, according to Billy, their money.
“If that is the case, then these deeds discovered recently by the National Trust may be the only 19th century ones in existence with a Solomon’s connection.”
The discovery was made in early October 2014.
One of the documents, an indenture, has a plan of a property attached with string and sealed with wax.
Another, dated around the time of Saul Solomon’s death, is a “Conveyance of messuages and tenements in James Town, St Helena”.
Plans for a recycling centre have also been submitted by SHAPE – St Helena’s Active Participation and Enterprise – which provides employment for people with learning difficulties and other disabilities. Permission is needed for containers and signs.
The island’s planning board, which meets on Wednesday, is also considering an application from Solomons for new farrowing pens, and a new donkey shelter for the St Helena Donkey Sanctuary.
When he lived in the UK, Roddy Yon would feed his few hens and dream of returning home to start his own poultry farm. After 25 years away, he walked into the offices of the St Helena Development Agency with a business plan, and came out with a grant to help him buy 250 chickens.
Now, after two years of single-handed effort, he’s collecting enough eggs for his main customer to be able to cancel the island’s imports from South Africa.
The flock has expanded to 525 Lohmann Brown birds that are producing more than 400 eggs a day, and Roddy’s Chicken Farm is ready to take on its first trainee.
Even from 5,000 miles away, Roddy knew his business plan had prospects. “When I was in the UK I kept abreast of island issues via the online newspapers and a common headline was always scarcity of something – potatoes, onions and even eggs. So when I returned from the UK it presented the perfect opportunity to explore local egg production.”
At first, it was a tough job, getting to know what was best for the birds, and their eating and laying habits. Even though the flock has doubled in size and Roddy does everything manually, the job has become easier as he’s become accustomed to the chickens’ ways.
Roddy, who keeps the birds at Farm Buildings, sells to individual customers and various shops, but his main customer is Solomon and Co, which buys 130 dozen eggs a week (1,560) for use in its bakery and sale in shops. The firm imported eggs in its last shipment from Cape Town, but now has an informal agreement for Roddy to supply all its eggs.
“As long as Solomons need eggs I will supply them,” he said. “I can determine if I will have enough produce to meet their demand and if not, alert them should they need to import, which shouldn’t happen as long as my chickens keep producing like they do. Not importing is good as it means the money circulates around the island.”
It also means a steady supply of fresh eggs – no small matter when three or four weeks can pass between consignments from abroad.
Roddy, who lives at White Gate, is now is experimenting with allowing a quarter of the birds access to a field, meaning they can be classed as “free range”, and he hopes to expand that side of the operation.
He also wants more birds: expanding the flock to 1,500 would help him cover expenses and run at a profit, but that means bigger premises. He has expressed an interest in the Poultry Unit at Scotland, which St Helena Government is planning to sell off. If he can secure those buildings, he’ll be able to venture into providing chicken for meat.
“When I first started I didn’t contemplate on the business taking off so quick,” he said, “but the hens themselves have made the business quite successful. SHDA gave me a start-up loan in the beginning but now I manage all my own finances.”
It isn’t easy. “I feed my chickens a bag of grain a day, which is £30, and during the early period I made no profit. Also when I get in new stock, for the first three months they are fed but they do not lay, so that is quite a strain on the finances.”
Now he is advertising for a trainee to work with him for six months, in an arrangement with the adult education service and Enterprise St Helena – as the SHDA has become.
The post pays £40 a week, with a 25% bonus on completion of the contract.
Roddy will pass on his knowledge of feeding, hygiene and welfare while carrying on with his familiar routine. He arrives every morning at 8am, checks all the chickens, gives them clean water and fresh feed. He then cleans the floor – half of it concrete and half earth, to allow the birds to dust-bath – and makes sure they have enough clean sawdust.
He then collects the eggs, checks and sorts them – 37 dozen at day, or 162,000 a year, at present rates. At midday the chickens are given clean water, fresh grain and greens to keep them happy.
With 525 birds for company, the job could hardly be called lonely… but for Roddy, it’ll make a change to have a companion who doesn’t go “cluck”.
(All information in this article supplied by St Helena Government press office)
The traineeship at Roddy’s Chicken Farm is open to people aged 16-25, who must apply to Angela Benjamin at the Adult and Vocational Education Service by 22 May 2012. For further information, telephone Rodney Yon on St Helena 3633 or 4640.
Eggcellent! Home-produced food is eggsactly what the island needs.
Quirky St Helena fact, number 1: hot cross buns on St Helena may not have crosses.
Solomon’s Bakery at Half Tree Hollow planned to bake ten thousand of them for Easter 2012 – up on 8,500 in 2011. But Sinead Green, reporter for The Sentinel, couldn’t help but notice that something was missing from the buns – which are meant to represent the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday.
Richard “Toby” Constantine explained the absence of crosses thus: “In other parts of the world they have machines that help along with the process. Here we would have to mark all ten thousand buns by hand and it’s very time consuming.”