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Castle Gardens

Sit and watch the world go by

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If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Cicero{1}

Castle Gardens, in the heart of Jamestown, is a great place to just sit and watch the world bustle by.

This page is in indexes: Island Place, Island Activity, Island Detail

Castle Gardens [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

Go to: Where is it and what’s there?HistoryThe FountainThe Water Witch monument‘Ann’s Place’‘No Loitering’Read More

Where is it and what’s there?

Castle Gardens is, oddly, situated outside the Castle buildings in Jamestown; it’s just up the street, towards the shops. It is filled with lawns, flower beds and aged trees, some of which have been reportedly growing since before Napoleon’s day, all well maintained by the Government’s gardeners.

Despite being in the centre of town it is suprisingly quiet there. The noise of town doesn’t seem to permeate, leaving only the chirping of song birds and the cooing of doves. It’s a popular destination for eating your lunchtime sandwiches, and also for wedding-photo shoots.

Boxwood, planted by the Girl Guides [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

Some of the plants in Castle Gardens are Endemic to St Helena, many planted for ceremonial reasons. In 2011, for example, the island’s Girl Guides planted a Boxwood tree mellissia begoniifolia{2} as part of the celebrations of ninety years of guiding on St Helena.

A large anchor sits prominently displayed on the lawn. Nobody knows which ship this relates to - it was found in James Bay during wharf reconstruction work.

‘living sculpture’ [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

One feature of the gardens is the collection of ‘living sculptures’ - topiary works, fashioned from hibiscus - which you can inspect. There is a bird with an egg in a nest, a rabbit, a tortoise (possibly Jonathan) and a ladies’ hand complete with red fingernails and watch.

Although normally peaceful, around dawn and again at dusk Castle Gardens becomes a very noisy place. The reason is the vast collection of birds, who gather to roost in the (mostly Ficus) trees. Apart from here and the Duke of Edinburgh playground in Market Street there are only isolated trees to roost in{3} and birds clearly prefer company.

Castle Gardens is an exquisite and beautifully kept feature of Jamestown and it’s kept that way through the skill of one man, Anthony Caswell. He is self taught in Topiary. I have on many occasions spoken to tourists who were delighted by the gardens sitting there to shade from the heat of the day, take photos or write postcards home. Anthony’s work is first class but do we take him for granted? What happens to the gardens if Anthony leaves? I hope we’re paying him enough to keep him.
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Plan of Castle Gardens [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
Plan of Castle Gardens

Sit and watch the world go by [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
Just sit and watch the world go by…

If these beautiful little tranquil gardens were in any other city in the world I would recommend you visit them to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I can hardly do that for Jamestown, as, of course, there is no hustle and bustle to get away from!{4}

For Jamestown just further indulge yourself and visit. Your whole trip is one of self-indulgence after all!

The gardens (called the Castle Gardens as they belong to the neighbouring ‘Castle’) could be circumnavigated in less than ten minutes, but do spend a little longer and enjoy the abundance of tropical plants and some of the islands endemic plants including the rediscovered Island Ebony. Sit and enjoy the shelter from the giant ficus trees.

While in the gardens have a look at the Waterwitch Memorial - a memorial to crew members of Her Majesty’s Brig Water Witch, lost in their efforts to rid the South Atlantic of slave trafficking in the mid 1800s.

Another or additional way to enjoy the gardens is to ensconce yourself, with a coffee, other beverage or indeed a meal, on the balcony of Anne’s Place - a café/restaurant in the corner of, and overlooking, the gardens.

The gardens were constructed in 1792 by soldiers in lieu of corporal punishment. So that you don’t feel overcome by guilt over this fact please be assured they are now maintained by paid gardeners.

The gardens are open around the clock and are free to enter.

A posting on www.virtualtourist.com.

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

Relaxing in Castle Gardens is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Top Twenty things to do [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

History

Castle Gardens in C.1900 [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
Castle Gardens in C.1900

Originally the ‘Government Garden’ it seems to have been created some time before 1682. A record from 16th January 1682 reports that a stone wall had “lately” been built to enclose a “large garden” near the Fort. It was laid out in its current arrangement in 1792/3 as the gardens of the East India Company, by soldiers in lieu of corporal punishment.

The iron railings surrounding the gardens were erected in September 1821 “at considerable expense”, as a result of which drivers were prohibited from leaving their carts just outside the gardens, presumably to allow everyone an unhindered view of the (expensive) new railings.

The Fountain was added around the end of the 19th Century.

The photo (left) shows Castle Gardens in around 1900. Note the Army-style tents, which seem to have housed members of the Garrison. In all other respects the gardens look very much as they do today.

The building behind the Water Witch monument now houses S.A.M.S. Radio 1 and the St Helena Sentinel.

There is an old ship’s anchor on display in the north west corner. This was retrieved from James Bay in recent years, and probably came from one of the ships sunk by “The ‘Rollers’ of 1846”. Other anchors can be seen on display around Jamestown, and one has even made its way up to the airport.

Old ship’s anchor [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
Old ship’s anchor

The Fountain

The Fountain [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
The Fountain

The fountain is of cast-iron construction. It was installed at the command of Governor Robert Armitage Sterndale (1897-1902). It was presumably made in Britain, but when and by whom is not known.{5}

It is kept in working order and fish live in the pond beneath. It is much frequented by birds, it being one of the few reliable sources of fresh water for wild creatures in Jamestown. In older times people used to drink from it too.

The Fountain, broken in 2008 [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

In 2008 it was discovered one Saturday morning, mysteriously broken. The offender was soon arrested and fined £40.00 plus £10.00 towards prosecution costs. Why or how he broke it was never ascertained. It was repaired a few weeks later (probably at a cost of far more than £50).

The Water Witch monument

The Water Witch monument [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

On Western side, just outside Ann’s Place, stands the Water Witch monument, erected to mark the exploits of the Royal Naval vessel ‘Water Witch’ in the capture of slave ships in the waters around St Helena. This is the ship’s report from 2nd December 1840:

At 3 p.m. on this day chase was given to a suspicious looking Brigantine under the land who then made all sail to gain a small bay, on entering which at 4.30 p.m. she ran on shore under all sail, the crew immediately deserting her by boats. On boarding the said vessel I found a large number of slaves on board, a great many in the water who had attempted to swim on shore but the distance being too great many were drowned in the attempt, some regained the vessel and others were saved by the boats of the ‘Water Witch’; on mustering the slaves immediately on getting the vessel afloat, there appeared to be 245 left on board of whom 5 died immediately after taking possession.

‘Ann’s Place’

Flags at Ann’s Place [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
Flags at Ann’s Place
Flags at Ann’s Place [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

Ann’s Place Sign [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

Set in the south-western corner of Castle Gardens, in a building that was originally the Government Stables, ‘Ann’s Place’ (aka ‘Anne’s Place’) started in 1979 as a take-away but grew over the years. Now it’s a restaurant, café, meeting place, entertainment venue, yachties hangout, and doubtless many other things too.

Seemingly open 24/7, it provides good quality food and a fascinating nautical atmosphere, largely due to the ‘ceiling’ which is actually a canopy contructed from flags from all over the world, many signed by the vessel’s crew and telling the story of their visit. Further stories can be found in the visitors’ books.

Ann’s Place is a bit of a legend in the yachting community, and has been providing a home-from-home for passing travellers for decades. A quick scan on the Internet reveals postings saying things like “a visit to Anne’s restaurant [is] not to be missed{6} and “Nothing compares with Anne’s fishcakes […] we had a couple of cold beers and Fishcakes that I will never forget as long as I live. Maybe it was 23 days at sea, but they were just so good. Made with fresh fish and chillies, they are to die for{7}.

‘No Loitering’

No Loitering Sign [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

Unlike most of the gardens you find in London squares and other cities, Castle Gardens is not closed up at night. This means it used to be a popular haunt for teenagers on a Saturday night, who were too young to drink in the pubs and clubs and were seeking somewhere to ‘hang out’ (though now we have the In+ventive Club and the ‘Geek Boutique’ computer gaming emporium this is less the case{8}). Unfortunately this led to littering and petty vandalism. In response to this, in April 2014 the local authorities erected a ‘No Loitering’ sign at the entrance to the gardens.

Exactly what effect they expected this to have on the teenagers was never clear, but it did cause a lot of other comment. “What is Castle Gardens for, if not for loitering in?”, many asked. In August the sign disappeared. The following announcement was published a few weeks later:

NO LOITERING signs in Castle Gardens

Due to representations received from constituents of the unintended confusion of the ‘NO LOITERING Signs’ in Castle Gardens, it has been agreed by the Highway Authority to remove the signs with immediate effect.

Hibiscus, in Castle Gardens [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
Hibiscus, in Castle Gardens

Read More

Article: “Working Together

Published in the St Helena Independent 10th August 2012{9}

Clint Fowler fitting together the broken parts of the gatepost top [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]
Clint Fowler

Thanks to the sharp eyes of Councillor Bernice Olsson, the skill of St Helena stone mason Clint Fowler and cooperation between the Directorate of Infrastructure and Utilities and the St Helena National Trust, the damaged stone gate post on the north side of the Castle Gardens entrance has now been repaired.

Bernice first noticed the gatepost was unsafe and that the 19th Century iron mortar shell casing that sits on its top was about to fall off and possibly injure a passer-by.

Bernice notified Gavin George, Head of Lands and Planning at the Directorate, who asked Adam Wolfe, Director of the St Helena National Trust, for assistance. Adam turned to master stone mason Henry Rumbold (MBE) in England. He advised that Clint Fowler would be able to do the work, using both traditional and modern building techniques. Clint and his father Fenny were subsequently contracted by Gavin to carry out the repairs.

Adam said “Clint’s work is of a very high standard. His traditional building skills are very important and vital to a community keen to restore and protect its precious, historic buildings and fortifications. These date from the 17th Century and are a significant attraction, not only for the Island’s visitors but also for people around the world.

In 2009 Clint attended the St Helena National Trust’s heritage building skills training course. Henry delivered the training and, impressed by Clint’s skills, encouraged him to take up a seven-month Prince of Wales Building Craft Apprenticeship in London. Clint successfully completed this training in 2010.

The Saint Helena National Trust, in company with the Department of Education and Employment and the Adult and Vocational Education Services (AVES), is now working to revive heritage building trades training. This will be an opportunity to teach people new skills and encourage wider community interest in repairing and reusing the Islands’ many old and culturally significant buildings.

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]

Laugh at funny castlegardens humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Castle Gardens]


Credits:

{a} Tammy Williams, in the St Helena Independent, 24th April 2015{9}



Footnotes:

{1} The library is just next door

{2} Named after John Melliss.

{3} We often wonder what all the noise is about when birds are roosting or waking up. Are they fighting over the best perches? Do they discuss the day and pass on tips about where there are bin bags to raid or marauding cats? Whatever it is they make a tremendous noise about it!

{4} We think this is a matter of perspective. When you’ve lived here for a while your definition of ‘hustle and bustle’ clearly changes.

{5} It is sometimes, erroneously, said that it is the centre part of the Rockfall Memorial Fountain that one stood in Main Street.

{6} www.yachtworld.com/boat-content/2010/02/mike-harkers-christmas-in-st-helena

{7} Read the full blog posting (106.0Kb)

{8} See our Could you live here? page for ‘things for teenagers to do’.

{9} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged



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