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Castle Gardens

Sit and watch the world go by

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

In the heart of Jamestown; a great place to just sit and watch the world bustle by‍‍

Where is it and what’s there?

The public gardens of St Helena are irresistible.{c}

Castle Gardens is, oddly, situated just outside The Castle buildings in Jamestown; it’s just up the street, towards the shops (see the plan below). 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 surprisingly quiet there. The noise of town doesn’t seem to permeate, leaving only the trickle of the Fountain, 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
Planting Endemics

‘living sculpture’

There are two buildings in the Gardens (see map, below):

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{1} as part of the celebrations of ninety years of guiding on St Helena.

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.

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.{d}

There are numerous plaques and one monument: to the crew of the Waterwitch. There is also 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.

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{2}. Apart from here and the Duke of Edinburgh Playground in Market Street there are only isolated trees to roost in and birds clearly prefer company.

A posting on www.virtualtourist.com:

Sit and watch the world go by
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!{3}

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 fewer 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 Monument - a memorial to crew members of Her Majesty’s Brig Waterwitch, 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.


c.1900, with The Fountain, The Waterwitch Monument and Garden Hall
c.1900, with The Fountain, The Waterwitch Monument and Garden Hall

Originally the ‘Government Garden’ it seems to have been created some time before 1682 and probably dates from the building of the Fort of St. John in 1659. A record from 16th January 1682 reports that a stone wall had lately been built to enclose a large garden near the Fort; presumably this one. Originally designed to provide food for the Governor’s table (when Governors lived in The Castle), but rendered redundant when The Plantation (now Plantation House) was created, it was re-laid into 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.

Facing the east end of the church is the Public Garden, and what I suppose may be called the grand promenade of the towns-people, whenever they are disposed to indulge in the luxury of a gentle stroll, especially when by chance the regimental band may happen to play there, on which rare occasions some half dozen people assemble to listen to their ravishing strains.{e}

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

The photo (right) shows Castle Gardens in around 1900. Note the Army-style tents, which seem to have housed additional members of the Garrison, here to guard the Boer PoWs. Today, dogs are no longer allowed to roam off the leash. In all other respects the gardens look very much as they do today. They were ‘restored’ in the late 1920s but without materially altering their appearance from the 1900 photograph.

The Fountain

The Fountain
The Fountain

The fountain is of cast-iron construction. It was installed at the command of Governor Robert Armitage Sterndale to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. It was presumably made in Britain, but when and by whom is not known{11}.

The goldfish that live in the pond beneath are descendants of fish originally donated in 1898 by William Alexander Thorpe. 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
The Fountain, broken in 2008

Goldfish in the pool
Goldfish in the pool

In 2008 it was discovered one Saturday morning, mysteriously broken. The offender was soon arrested and fined £40 (plus £10 towards prosecution costs). Why or how he broke it was never published{5}. It was repaired a few weeks later (probably at a cost of far more than £50).

The fountain also failed in 2020 due to corrosion in the pipes, which therefore needed replacement. As at the time of writing it remains unrepaired, though is usually operational with a temporary arrangement based on a hosepipe.

…one of the Sounds of St Helena

You can hear the fountain (left) - and also some of the gardens’ many birds…

The Waterwitch Monument

On Western side, just outside Ann’s Place, stands the Waterwitch Monument, erected to mark the crew who died while serving on the Royal Naval vessel HMS Waterwitch in the capture of Slavers in the waters around St Helena. The main text reads:

A.D. 1839-1843.

On 17th June 2022 a plaque was unveiled at the monument recording the names of the African sailors who served on Waterwitch whose names were omitted from the monument when it was created.

‍Ann’s Place‍

Set in the south-western corner of Castle Gardens, in a building that was originally the Government Stables, ‘Ann’s Place’ (a.k.a. ‘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.

It has a fascinating nautical atmosphere, largely due to the ‘ceiling’ which is actually a canopy constructed 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{f}.

Garden Hall

Garden Hall was originally a private residence and later home of the Museum of St Helena. It was later the home of the Audit Office and now houses SAMS Radio 1 and The Sentinel.

‘No Loitering’

No Loitering Sign

Unlike most of the gardens you find in London squares and other cities, Castle Gardens is not closed up at night. This means it is a popular haunt for teenagers on a Saturday night, who are too young to drink in the bars and are seeking somewhere to ‘hang out’{7}. Unfortunately this has at times 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 that year 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.

Read More

Article: Working Together

Published in The Independent 10th August 2012{8}

Clint Fowler fitting together the broken parts of the gatepost top
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){9}, 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.


{a} Paul Goodwin{b} Cicero (The library is just next door.){c} ‘Isle of St Helena’ by Oswell Blakeston, 1957{d} Tammy Williams, in The Independent, 24th April 2015{8}{e} ‘A Guide to St. Helena, Descriptive and Historical’ by Joseph Lockwood, MDCCCLI (1851){10}{f} Crystal Degenhardt, 2009. Read the full blog posting


{1} Named after John Melliss.{2} 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!{3} We think this is a matter of perspective. When you’ve lived here for a while your definition of ‘hustle and bustle’ clearly changes.{4} See other debunked myths.{5} The assumption is he was climbing on it while drunk.{6} www.yachtworld.com/‌boat-content/‌2010/‌02/‌mike-harkers-christmas-in-st-helena.{7} See our page Could you live here? for more welcome ‘things for teenagers to do’.{8} @@RepDis@@{9} Now the ‘St Helena Community College’.{10} Kindly provided to us by David Pryce at the Museum of St Helena.{11} It is sometimes, erroneously, said that it is the centre part of the Rockfall Memorial Fountain that once stood in Main Street{4}.