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Duke of Edinburgh Playground

For Kids; For Everyone

Play! Invent the world! Invent reality!{a}

An important recreational space in the heart of Jamestown‍‍


Lower Graveyard, 1881
Lower Graveyard, 1881{b}

The first recorded use of this area was as a graveyard - the Jamestown Lower Graveyard. This, together with the Middle Graveyard and Upper Graveyard, met the burial needs of the town. Burials there were stopped in 1853 and it was de-consecrated in July 1953. (The other two were de-consecrated in August 1951.) Following de-consecration the surviving headstones were moved to the garden of St. James’ Church, and then later to St. Michael’s in Ruperts.

The Duke of Edinburgh Playground

Sometime in the middle 1950s it was decided to turn the area into a children’s playground (see the article, below). Surprisingly, the bodies were not removed - the area was simply concreted over to form a surface for the new play area (there were no ‘play-safe’ surfaces in 1957!) Equipment set up in the lower area included three sets of swings, a slide, roundabout and parallel bars.

While the playground was being constructed it was learned that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (father of King Charles III) would be visiting St Helena at the beginning of 1957 and it was decided that the new playground would carry his name and be officially opened by him during his visit. There are some images from this opening below:

The new playground was a great success and very popular, at a time when there was no other play-space for the children of Jamestown; Castle Gardens was a formal garden, not open to ballgames and had no play equipment and the Leisure Park and Mule Yard would not be created for a further 40 years. The playground had other uses as well; Mr Jack Thorpe used to hold fêtes there, which went on into the evening.

Amusingly, it seems the playground was in use before the Duke actually ‘opened’ it! It was completed at least a week before he arrived and there was no security to keep people out so the kids just started playing there. When he arrived to ‘open’ it he found it already full of children. In the Duke’s own words I can’t very well declare this playground open when you are in here already.


Closure Notice
Closure Notice


It is sadly the case that St Helena’s economic position continued its steady decline from the 1960s onwards, not least because of the closure of the island’s only export industry in 1966. With limited budgets, maintaining the play equipment became financially impossible. In 1973 the Government of St Helena spent £188 on refurbishments but it was not enough. At the end of the 20th Century much of the equipment was declared unsafe and dismantled. The area lost its official ‘playground’ designation and was officially ‘temporarily’ closed, though as a vital short-cut from The Run to Market Street ran through it, access was never restricted. Children and others continued to use the upper area to play football and the shelter/changing area became popular with late night revellers.

Towards the end of 2002 the Education Department announced it was seeking funding to replace all the old play equipment and bring the Playground back into use. Sadly nothing came of this plan. The following year the St Helena National Trust considered taking it on but decided against it.

From around 2008 the Government of St Helena Education Department (which was responsible for the Playground) tried to find somebody else to take responsibility for it, without success. Someone even suggested that, to control the growth in traffic, Donkeys should be brought back into use with the Playground being converted into a donkey park. The idea of re-erecting the headstones and creating a ‘Memorial Garden’ was floated but nobody seemed prepared to take on the project. In October 2010 the St Helena Herald printed:

The lower half of the Jamestown Playground has been closed for around seven years. While the old slide and swings have been dismantled, this space is now redundant and an eyesore. The fence separating the top and lower half of the playground has come down making it frustrating for kids playing ball games. What are the plans for this once-popular play area? What do you think should happen to the Playground?

The Trees

Tree Cover from Ladder Hill
Tree Cover from Ladder Hill

Tree Pruning

The trees within the boundary were planted at the command of Governor Dunbar in the 1740s, as were many of the other older trees in Jamestown, e.g. in Castle Gardens. Because of this they are considered historic and hence must be preserved. However they are also very large and tend to overhang the roadway (Market Street). When limbs become weakened by age they can fall, with the risk of causing injury and damage to adjoining houses. For this reason they periodically need to be pruned.

Prior to around 2009 pruning was done by the Government of St Helena as part of its general maintenance duties. Conservationists constantly criticised these operations, saying the pruning was unnecessarily severe and that apparently healthy limbs were being removed. A tree expert visited in 2009 and since then the trees have been pruned in accordance with expert guidance, supervised by the St Helena National Trust. This has almost eliminated the complaints.

Mynah Birds, Fairy Terns and other birds roost in the trees, making quite a cacophony at dawn and sunset!

Proposed Developments

Since its closure as a playground there have been attempts to find a new use for the area. One of the obstacles to all the ideas is the fact that the graves were not dug up when the playground was built - the headstones were removed but the burials were just concreted-over. Hence any use requiring new construction (with foundations) would incur the significant cost of digging up and re-burying the remains. So the only uses considered are those that keep the concrete surface intact. At the time of writing there have been two:

Below: Duke of Edinburgh Car ParkPlayground Again?

The Duke of Edinburgh Car Park

20/20 Vision parking proposals

With the number of vehicles on St Helena continuing to grow, at the beginning of 2013 it was first suggested{2} that the area should be converted into a car park. The proponents argued that the declining number of children living in Jamestown and the alternative presented by the Leisure Park and Mule Yard meant a playground was no longer needed. A number of obstacles to this plan presented themselves:

Planning permission for a change of use was requested, first in 2016 and again in 2017. In September 2017 formal permission was finally refused. The Tribunal considers that the gain of car parking spaces does not justify the risk of permanent damage to this important historical site. It is anticipated that Tourism will play a major role in the islands economy. It is quite apparent that the nature of this graveyard could be of considerable interest to visitors to St Helena. The Tribunal also described the area as a wasteland.

A Playground Again?

CSH Logo

In October 2017 local organisation Creative St Helena was given outline permission, and potentially a grant from the Government of St Helena, to re-vitalise the lower half of the area and turn it into a Creative Play Area. This would have featured typical kids play equipment (slide/swings/roundabout/etc.) but also a ‘sensory play area’ with outdoor musical instruments, drawing chalk-boards, etc. The whole lower section would have been covered with a play-safe surface.

Initially only the lower section would have been incorporated into this plan, with the upper section still being used for ball-games. Later the Creative Play Area might have expanded to incorporate this upper section, which could have been used for holding outdoor events. Re-positioning of the headstones was not included in the project.

A plan was put together but there were difficulties getting the Education Directorate to release control of the area. In Mid-2018 these seemed to have been resolved, but since then further difficulties arose and the project was abandoned.

Read More

Article: A Recreation Ground for Jamestown

Published in the St Helena Wirebird{5} October 1956{4}

It has for some time been planned to turn the area in Jamestown formerly known as the Lower Cemetery into a playground for children. Funds for this purpose were included in the Colonial Development and Welfare Plan for St Helena for 1955-60, and it is now possible to make a start on the work.

The proposals for the layout of the ground are as follows: The upper part will be levelled and surfaced with colas and sand, and fenced on the Run side. This area will be available for cricket or football. The wall dividing the ground into two portions will be replaced by chain-link fencing. The lower portion of the ground will be laid out as a recreation ground with swings, seesaw, climbing frame, and slide. Seats and benches will be provided at various positions, and it is proposed to construct a bridge over the Run to provide easier access for children from Napoleon Street.

It is hoped that this playground will be of great benefit to children in Jamestown and will help to keep them from the traffic dangers of the streets.


{a} Vladimir Nabokov{b} Dr. Richard Cresswell; for a time a doctor in Jamestown, 1881


{1} Last used in the 1980s, but now just a storage shed, used by the shop behind.{2} We think by the infamous Jamestown Vision 2020 document, but it might have been discussed earlier.{3} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{4} @@RepDis@@{5} The Government newspaper{3}.