Saint Helena Island Info: All about St Helena, in the South Atlantic Ocean • Historic Buildings


Historic Buildings

A standing reminder

Architects and engineers are among the most fortunate of men since they build their own monuments with public consent, public approval and often public money.
John Prebble

St Helena has an abundance of interesting historic buildings to explore.

This page is in indexes: Island Structures Saint Helena Island Info Historic BuildingsIsland Structures, Island History Saint Helena Island Info Historic BuildingsIsland History, Island ACTIVITY Saint Helena Island Info Historic BuildingsIsland Activity, Island Detail Saint Helena Island Info Historic BuildingsIsland Detail

Old customs shed at the wharf Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Old customs shed at the wharf{10}

Below: Buildings MapThe CastleThe MarketFlax MillsOtherHow buildings changeRestoration problemsLost and almost-lost BuildingsThe Model Cottage MysteryThe ‘Listing’ systemRead More

In Jamestown alone, excluding the wharf, there are 18 Grade I Listed buildings, 51 Grade II and 61 Grade III

Top Twenty things to do Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Exploring our built heritage is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Top Twenty things to do Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Buildings Map 

The following shows most of our historic buildings{a}:

Historic Buildings Map Saint Helena Island Info

01: Alarm House;

02: Bamboo Grove;

03: Bamboo Hedge;

04: Bay Cottage;

05: Bleak House;

06: Brook Hill;

07: Clifftop House;

08: Enfield Lodge;

09: Farm Lodge;

10: Francis Plain House;

11: Haytown House;

12: Hutt’s Gate Store;

13: Kent Cottage;

14: Lemon Grove;

15: Bertrand’s Cottage;

16: Luffkins Tower;

17: Model Cottage;

18: Mount Pleasant;

19: New Ground House;

20: Oakbank;

21: Oaklands;

22: Old School House;

23: Olive Cottage;

24: Plantation House;

25: Prince’s Lodge;

26: Prospect House;

27: Red Gate House;

28: Red Roof;

29: Rock Rose;

30: Rose Bower;

31: Rose Cottage;

32: Rosemary Hall Cottage;

33: Signal House;

34: St Paul’s Villa;

35: Teutonic Hall;

36: The Vicarage;

37: Veranda Quarters (lower);

38: Veranda Quarters (upper);

39: Woodcot;

40: Wranghams

The Castle 

Entrance to The Castle (plaque detail below) Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Entrance to The Castle (plaque detail below)

The Castle is the main government building, located in Jamestown.

An original fortification, the Castle of St. John, was constructed by Governor John Dutton in 1659 as part of The East India Company fortifications of Jamestown. A stone in the wall reads:

I John Dutton, Governor of this Isle, first errected this fortification for the English East India Company, 4th June 1659

In 1708 this structure was incorporated into the current building by Governor John Roberts. This, in turn, was largely reconstructed in the 1860s because of White Ants damage. It does not have the appearance of a typical castle. The crest over the entrance replaces an earlier crest from The East India Company, carved by one Corporal Gallwey in 1828.

Originally the residence of the Governor of St Helena, it is today the location of many of the island’s administrative offices, including those of the Governor and the Chief Secretary. Executive Council and Legislative Council meet in the Council Chamber on the top floor.

It is designated as a Grade I Listed building.

Entry is open to the public during office hours, as far as the foyer.

It is sometimes claimed that a stain can be seen on one of the floors, being the blood of Governor Joshua Johnston, shot by mutineers on 21st April 1693. Sadly, quaint though this story may be it cannot be true - almost all of the original woodwork in The Castle was lost to White Ants and replaced in the 1860s. It has also been claimed that the remains still exist of an escape tunnel leading from the Castle to the Wharf, whereby a Governor could make a discrete exit to a passing ship in times of trouble. Whether or not this still exists, and even if it ever did, we are not sure. Of course, nowadays a tunnel to the wharf wouldn’t be of much use, and a tunnel to the Airport would be a remarkable feat of engineering!

Crest above the Castle gate Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Crest above the Castle gate, marking the transfer of the island to The Crown in 1834

Dutton memorial stone Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Dutton memorial stone

From Jacob’s Ladder Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
From Jacob’s Ladder

Main office entrance Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Main office entrance

The other entrance! Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
The other entrance!{b}


Plan not remotely to scale! Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Plan not remotely to scale!

The ‘other entrance’ is interesting. Just to the right of the main entrance (see Plan, right), the gate clearly dates from between 1840 and 1901 (the big red ‘V R’ gives this away.) Previously there is understood to have been an entrance to town from the Seaside through the wall. The changing rooms at the Swimming Pool are entered through the Seaside-end of this tunnel. It would have come out in a corner of what is now the ‘PWSD Yard’, behind the front-facing wing of the Castle building, and people would have walked into Grand Parade through what is now this ‘other entrance’. We suspect the formal gate was built by one of the earlier Colonial Governors (1834-) though some of the buildings in the Yard are older.

The PWSD Yard is so-named because it was the operational base of the former ‘Public Works & Services Department’. It still is but the Department has changed its name. Incidentally the Equality & Human Rights Office is in the PWSD Yard.

You might also want to read about Plantation House, the home of the Governor of St Helena since 1792.

The Market 

A regular market was established in Jamestown from 29th May 1843, initially in the open air. The current Market building was prefabricated in England in 1864/5 by Gwynne and Co. Engineers of Essex Street Works, London. Cast-iron construction was chosen to resist White Ants attack from which Jamestown had suffered much in the preceding years. It opened in May 1865, and has been refurbished and repainted many times, most recently in 2016.

The Market is shown below at various dates:

Late 1800s Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Late 1800s{1}

Internal late 1800s Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Internal, late 1800s

Internal late 1800s Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Internal, late 1800s

Market and filling station 1961 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Market and filling station, 1961

Market and filling station 1963 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Market and filling station, 1963

1991 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

2011 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

2016 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings


Note that in the 1961-1991 images above fuel pumps can be seen outside the Market. This was the original island filling station, opened in the early 1950s by Mr. Edward Benjamin and later operated by John Musk. Prior to that petrol was sold by the gallon, decanted from imported drums, by the local garages. Solomon’s opened another station in Narra Backs in 1964, which they expanded in in the late 1980s. The pumps at The Market were closed in the early 1990s due to safety/traffic congestion issues. The Narra Backs station is now Jamestown’s only filling station.

Market from Ladder Hill Road 1984 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Market from Ladder Hill Road, 1984{c}

Note also that the market keeps changing colour, usually between deep red and light gray, though in 1984 it appears it was pale green…

The Market is generally stocked with fruit and flowers…
‘A Souvenir of St Helena, c.1905

Flax Mills 

Fairyland Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Broad Bottom Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Broad Bottom

From 1874 until 1966 St Helena’s economy was dominated by New Zealand Flaxphormium tenax, which was grown across the island and used to make string, mostly for the UK Royal Mail. In 1917 175 men and 42 women were employed in the flax industry. There were Flax Mills across the island where the flax was processed. Many of these are in disrepair, but some can be seen. There are plans to open a flax museum. For more see our page on the Flax Industry.


Churches Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Forts Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Our fascinating collection of historic and more modern churches is described on our Churches of St Helena page. Our forts and batteries have a page of their own, as do the other military installations. And some other buildings you might want to explore are shown on our Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown and Historic Buildings In Brief - Country pages.

How buildings change 

Jamestown, in particular, has always been a working town, and its buildings have been adapted over the years for various uses. Presented below are a few examples:

Below: Jackson’s ChemistsThe Malabar

Jackson’s Chemists

Thomas Jackson arrived in St Helena c.1864. At some point he set up a Chemist’s shop in Jamestown, as illustrated by the first two photographs below. He also pulled teeth, cut hair and was a photographer producing postcards of St Helena. We don’t know when the chemist’s closed but by the 1950s it was advertising itself as a Garage (photo 3). Later the building became owned by Solomon’s and became the Hardware Store. In 1963 Solomon’s decided to block in the elegant Georgian balcony{5}, presumably to create more work-space upstairs. The fourth photograph shows this work nearly completed. The fifth photo, from c.1980 shows it as the Solomon’ Hardware Store. Following major extensions at the back it became Solomon’ DIY Store in 2001, as it remains today (photo 6).

Jackson’s c.1900 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Jackson’s, c.1900

Jackson’s c.1900 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Jackson’s, c.1900

Jackson’s c.1900 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Jackson’s, c.1900

1930s. Note ‘Garage’ sign Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
1930s. Note ‘Garage’ sign{d}

Unknown 1950s Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Unknown, 1950s

Solomon’s 1963 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Solomon’s, 1963

Somomon’s c.1980 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Somomon’s, c.1980

Somomon’s 2007 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Somomon’s, 2007


Mr Jackson was the husband of historian Emily L. Jackson.

The Malabar

The Malabar building in Jamestown, a Grade II listed building named after a ship whose cargo was stored there, was a house in 1787, owned by one John Pritchard. At some point it was purchased by Solomon’s. In the 1980s it was used as a Solomon’s wholesale groceries outlet, supplying retailers, and later it became a warehouse. In 2015/16 Solomon’s undertook restoration of the Malabar, which had been boarded up for many years and was, until 2015, still used for storage. The pre-and post-restoration photos are shown below:

Malabar 1974 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Malabar, 1974

Malabar 2007 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Malabar, 2007

Malabar 2016 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Malabar, 2016


Restoration problems 

Essex House Main Street Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Essex House, Main Street, Jamestown

Essex House underwent restoration in 2009. Things did not go totally to plan. The following appeared in the St Helena Independent on 20th November 2009:

The Heritage Construction Project is progressing well but one problem has occurred. For several weeks, work has been undertaken to put the façade on Essex House, the home of the Legal, Lands and Planning Department, into its original state. It is possible to chip and plaster the bottom part of the wall, but higher up it has been disclosed that the wall is completely hollow and further works could lead to the wall crumbling and falling down. It is anticipated that the upper part of the wall has to be taken down and rebuilt next year. Further details are to be released shortly.{6}

Lost and almost-lost Buildings 

You can read about some significant restoration failures on our Lost and almost-lost Buildings page.

The Model Cottage Mystery 

Model Cottage sign Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

At the top of Sapper Way, on the edge of Plantation, is a house called Model Cottage. There is nothing extraordinary about this building except one thing - an inscription above the window featuring three Chinese characters.

Many theories have been advanced to explain this. It is known that a barracks for the Chinese labourers had existed somewhere in the area, but Model Cottage is clearly not that building. It has been suggested that the structure was once a Chinese temple, but the layout of the building is all wrong for that explanation.

The translation of the characters only a little more helpful. Pronounced ‘Shieh-Tian-Gon’, they literally translate as ‘assist-god(sky)-Lord’. ‘Shieh-Tian’ (assisting god) is one of the many Taoism titles of a historical figure called Guan-Yu, a brave military general in the late 2nd Century and one of the best-known Chinese historical figures. People respect him so much they worship him as one of the highest gods in Taoism. So the temples for Guan-Yu are sometimes called ‘Shieh-Tian Temple’ or ‘Shieh-Tian something’.

But, as previously mentioned, the building is not structured as a temple and a temple would have the inscription over the main door, not over a window. It is also unlikely that The East India Company would have allowed lowly Chinese labourers - who were only one step up from slaves - to use such a substantial building as a temple. And anyway, a different expert claims the inscription reads ‘This is the Mess House of the Master Craftsmen’.

A more credible explanation is that the building was never a temple, and may not even have been used by the Chinese. The inscription stone (whatever it says) could have come from a demolished temple, or might even have been fabricated as a tribute to the Chinese who used to live in the area, possibly using random Chinese characters never intended to carry any meaning.

So what is the true history of Model Cottage? If anyone can provide an answer please contact us.

Model Cottage Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Model Cottage

The ‘Listing’ system 

Reference is made above to buildings being ‘Grade I Listed’. Some island buildings are afforded a form of statutory protection because of their historic and architectural importance. This is known as Listing. The system is similar to that used in the UK, but (as always) with some local variations.

Most of the Listed buildings on St Helena were identified by the Crallan Report in 1974. The full list appears in Appendix 7 (10.8Mb). Three Grades of Listing are applied: I, II and III. Broadly, the Grade indicaes how important the building is to St Helena’s heritage, with Grade I being the most important. Grade I Listed buildings include The Castle, St. James’ Church, Jacob’s Ladder, Plantation House and High Knoll Fort.

It is a common misconception that the Grade of a listed building controls what alterations are automatically permitted and what require grant of Planning Permission. Actually, technically, any alteration to a Listed building, irrespective of its Grade, requires Planning Permission, though in practice this is only applied to building and engineering operations (including demolition) or the making of a material change in use of land. This would usually exclude the general cosmetic upkeep of the building. Hence it is not necessary to seek Planning Permission to repaint a door, but it would be necessary before adding an extra room or demolishing a garden wall. The Grade of the building does not affect this; it is merely a guideline for the Planning Authority to use when considering whether to grant consent.

The criteria adopted for listing are broadly that a building should display one or more of the following features:

  • Architectural design, decoration and craftsmanship;

  • Important examples of particular building types and techniques and significant plan forms;

  • Illustrations of important aspects of the nation’s social, economic, cultural or military history;

  • Close historical association with nationally important people or events;

  • Group value especially where buildings comprise an important architectural or historic group or a fine example of planning e.g. squares, terraces or model villages.

Read More 

Below: Historic Environment RecordArticle: Jamestown is specialArticle: Archaeological Discovery behind 1, 2, 3 Main Street

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.
For a chronological summary of our island’s history please see our A Brief History page.
For the avoidance of doubt, you participate in any activities described herein entirely at your own risk.

Many other sites discuss the historic buildings of St Helena. Here are a few:

HER image Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Historic Environment Record

For more about our historic buildings consult The Historic Environment Record.

Article: Jamestown is special

Published in the St Helena Herald 14th July 2006{8}

Association Hall and 1 2 & 3 Main St. all Grade 1 Listed Buildings Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings
Association Hall and 1, 2 & 3 Main St., all Grade 1 Listed Buildings

It occurred to me recently that most people do not know why our old buildings are important, and need to be valued. I have been interested in researching for some time on this subject and would like to share some thoughts on this with you. We hear a lot about preserving our Natural Environment - the wirebird and the endemic insects and plants, and our Marine Environment - but not so much about our Built Environment. So we will look at why Jamestown buildings are so special that Martin Drury, retired Director of the National Trust of England, Northern Ireland and Wales, said of Jamestown:

I cannot think of a town in the UK whose 18th and early 19th century character is so well preserved.

This is why Hugh Crallan, an architect, came to the island in 1974, commissioned by the Government of St Helena to grade our historic buildings, and give us guidelines for protecting them. He left the Crallan Report, which is readily available for all to see in the Records, Library, National Trust Office, Lands Office etc.

This report is not out of date as someone said to me some years ago when I cited it. Our buildings date from the 1700’s, so although the report is 32 years old, its recommendations do not change, and as tourism becomes our future, we need to preserve what we have even more. Developers often argue for change on grounds of progress, but we don’t want to kill what people come to see, and our buildings and forts are a part of that.

Because restoring a building to its former glory is more expensive than replacing things with more modern materials, it was suggested by Crallan that, like the UK, there should be a Grants system put in place to help private owners with the extra expense. Consequently, SHG commissioned a Report in 1996 on a Grants System. Unfortunately this has never been implemented{9}. However this should not mean that people do not understand the importance of the building they own in the great plan of things, and should be proud to be a part of this history. Crallan reports that, in England, owners of Listed Buildings are told of the Listing and what this entails. This would be good practice here, giving owners a list of the restrictions on alterations, and the legal requirements, and helping them to understand how important it is to preserve what they have or intend to buy.

Crallan gave the buildings Grades. There are 18 Grade 1 Listed Buildings in Jamestown, excluding the wharf, 51 Grade 11 and 61 Grade 111.

The built environment is our collective heritage, whether the buildings are privately owned or owned by SHG.

Article: Archaeological Discovery behind 1, 2, 3 Main Street

Press Release issued by St Helena Hotel Development Ltd., August 2016{8}

Water feature 1 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

As part of the Archaeological Mitigation Strategy, Adam Sizeland and Edward Baldwin from the Museum of St Helena, working on behalf of Mantis Developments, made an interesting discovery. Mr Baldwin explained:

While digging test pits to check for archaeological remains in the back gardens of the Georgian houses at 1, 2, 3 Main Street, Jamestown, in their second 1m square by 1m+ deep test pit, they found part of a curious curved wall, which could not be immediately explained.

It was constructed of carefully selected flat stones and solidly pointed with hard lime mortar, finished smooth on the inside of the curve. If part of a full circle, this was estimated to have a diameter of approx. 5 metres. As this was at the depth of one metre, it was decided to make further investigations once the surface level had been reduced to the construction level required by AGMAC CONSTRUCTION AFRICA cc, the construction Management contractor.

While surface stripping was being carried out, the excavator pulled out a chunk of similar curved masonry in the back garden of No 3. Detailed excavation by hand followed and revealed this to be part of a similar circular structure which proved to be exactly eight feet in diameter and about a foot deep. The base consisted of a paving of small beetle stones, solidly pointed with the same white lime mortar. On the South side of the circle, the circular wall increased in height to at least two feet from the base.

Water feature 2 Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Mr Baldwin provided an explanation of these structures being a public water supply of fresh water, channelled from further up the valley. A location where early inhabitants of Jamestown would have collected their drinking water. A spout would have been provided so that a pail could be placed beneath, probably on a support structure of some kind, which has not survived. This basin was allowed to overflow into the lower 16 foot basin, which would have been used for washing clothes and possibly even personal ablutions and watering animals. Mr Baldwin is delighted to be involved with this finding as he stated:

This water system was clearly in use for some time before the construction of the buildings of No1, 2, 3 so a reasonable date would be 1700-1725. However, it could be earlier. This public water supply is probably the oldest surviving structure in Lower Jamestown; certainly the oldest structure known, which has not been modified since 1740, apart from the accidental partial demolitions.

With this in mind, Mantis Development and AGMAC CONSTRUCTION AFRICA cc are working closely with the Technical Design Team on the possibilities of incorporating this unique Archaeological feature within the Hotel Designs.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Historic Buildings

Laugh at funny Historic Buildings humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


{a} ‘Land Use on Saint Helena Island’ CNTR 04 6588

{b} Equality & Human Rights Commission

{c} Andrew/Peter Neaum

{d} Neil Fantom


{1} The Records show that the shed to the left of the Market, where the Bridge Memorial Clock now stands, was actually the Police Station!

{2} With Christmas decorations.

{3} Note the newly-fitted windows just under the roof, which caused controversy because they are made of uPVC - not exactly a traditional building material!

{4} Which used to flow down the east side of the valley. It was diverted to its present course at some unknown date.

{5} A crime, by modern heritage standards!

{6} Leading to many jokes about Government in St Helena being merely a façade with no core!

{7} See more blogs.

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

{9} And still hasn’t.

{10} Interestingly it seems that, originally this building was constructed as a water cistern, storing water from ‘The Run{4} for collection by ships. Past uses, apart from for Customs, include as a studio by artist F. Oswell Jones. In the late 20th Century local kids referred to it as the Pirate’s Den.

Take Me Anywhere But Here!

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