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Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown

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There is a small English town within the great bay, standing in a little valley between two high steep mountains.
T. H. Brooke, Esq., quoting Captain Dampier, who visited in 1691

St Helena has many historic buildings. The ones here are only introduced - to learn more, just explore them!

This page is in indexes: Island Structures, Island History, Island Activity, Island Detail

The Arch, Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
The Arch, Jamestown

This page should be read in conjunction with our Historic Buildings page, which goes into more detail about our more significant historic buildings and links to pages describing many more, and our Historic Buildings In Brief - Country page which introduces ‘up-country’ buildings.

Below: The PrisonThe ArchThe Post OfficeForesters’ HallMusk’s BakeryYacht Club HQAssociation Hall and 1, 2, 3 Main StreetPoor Society BuildingThe MoonWellington House‘The Standard’Read More

The Prison

HM Prison, Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

The prison was built in 1827 and is still in use today, the building largely unaltered. If you want to see the inside, you first have to commit a crime…

The prison was declared unsuitable for further use in the 1850s and Governor Gore Brown built a replacement at Rupert’s in 1853. This was a model prison designed by Colonel Jebb, constructed mainly of timber and sent out from England in kit form. Construction was completed towards the end of 1854 and the prisoners were re-located. But the Rupert’s Prison was short lived - in 1867 a military prisoner who was confined there burnt it to the ground, and the prisoners had to be moved back to the old prison. This was reported in the 1867 ‘Blue Book’{1} with the following comment:

With the present claims upon the Government I see but little hope of commencing a new jail for the next two or three years.

years later and the -year-old prison remains in use!

The photo on the right shows Andries Smorenburg, one of the Boer Prisoners, being led out for trial in 1901 after he attempted to escape from St Helena (more on the Boer Prisoners (1900-1902) page).

The prison does not conform to modern standards, and plans have been drawn to relocate prisoners to a new purpose-built prison, but these are currently suspended while a suitable location is found…as they have been since the 1990s!

Andries Smorenburg, Boer Prisoner [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

The Arch

The Arch, Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

The Arch is the entrance to Jamestown from the Wharf. The current arch was constructed in 1832, prior to which there was a simple bridge across the moat in this position and access to town was also from behind where the Customs Building now stands. Some reconstruction work was undertaken in August 1989.

Plaque above The Arch [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
North side

The Post Office

Post Office building, Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
Government Lace School, 1908 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
Government Lace School, 1908
1950s [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Described by Crallan as a “fine Victorian Building” but actually rather older, it was originally a private house (it was, inter alia, the winter residence of Lt. Gen. John Skelton) and then from 1820 the Soldiers & Sailors Institute (photo, upper right){2}, after the withdrawal of the Garrison in 1906 it became the base of the Government Lace School from 1907 (photo, lower left). In c.1915 the Post Office was moved from The Castle, restricting the Lace School to the top floor. When the latter closed in 1917 the top floor was used for accommodation.

Now with the growth of email and the Internet, the building is too large to be filled by the Post Office alone. From 2003 to 2010 it was shared wth the Bank of St Helena. Now it houses a variety of Government offices, though the Post Office still operates from there.

Close inspection of Hugh Crallan’s 1970s photograph (below) suggests that at some point the rear of the building was altered. The blockwork to the right of the central staircase is materially different to the construction used in the remainder of the building, but note that the right-most wall is closer to the style of the left-hand side. It is not known when this was done or what was there before.

Crallan, 1974 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
Crallan, 1974{a}

Soldiers & Sailors Institute, c.1900 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
Soldiers & Sailors Institute, c.1900

1960s [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Foresters’ Hall

Foresters’ Hall (Recent) [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Foresters’ Hall was formerly owned by the Ancient Order of Foresters. It is not known when the building was actually constructed; the Order was founded in December 1871 but the building is probably older. The Hall was used in 1942 to house some of the survivors of the SS City of Cairo.

The Ancient Order of Foresters was dissolved on 2nd May 2000. The building is now owned by the Thorpe Family and let as office space.

Foresters’ Hall, 1974 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
Foresters’ Hall, 1974

Musk’s Bakery

Formerly Musk’s Bakery, Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Formerly Musk’s Bakery, Jamestown, the island’s main bakery. Started in the 1940s, Musk’s closed the bakery on 31st July 2007. Two successive owners failed to make a viable bakery business there and it is now a gift and haberdashery store. If you ask nicely they may allow you to explore…

Yacht Club HQ

The Yacht Club [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

One of the older buildings on the wharf (seen in the earliest photos) this is now the home of the St Helena Yacht Club.

Wharf buildings, 1890s [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Association Hall and 1, 2, 3 Main Street

Grade I listed buildings [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

It is not known when Association Hall (left, white) was built; probably in the 18th Century, like the surrounding buildings. In the early 1900s the building was managed as a hotel (‘The Hotel’). It remained a hotel up until 1948 when it was bought by Solomons. In later years, the building was owned by the Working Men’s Christian Association and acquired its current name. It is now a commercial building, owned by the Thorpe Family, on three levels with rented accommodation at the top (the dormer windows were added during the renovation in 2001).

The other three buildings are numbers 1, 2 & 3 Main Street. These were built in the late 18th Century as houses for Government officials, on the former site of St. James’ Church. They were until recently Government of St Helena offices but are now being converted into a hotel{3}.

‘The Hotel’ (right), 1887 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
‘The Hotel’ (right), 1887

Poor Society Building

Former Poor Society building [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

The Poor Society building in Market Street, Jamestown was renovated by the Government of St Helena after the Poor Society closed in 2000. Sadly the renovation lost many important aspects of the original building. Note the modern-style replacement windows, rather than renovating the original sash windows.

Poor Society building, 1974 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

The Moon

The ‘Moon’ [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

The ‘Moon’ is in Napoleon Street{4}, Jamestown. A plaque outside The ‘Moon’ says the building dates from 1763, but the plaque was added when the buildings were restored in the 1990s so can only report the best understanding at the time. It was originally a ‘Punch House’ (a rather basic type of Pub) and is thought also to have been a brothel{5}. It is said that slaves were held in its cellars before being taken to be sold. It became a private house and remained so until the 1990s when it was sold for restoration.

Local legend has it that the building is so-named because the ‘famous astronomers’ (Halley, Maskelyne, etc.) used to meet there. Charming though this story is, Halley & Maskelyne were not actually here at the same time. And if the plaque on the building gives its correct date of construction, that was two years after Maskelyne left, and 63 years after Halley’s last visit.

It is known to have been the location of the inquest by Mr. T. B. Knipe held on 16th September 1845 into the death of James Emily “who had fractured his skull by throwing himself over a precipice on the side of Ladder Hill, that morning about six o’clock”.

It now houses the Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]Moonbeams Shop. Visitors are, of course, welcome during shop opening hours!

The ‘Moon’, 1902 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
The ‘Moon’, 1902

Before restoration, 1970s [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
Before restoration, 1970s

Wellington House

Wellington House, Main Street, Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Wellington House was probably built in the late 1730s, on the site of the old ‘Sessions House’ that collapsed on 2nd January 1735. In September 1738 the East India Company granted a lease to one Francis Wrangham{6} (who was Secretary to the Council), covering an area of 40x200ft, on the understanding that he would build a “substantial dwelling house” with “convenient speed”. The current building is the result.

Wellington House today is a guest house, and welcomes visitors.

Two signatures, scratched into the window glass, probably with a diamond, have attracted the attention of historians. One reads either “Sally Wrenton, 1781” OR “Jas Wrenton, 1781” (‘Jas’ was a common abbreviation for James). The other reads “Bazette Knipe, 1865”. Neither is thought to have any great historical significance - they were, perhaps, just Graffiti!

Did the Duke of Wellington stay at Wellington House?

It’s a popular belief that Wellington House is so-named because Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington stayed there during his visit in 1805. But actually he didn’t. In Jamestown he stayed at (Old) Porteous House, just across the road from Wellington House, which was destroyed by fire on 2nd April 1865 and recently re-built. He also stayed at The Briars. Wellington House is named in his honour - that’s all{7}.

‘The Standard’

‘The Standard’, 2017 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

1974 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

The current building housing the pub ‘The Standard’ is a boring 1960s-built concrete box, but the building it replaced, also housing ‘The Standard’, was far more interesting.

You can see it in the photos (right) and (below). Apparently it was clad with corrugated iron, but over what we don’t know. Was the corrugated iron original, or was it installed to protect an earlier decaying structure?

We are trying to find out more about this original building. If you can help, please contact us.

Undated [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

1947 [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Undated [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Read More

Article: “Conservation - Not Preservation

Published in the St Helena Independent 31st August 2007{8}

Ian Serjeant [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]

Last Friday, Saint FM and the Independent had a visit from Ian Serjeant, who is on the Island working with the National Trust for a few weeks as a volunteer. Ian had some time off work and had read about St Helena and about how interesting it was so he thought he would volunteer his services to work as a specialist on the conservation of historic buildings so he has come out to help and develop a database of the historic buildings, but also to update what’s been done in this area before. He would also like to do some training for the staff in Legal Land Planning to help them understand about the historic environment.

St Helena has a wonderful heritage”, says Ian, “because you’ve got some buildings that go back to the 1600s. Jamestown is an absolute gem, there’s just nothing quite like it or anything as good as it anywhere in the world, in my view, it is a unique and very special place and it needs to be looked after”, he said.

I think there is a two-fold effort needed to look after this unique heritage. I think Government needs to help. I think it would be good if there was some sort of grant system to help private owners, but equally, on the other hand, private owners need to recognise that they have responsibilities as well. I think it is a shared responsibility to maintain and repair the buildings, but it is important that they are kept in use. It is also important that they are allowed to develop uses, particularly when we are thinking about the changes that will happen on the Island with the growth of tourism and there will be a demand for more tourist facilities and people will want to see tourism destinations like old buildings. In the UK, for instance, the National Trust has three million members. It is a hard number to contemplate. We are on an Island with maybe four thousand people at the moment, but three million members and what they do is they spend their time looking at old buildings, so there is a huge market for people to look at old buildings, but you can not just fossilise them; they have to be allowed to change to some degree, with changes internally or extensions, but it is about keeping the best of what we have. We are talking about conservation, not preservation. The buildings have an importance, not just locally, but internationally. You have got something here that is unique.

Rear of Essex House [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]
Rear of Essex House

It is expensive for a private person to own a listed building because you are going to spend more on materials, you have got to work to a higher standard and I understand that that can be a hard thing for private owners. It is the same in the UK, but we have some advantages in the UK in terms of allowances that Government give in terms of taxes and also in the UK people are eligible to apply for grants from for example the lottery funds, which we cannot get here. I think is a shame, but the lottery funds have said that they might be able to give grants for training so that is another thing to investigate. Grants are available in UK and I think something of that order could be looked at here. This would certainly encourage private owners to maybe invest more themselves so I would like to see some sort of partnership developing which is the way forward.

Generally, the historic buildings I have seen around Jamestown are not in bad order. I have been to places and seen far worse buildings, although some buildings are not brilliant. I have been looking at the report that was produced by Hugh Crallan back in 1974 where he produced this register of the listed buildings, which Government has adopted here and I have been looking at all of those, making notes and taking photographs. I find that, comparing what he recorded and what I now see, there is not a lot of difference. There has been some change, but it has been very limited. There are some houses which are in poor condition that need work, but equally, there are a many houses which people have spent a lot of money on. Many take great pride in these buildings and I think that is commendable and it is good to see well maintained buildings and I hope that sets an example for other people to follow. I have great hopes that the quality of buildings here will be maintained, but there are always going to be casualties. Looking at some of the houses, or the buildings rather, behind Ann’s Place, were actually old store buildings, because you had the house at the front and behind that you had the slave or servant quarters and then behind that there would be a garden, but at the very back there would be a huge warehouse, where all the goods was brought in. This was two, three hundred years ago, and these were huge warehouses and all that is left now is some of the walls basically. Now those things will probably go, but it is important to record them so we know what was there and what their function was. When a building is too far gone you have to say - okay, well let it go, but let us make a record of it so we know what it was like so we have got some record for the future so people will know how the place developed and how it functioned.

To mention some of the buildings in Jamestown, I think the whole Castle complex is amazing, wonderful, and I think a lot of the, what seems to be straightforward buildings coming up to the Canister are excellent. Wellington House/Yon’s Café, a lovely building. Essex House interests me with that colonnade at the back that is all held up with old railway lines, I think that is wonderful and where I am working, out of Broadway House. Inside there are original doors that are like two hundred and sixty years old with original door locks on. In the UK, these would be museum pieces, here they are literally part of the furniture - taken for granted almost, so there are real little gems around. I think the Castle complex is the most exciting, because we have got the remnants of a Castle and then built on to. There are now all the Government offices and buildings and trying to unravel how all this developed is quite an exercise, beyond me, but my colleagues Ben and Jeff are having a good go at it.

What Ian is trying to achieve in his time on the Island is to have the register of listed buildings updated. “I hope to have it complete so that there is a decent basis for examining plans for alterations so that people know what they are looking at. Also, I have promised to do some guidance notes about signs and I want to try to do some guidance for owners of listed buildings to help explain to them what their role is and what their responsibilities are. I have been here four weeks already and I have got three weeks to go so I can have only a limited impact. I think if local people get enthusiastic about their heritage a sort of opinion will, I hope, build up to say, -well we do need to keep our heritage, it is important to all of us, no matter what our background is. The Island’s heritage is important, not just the grand buildings. I was out at Harford School the other week doing a lesson for some eight year olds, which I found very scary, I don’t mind talking to professionals - that is easy. I can stand up and lecture to a hundred people, but not eight year olds. I showed a picture of Wellington House and a little one-storey cottage in Upper Jamestown and I said - which is the most important? They said the big building. I said, well, you are quite right in a way, but the little building is just as important, because that tells a different story, that tells a story of the ordinary people. The grand house is where the merchant lived perhaps, and that tells one story, but the little house is just as important. So, it’s trying to get this in perspective that it’s not just the big buildings that matter, the little, humble cottages out in the country can be just as important as the major ones, because they tell a different story, but it’s all of the Island’s history is wrapped up in these buildings.

Photos: Ian Serjeant

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{a} Hugh Crallan

{b} John Coyle

{c} Adam Sizeland


{1} Formally the ‘Colonial Annual Report’ - a document setting out the island’s income, expenditure and other administrative matters for the year. Signed by the Governor or acting Governor usually in April-June of the year following.

{2} An alternative explanation is that Crallan is almost correct, and that the Skelton’s house was demolished and the Soldiers & Sailors Institute constructed in its place.

{3} Amid some controvery. The conversion is being organised and funded by the Government of St Helena but many believe the Government should not be involving itself in hotel operations in competition with the private sector. This controvery grew when the Government of St Helena granted itself exemption from Customs Duties for the project…

{4} We understand that prior to Napoleon’s exile Napoleon Street was known as Cock Street. We do not know exactly when it was renamed. The Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab [Saint Helena Island Info:Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown]Moonbeams Shop is in Napoleon Street.

{5} Apparently the Officers’ brothels were in Napoleon Street, and the Enlisted Men’s brothels were in Market Street!

{6} Of Wranghams fame.

{7} For other debunked myths see our Myths Debunked! page.

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


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