➥ Loading Saint Helena Island Info

*

*

Houses and Housing

A home on the range

The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!{f}

About the houses people live in on St Helena

Grand Country Houses

Read’s map, 1817, showing prominent houses
Read’s map, 1817, showing prominent houses

Like Britain, St Helena has its grand country houses. Built in the main for the colonial administrators, mostly in the 18th and 19th centuries, they are dotted around the island, as Read’s map illustrates (right).

Examples include Wranghams in Sandy Bay (a traditional Georgian-period house planned over lower ground and 2 upper levels), Prospect House{2}, Mount Pleasant, Oaklands, Maldivia House, Bamboo Hedge, Alarm House and many more.

The majority of the traditional houses on St Helena were built in the English Georgian style, but paired down in materials and detail to reflect the rather limited resources available on St Helena. The facades are generally symmetrical, with a central entrance and from 3 to 8 window bays. The entrance will lead to an entry hall, with symmetrical reception rooms on either side.

They are primarily built of rubble stone and mud mortar, with rectangular ashlar pieces cut for the corners, and a smooth plaster finish. Lime was discovered on the island in 1708 but was always scarce, and mud was still commonly used as a mortar through the 1800s.

Prior to 1840 houses were built with wooden lintels, floor joists and roof beams, but because of the arrival of White Ants in 1840, causing buildings all over the island to collapse, the wood components were replaced with termite-proof tropical hardwoods or with metal. Post 1840, buildings were designed with metal beams.

Until recently many had ended up in the hands of the St Helena Government, but some (for example Wranghams) have now been sold to private owners, with more sales planned.

…and don’t forget Plantation House, home of the Governor of St Helena (and of Jonathan the tortoise) and Longwood House where Napoleon stayed during his exile here

‍Mount Pleasant‍

Mount Pleasant was the home of Sir William Webber Doveton in the 1800s. There is today a house at Mount Pleasant, but is not the one Napoleon visited in October 1820. The current single-storey building was reconstructed by W A Thorpe in 1904. In Doveton/Napoleon’s time it would almost certainly have been a two storey building (this can just be seen in a drawing by Denzil Ibbetson).

Houses in Jamestown were originally thatched. A petition to The East India Company dated 8th May 1717 says: We recommend that Tyles be sent for the roofs. Thatched houses are so much exposed to accidents [i.e. fire] that we think it a great mercy the Town which is all thatched has stood so long as it has.

Ordinary houses

But ordinary people don’t live in houses like these. What is a typical St Helena house like? Well, for a start there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ St Helena house! There are no housing estates on St Helena and mostly houses are individually built to a style that suits the owner. Some say that’s untidy, but be that as it may it certainly isn’t boring! Modern houses tend to be built of concrete blocks; older houses use stone. The photographs below illustrate some ordinary houses:

One feature you will notice that almost all St Helena houses share is an outdoor seating area. Across the island it is warm enough to sit and eat outside, especially in the summer. All have mains water and, apart from a very few, electricity. Telephone and the Internet are available everywhere except the most remote locations. The white tank seen on many roofs is for solar water heating.

88% of homes are detached houses; 9% are semi-detached or terraced and 3% are flats. 98.9% of them have a bath or shower and 99.6% have a flush toilet.{g}

One curiosity to notice towards the top of Jamestown is ‘The Brick House’, so named because it is made from (imported) bricks which is unusual here. As mentioned above, most older houses are built with stone and modern ones with concrete blocks.

New Jamestown houses

In the 1950s money became available to improve the housing stock in Jamestown under the Colonial Development and Welfare Housing Scheme. This was considered sufficiently important that pictures of these new constructions appeared in The ‘Blue Book’s for 1952 and 1954, as below:

Home is where the heart is.{h}

Where do people live?

Look at the image below:

Population distribution
Population distribution

Population density
Population density{g}

The headland to the left (Jamestown is in the valley at the far left) is Half Tree Hollow, which is where most Saints live{g}. Further along is New Ground (in the St Pauls area) and as the distance from Jamestown increases, the housing density reduces. You can see this diagramatically (right) and in summary:

In Half Tree Hollow there are 666 people per Km²; at the other extreme, in Blue Hill there are only 5 people per Km². (Jamestown has a higher density of buildings than Half Tree Hollow but many are shops and offices so the population density is around 200 people per Km².)

It should be noted that in 2021 69% of people owned their own house{g}.

Below 2% of St Helena’s land area is used for human settlement.

Addresses

Haven sign

Few homes on St Helena have a house number. Where a home is part of a block (e.g. flats) there may be a flat number but the block’s address will almost certainly not have a number in it. Even where houses are grouped into a street (e.g. Napoleon Street) they are not numbered. Some houses have names but not all. It is quite common for an address to include ‘Near …’, referring to some nearby prominent building or a named house.

The lack of an organised way of identifying homes is not a problem for the postal service because your post is not actually delivered to your door - you have to collect it from the Post Office in Jamestown or from a nearby shop (to-your-door delivery has been attempted in the past but was abandoned each time - maybe this is why?) However it can cause problems when trying to direct somebody to a particular property. The editor of this website frequently directs people who wish to call by describing his home as the brown house in Napoleon Street on the corner with Nosegay Lane (the house on the opposite corner is blue!) We have heard of people being given the following directions:

Legal Addresses

Of course, properties have to be registered legally with a unique reference. This is done by Registration Section, optionally Block Number (for more densely built-up areas), and Parcel Number. A typical legal property identity might then be Jamestown, Block 7, Parcel Number 2 or Barren Ground, Parcel Nuumber 61. Note that a parcel does not necessarily have to have a building on it. The Registration Sections are shown in the map below:

Buy property here?

St Helena has no estate agents (realtors) so to find a property for sale you need to know the local market - fine if you already live here but not so good if you are overseas.

Your best approach is to regularly read our newspaper, as houses for sale are often advertised therein.

Thinking of buying a home in Lower Jamestown? Think again…

Lower Jamestown might at first appear to be quite an attractive place to own a home, especially if you work ‘in town’. You are close to the main shops, and pretty-much any event that is going to happen is on your doorstep so if you have a few drinks you have no problem getting home. Naturally these events generate a bit of noise and car parking can be a problem, but in a year there are fewer than twenty such events.

Noise Map

Sadly, the area immediately surrounding The Bridge{3} is also a very noisy place to live even when there are no events going on. Apart from general traffic and ‘bustle’ the primary sources of noise are:

There is no meaningful noise-abatement legislation on St Helena and no Zoning, and because Jamestown is a narrow valley with bare sides the sound tends to echo around. Plus of course it’s warm in Jamestown, even in the winter, so all the doors and windows are open and the sound travels. One home in the area recorded noise levels of 85dB in their courtyard on a Saturday night. And if all of that wasn’t enough, people doing DIY seem to like to start work at dawn on Sunday… One resident commented that the bars keep you awake until 2am, then the street cleaners, hammering & power-saws wake you up at 6am.

If you like noise and partying, a house in lower Jamestown could be your ideal home. If you prefer peace and quiet either buy somewhere else or allow in your budget for importing double glazing…

Developments

Since the start of the Millennium there have been plans for two major housing developments on St Helena, but until February 2020 nothing much had happened except drawing up plans.

Below: Half Tree HollowBottom WoodsBunkers Hill

Half Tree Hollow

60 homes were planned in 2002 for Half Tree Hollow but at the time of writing little progress has been made:

Deveopment plan, Half Tree Hollow, 2013

60 New Homes for Half Tree Hollow

New housing for Half Tree Hollow moves a step closer this week with the publication of a draft layout for the Comprehensive Development Area (CDA) in Half Tree Hollow. The proposals have been sent to residents in and around the CDA for their comments before a planning application is submitted. The designs for individual homes will also be circulated for comment.

Housing Executive, Andy Crowe said: Back in March we asked for comments through the Housing Newsletter, the Business Seminar at Prince Andrew School and a drop-in session at the Half Tree Hollow Community Centre. We also consulted SHG departments responsible for the environment, drainage, roads and planning. The problems of sewerage and water retention were high among most peoples’ priorities. The steep slopes and the rocky surface make it a very difficult site to develop, but there is clearly a demand for all types of housing - to buy, rent and self-build - so we hope to be able to offer everyone an opportunity.{i}

The Government of St Helena did announce in July 2023 that it was looking for a developer to bring a commercial approach to the plan. The notice estimated the number of new homes to be produced as 50-70.

Bottom Woods

Shown below, left is the 2014 plan for building 200 homes in Bottom Woods, in the Longwood District - the ‘Comprehensive Development Area’ (CDA). Over the following years this latter plan was shelved, re-enacted, amended, trimmed, and finally on 21st February 2020 the Government of St Helena announced that work would commence immediately, but aiming to build only 28 homes. The site could, apparently, hold 40 (rather a lot fewer than the 200 originally envisaged) but the area’s sewage system could only cope with 28. The revised plan is shown below, right, and included ‘some’ homes that would be sold to qualifying local residents at up to 50% discount, and also six Government Landlord Houses. Site clearance began in June 2020. 39 plots were offered for sale - the last eleven being sold for future use only after the sewage system is extended (at the time of writing no date has been announced for this). ‘Phase 2’ (excavation of the 14 land parcels and road layout) was declared complete in December 2020.

Bunkers Hill

Another development, started in 2022, is at Bunkers Hill at the head of Ruperts Valley, aiming to build up to 148 plots in nine phases.

Government Landlord Houses

Batchelors’ Quarters
Batchelors’ Quarters

Government Landlord Houses are built and owned by the Government of St Helena for the specific purpose of providing accommodation for those unable to afford commercial market rents who would otherwise be homeless. Demand invariably exceeds supply. At the time of writing some of these are still below the standard normally acceptable for housing people, though a programme is underway to effect refurbishment (subject to available funds). The image (right) shows Batchelors’ Quarters near Castle Gardens - single bedroom housing which, despite the name, is not reserved for single men.

Read More

Below: Article: Solving the Housing Crisis?Article: Writer praises reprieve for historic St Helena houseArticle: A Quick Word from Our Lords

Article: Solving the Housing Crisis?

by Andrew Turner 8th May 2015{4}

IKEA flat-packed house

St Helena is in the middle of a housing crisis. Currently there are many people needing affordable housing and so far, despite many attempts, no solution has been found. In recent years it has been suggested that we use bamboo and steel frame houses to create cheap homes that could be easily constructed. So far nothing has panned out. I think however the solution comes, strangely enough, from IKEA.

For those who don’t know, IKEA is a Swedish company specialising in flat-packed furniture. In 1996, together with a Swedish housing company, they designed and began producing wooden, flat-packed houses. These houses come in a wide variety of styles, can cost as little as £10,000 and have a number of benefits over bamboo and steel frame houses.

The major benefit is the cost. When the plans for steel framed houses were done up they were estimated to cost around £50,000 per house, although they ended up costing far more than that. For that money we got a house that has since been found to be unsuitable for St Helena. The IKEA houses can, as I have said, cost at minimum £10,000 for a reasonable sized home. Their flat-packed arrangement also makes for convenient use of space when shipping, lowering costs in that department too. They are also incredibly quick and easy to build, meaning that labour costs for the construction would also be down.

Bamboo houses were another option looked at, although that fell through quickly when nobody could be found who was willing to invest in the venture. It was later discovered that the island did not have enough water to supply a large scale bamboo growth. Not to mention that bamboo would only work in the warmer areas of the island, such as Jamestown or Half Tree Hollow, making them useless for the planned build sites in Bottom Woods.

The flat-packed houses are mostly wooden and are therefore considered to be more environmentally friendly than steel or concrete houses. The wood is sourced from renewable sources and Swedish timber is well known to be of a very high quality.

Article: Writer praises reprieve for historic St Helena house

By Simon Pipe, 20th September 2013{4}

A fresh call has been made by a writer on St Helenian heritage to protect what remains of its grand country houses.

John Tyrrell also praises executive councillors for refusing to lift some of the protection from Wranghams in Sandy Bay, to allow it to be sold by St Helena Government.

These fine Georgian country houses, reflecting the aspirations, life styles and aesthetic tastes of St Helena’s elite, are a vital part of the island’s heritage, and an unique part also of British colonial history, he writes.

Wranghams has in the past had some unsympathetic alterations, but it could be restored to something approaching its original state, and it is encouraging that the new crop of councillors are sensitive to such issues. I do hope that the means to save Wranghams will be found before it is too late.

His article is illustrated with photographs from a return visit to the island in early 2013. He highlights the beautifully restored Oakbank and also Farm Lodge, now a boutique hotel.

But Rock Rose, and sadly now Teutonic Hall, look to be past the point of no return. And Rose Cottage, the home of the late Tony Thornton until he was ordered to leave the island, had become so swallowed up by plants that it was not visible until he reached its walls.

This provides a graphic illustration of what can happen quite quickly to houses that are neglected on St Helena, writes John, in his Reflections on a Journey to St Helena website{5}.

Editor’s Note: Wranghams was sold to a private buyer sometime in late 2014/early 2015 and has now been restored, as have both Rock Rose and Teutonic Hall.

Article: A Quick Word from Our Lords

By Vince Thompson, published in The Independent 15th November 2013{4}

During a recent debate in the House of Lords on the economies of the British Overseas Territories, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville rose to his feet to say a few words about St Helena, and only about St Helena.

He first pointed out that St Helena is noted for its Georgian architecture but, as he put it, it is not in the best of shape. He then went on to explain, at some length, that one of his ancestors was Governor Robert Brooke (1787-1801). Governor Brooke distinguished himself by improving discipline in the army by lashing the soldiers less often; he also improved the Island’s fortifications. Lord Brooke proudly pointed out during the debate in the House of Lords, one of my forebears was a governor, and a good one.

Lord Brooke went on to say that Governor Brooke brought his nephew, Thomas Brooke, to St Helena to act as his secretary. Thomas Brooke remained the Governor’s Secretary until 1834, during which time he wrote a book on St Helena and was Acting Governor for a time.

The Brooke presence in St Helena was during the Georgian period and the architecture that came with it. Add to that the Brooke influence on the Island’s fortifications and the link between Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville and St Helena’s built heritage starts to become clear. However the link is not as strong as Lord Brooke would like; he wants to become more involved. As he explained and then complained, The years 1787 to 1834 spanned many Georgian years. Every time I have an opportunity I ask for details of the way to help the conservation programme. Every time I am promised the details, but answer comes there none.

He had more to say about his attempts to make a personal financial contribution to the conservation of our built heritage and how they had come to nought but I think the point he made is already adequately explained.

LOL

Credits:
{a} Neil Fantom{b} Ed Thorpe{c} Social Media User{6}{d} Cliff Huxtable{e} Marc Lavaud/Tourist Information Office{f} William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham{g} 2021 Census, taken 7th February 2021.{h} Ancient saying{i} SHG Press Release, 6 August 2013{4}

@@FNCRRETADV@@

Footnotes:
{1} Built by historian T. H. Brooke, Esq..{2} Built by historian T. H. Brooke, Esq..{3} Lower Market Street, Napoleon Street, Main Street and the associated side-roads.{4} @@RepDis@@{5} See more blogs.{6} Posted on Social Media and used with the poster’s permission but they wish to remain anonymous.

@@FNCRRETADV@@

Ⓘ houses.htm⋅processforftp⋅fb:1.10.0⋅wombat2018⋅24.07