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The city where it all happens

Petite ville, grand renom.
(Small town, great renown.)

If something is going to happen in St Helena, it’s likely it’s going to happen in Jamestown‍‍

Jamestown, the capital, is a small linear town on the northern side of the island which has grown up in a steep sided ravine running inland to the south from the sea, giving access to the interior of the island. The safe anchorage, sheltered from the trade winds, made this valley the perfect place for early development and fortification.{r}

This page discusses the City of Jamestown today. For the city’s history see our page Jamestown History. For the District see our page Jamestown (district).

About Jamestown

Jamestown is built on igneous rock in a small enclave, sandwiched between the steep cliffs that form James Valley. These cliffs are too unstable to support buildings, so the habitation is limited to the valley floor. Jamestown is thus rather long, thin and densely populated, with tightly knit, long and winding streets. Shrubs and trees decorate some of the street corners. The surrounding terrain is rough and steep, and rockfalls are an occurrence, in the past damaging buildings and causing loss of life, though extensive netting in recent years has almost eliminated any risk in most of the town. Jamestown is commonly divided into Lower and Upper parts, depending on the distance up James Valley, though with no precise boundary between.

Having been largely un-modernised, the town as we have it today is of largely Georgian construction, representing the time when St Helena had defeated the Dutch invasion and was being actively settled and developed by The East India Company, up to the end of their Charter and direct rule by The Crown. Development since has been mostly in-filling and, apart from a few more recent buildings (e.g. ‘New Porteous House’ in Main Street) most buildings remain largely as they were in the 19th Century. The town therefore has some excellent examples of Georgian-era British colonial architecture and has been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many buildings are built out of local volcanic rock. Jamestown has more than half of the island’s listed buildings.

There is a resident population of around 14% of the island’s total population{3}. This used to be much higher - in the 1931 census it was 38%{4}.

Why ‘Jamestown’?

Jamestown was so named in 1660 in honour of James, Duke of York{5}, to celebrate the restoration of the Monarchy in England. James Bay was christened at the same time.

Previously, what is now James Valley (in which Jamestown sits) was known as ‘Chapel Valley’, after the small church built by the island’s Portuguese discoverers.

A quick guided tour

Since the start of the scheduled commercial air service most visitors arrive into Jamestown on the bus from the Airport. But for the first 500 years of our history everybody started at the Wharf. Those arriving by yacht or cruise ship still do…

If you have a fast enough Internet connection you can track the following on Google Earth™.

Below: Arriving by sea: ‍The Wharf‍All visitorsJamestown in pictures

Arriving by sea: ‍The Wharf‍

You disembark from your vessel via a tender or ferry which lands you on The Wharf steps. Getting ashore is a little tricky…but generations of visitors managed it, including everybody up to the King & Queen of England! As one visitor wrote:

We landed at a jetty queer enough - the boat is backed & you swing yourself ashore by a rope suspended from an iron crane - there is no beach.{t}

It is sometimes said that when you alight at The Wharf you do so where Napoleon walked. Sadly this isn’t so. The Wharf has been extended and reconstructed so many times since 1815 that none of the fixtures from Napoleon’s time remain{6}. In addition, Napoleon probably arrived at the Middle Steps; the place where we now land wasn’t built in 1815.

After clearing customs and immigration you walk out onto ‘‍The Seaside‍’, a long strip of land with The Wharf at one end and Donny’s Bar at the other. You can see evidence of the island’s fortifications as you walk along, including the moat and the defensive wall.

See an annotated version showing selected structures

Passing through The Arch, constructed in its present form in 1832, you arrive in Grand Parade.

All visitors

Standing in Grand Parade beneath The Arch, on your left is The Castle - the current seat of Government and formerly a fort - along with other administrative buildings, including the Courthouse (outside which important official announcements are made) and Library, built by Governor Hudson Lowe in 1817 on the site of the former main guard room and barracks built in 1709. On your right you have HM Prison and some currently unused buildings which are in the process of being restored, between which you find the Museum of St Helena and the foot of Jacob’s Ladder. Also on Grand Parade is St. James’ Church, the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere. In the centre of Grand Parade is the memorial to Dr. W. J. J. Arnold, the greatest friend St Helena ever had. The Grand Parade, so-named because it was originally the military ceremonial parade ground, is where many formal island events take place (e.g. swearing in of Governors). Nowadays normally mostly a car park, on special days it is cleared and turned into a market area, performance stage, or whatever.

Moving up from Grand Parade you enter Main Street. Notice first on your left the Castle Gardens - a quiet place to stop and sit, even on the busiest days. In Main Street you will find shops, offices, the Post Office, etc. At the top of Main Street is a mini-roundabout (one of only three on the island) with the Tourist Information Office behind and also ‘The Trees’ where, in former times, auctions were held (including those of the enslaved). You have not passed the Rockfall Memorial Fountain, because it is no longer there… though there is now a replica.

The road then forks. On the left you have Napoleon Street, so named because it is the road to Longwood, where Napoleon stayed during his exile here, and also the route to his tomb, via Side Path. In Napoleon Street you will find shops and houses.

The right hand fork leads onto The Bridge; another area used for public events, especially at Christmas, where you will find shops, bars, The Market and the Bank. Next to The Market is the Bridge Memorial Clock. The road now becomes Market Street, and continues right up through to the top of town, passing shops, churches, meeting rooms and many houses. The Police Station is about ¼ of the way up.

One curiosity to notice towards the top of town is ‘The Brick House(picture below), so named because it is made from (imported) bricks which is unusual here. Most older houses are built with stone and modern ones with concrete blocks (see our page Houses and Housing).

At the top of town you will find China Lane, so named because the imported Chinese labourers lived there, as part of a small one-way system. If you go up and to the right you are on Ladder Hill Road, the main route to the heart of the island, via the top of Jacob’s Ladder, Ladder Hill Fort and Half Tree Hollow. Up and to the left is Maldivia Road.

The large scar on Mundens Hill just opposite the hospital is the former quarry (in older documents often referred to as the ‘Red Quarry’), long abandoned. Stone from here was used to build the original spire of St. James’s Church.

If you continue to the left you reach the General Hospital and passing to the left of there you reach Constitution Hill, the oldest route out of town; a narrow winding road which connects at its top with Side Path and the road into The Briars.

Jamestown’s watercourse is The Run, which is also a pleasant footpath linking the General Hospital to lower Jamestown.

It may not be immediately apparent on the ground, but Jamestown actually slopes quite steeply uphill. The General Hospital is around 150m above the level of The Seaside, in an overall distance of around 1.3Km, an average incline of just over 1:10. The slope shows on this picture{u} of Grand Parade:

The photographs below illustrate many aspects of Jamestown:

Jamestown in pictures

I think Main Street is fantastic, it’s like a perfectly preserved bit of Georgian town.{v}

Town Plan

__:Principal Roads;__:The Run;1:The Castle;2:Jacob’s Ladder;3:Tourist Information Office;4:Museum of St Helena;5:The Wharf;6:Castle Gardens;7:The Leisure Park;8:The Mule Yard;9:Duke of Edinburgh Playground;10:Grand Parade;11:Post Office;12:The Hospital13:Pilling School14:Post Office15:St. James’ Church
You can download a much more detailed map of Jamestown, issued in 2020{w}.

More about the origins of Jamestown’s roads on our page Roads. Not to be confused with ‘The Roads’…


Jamestown features an arid climate, temperatures being moderated by the adjacent ocean and ranging from 19-28°C{7}.

The town receives around 11cm of rainfall in a typical year with only around 40 wet days. This is because it lies on the drier North-western coast, sheltered by the bulk of the island from the rain-bringing south-easterly Trade Winds{8}. When it does rain, however, it can be heavy, as can be heard in the recording (right).

In the Köppen climate classification Jamestown’s climate classifies as BWh - tropicalhot desert.

Busy and quiet days

Jamestown is at its busiest when there is a ship in the James Bay (cruise ship or other visitor), or when there is an event happening. On these days it can actually look active!

On a normal weekday it’s busy from 8am-9am, when everyone is heading to work; from Midday-2pm, for lunch break; and again from 4pm-5pm when everyone is heading home. Saturday nights are also lively, with the shops open from 6:30pm until 8:30pm or 9pm, and then the various bars which some nights operate until the early morning. At other times it is quiet; on Sunday afternoons, with almost everything closed{9}, it can seem like a ghost town!

The busiest ‘activity’ of the day may be when the resident birds perform the ‘Dawn Chorus(recording below)

In recent memory, a visitor from South Africa actually laid down in the middle of the road, at the mini-roundabout at the top of Main Street, at around 10am. Where else in the world, he argued, could you do that in a nation’s capital city?

Talking about ‘quiet’… Mynah Birds, Fairy Terns and other birds roost in the trees at Castle Gardens and Duke of Edinburgh Playground, making quite a cacophony at dawn and sunset (hear them, right)!

The image below from Google Earth™{x} shows the whole of Jamestown, The Briars, Ruperts and (most of) Half Tree Hollow. Only a satellite or a very high-flying aircraft can capture this view! A clickable version of this image appears on our page Maps of St Helena.

Other matters

Below: Is Jamestown really a ‘city’?TunnelThinking of buying a home in Lower Jamestown? Think again…Clean Out Your Computer DayJamestown Parking Proposals, November 2016Mundens TunnelReligious BuildingsPavements

Is Jamestown really a ‘city’?

Yes! It’s city status was formally granted by Queen Victoria on 6th June 1859, and its full official name is the ‘City of James Town’{10}.

The Tunnel

In the 1990s it was discovered that a substantial underground tunnel runs at least from a spot outside The Cannister (marked by the Mini-Roundabout) to a point just below Broadway House. The tunnel is fairly dry inside but it is thought it might have acted as a storm drain; nobody is sure. After the discovery the ends of the tunnel were sealed, for safety reasons. It can be opened - it was explored in January 2010 by the Scouts - but we have no idea to whom one might apply!

If you want to visit, examine our tunnel and maybe tell us what it was really for, please contact the Tourist Information Office.

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{11} 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…

Clean Out Your Computer Day

Clean Out Your Computer Day

Residents of Jamestown and businesses therein are strongly advised to participate actively in Clean Out Your Computer Day on the each year. There is a phenomenon called ‘Town Dust’ - fine grey dust that collects everywhere, and gets sucked into computer ventilation systems, clogging them and causing overheating and failure. Anybody who runs a computer in Jamestown should clean the ‘Town Dust’ (and other crud) out of it at least once a year - especially laptops.

By the way, the dust comes from the exposed rock on both sides of the valley, baked dry in the sun to make it powdery and spread by the wind.

Jamestown Parking Proposals, November 2016

SHG crest

In November 2016 the Government started public consultation on outline proposals to manage parking in Jamestown. The proposals were cast in a background where there would be no funding available for significant works to increase the number of parking spaces in the town (i.e. covering and parking over The Run or building a multi-storey car park{12}). Any scheme would therefore need to be entirely self-financing.

The following summarises the proposals and adds, where relevant, some issues raised, primarily by the residents of Jamestown:

Comments on the proposals were to be made to the Secretary of the ENRC, Mr Nicky Lawrence, committee@enrd.gov.sh. No time limit was set for the consultation and it was clarified that amended proposals would be brought back for public consultation in due course. years later, they still haven’t been. The proposals were discussed in Committee in January 2019 and several outstanding issues were reported. At the time of writing there has been no further progress.

The Mundens Tunnel

In 2022 it was proposed that a tunnel through Mundens might be built, connecting James Valley with Ruperts Valley.

The original idea came from John Charles Melliss, who in 1870 devised a plan to link James Valley with Ruperts Valley via a tunnel to be constructed through Mundens Hill, though it was never attempted{18}.

However, the 2022 plan did employ this cavern as a starting point, proceeding approximately north-west and coming out roughly where Field Road reaches the valley floor.

The logic to the tunnel is to improve the link between Jamestown and Ruperts for use by goods traffic, thus avoiding the steep and narrow Field Road and also the bottleneck caused by Napoleon Street. The initial design showed the tunnel being downhill from the Jamestown end due to the difference in height between the two endpoints.

At the time of writing this is little more than an idea. No attempt has been made to establish whether the rock is suitable for tunnelling, or to seek a source of the considerable funds that would be required to complete the project.

Religious Buildings

Unsurprisingly, Jamestown has the highest concentration of religious buildings of any settlement on St Helena:St. James’ Church (1774); Roman Catholic Church (1852); Baptist Church (1854); St. John’s Church (1862); Seventh Day Adventist Church (1950); and Salvation Army Hall (1977).


The current pavements in Main Street and The Bridge are (obviously) not that old - they were imported and laid in 2013/4. Sadly, the process involved digging up a cobble-stone pavement just outside New Porteous House which some experts believed may have dated from Napoleon’s times. It was suggested that the works be stopped while this was investigated, but they weren’t.

Most of the town’s other pavements are concrete. The standard of repair is fairly poor - be careful when walking{14}.

Stay here?

From our page Where To Stay:

Jamestown is where most activities happen and is the location of the Museum of St Helena and many of our important Historic Buildings. Diving & Dolphin watching trips and most tours start from Jamestown. It’s also a good location if you want a choice of nightlife without the need to drive home afterwards - even the top (hospital) end of town is only about twenty minutes’ walk from the centre, though it is uphill! Accommodation is usually in an older building, often with an interesting history, though Jamestown has all types of accommodation available. Because it is the island’s capital, Jamestown is well connected to everywhere on the island.


HOWEVER, be aware that Lower Jamestown can be very noisy, not just during the day (it is very much a working town) but also on weekend nights - always Saturday, often Friday and sometimes Sunday and some weekdays. There is no zoning so your accommodation might be close to a bar which will play very loud music, possibly with Karaoke, until after 1am, and then the drunks have to noisily make their way home… - not at all conducive to a good night’s sleep before an early morning trip! You can listen (right) to a recording of the ‘live music’ at The Standard{y} and also one of a Karaoke party… Daytime noise includes traffic (mostly, light, but with some noisy motorbikes and trucks) and kids wandering around with their portable music-blasters (loud, but they pass fairly quickly).

Read More

Below: Article: Reaction to the ‘Jamestown Vision 2020’.Other Jamestowns

See also the Tourist Information Office brochure on Jamestown, St Helena.

See Jamestown on Google Maps™.

Article: Reaction to the ‘Jamestown Vision 2020’.

Jamestown Vision 2020 cover

This intriguing document was issued at the end of January 2013 by Enterprise St Helena (ESH){15}, the Government body charged with preparing St Helena’s private sector businesses for the arrival of the St Helena Airport. It was presented to Executive Council which welcomed the document as a valuable basis for public consultation{z}. It describes itself as a bold Vision for the future which we hope will be shared by residents, visitors, businesses and investors alike.

This hope was not fulfilled - the document and its accompanying exhibition was met with a combination of horror and disbelief. Many assumed it was a joke. The more charitable thought it might have been a deliberately ridiculous offering to spark debate about what St Helena actually wanted. However the evidence suggests that its authors were actually serious.

The document was ‘shelved’ two months later and is no longer mentioned.

Read it and be amazed!

The following are extracted from comments printed in the St Helena newspapers:

It is totally useless to try and create and develop St Helena into a place that is identical to some of the great modernised places around the world. Why would tourists want to come all this way for something like that when they could pay less and have it on their doorsteps?
…looks like a cross between Watford and Lego Land{16}
A colossal waste of public money which should have been spent on real projects
Keeping the originality of St Helena is our best tourism attraction, if we kill it, we are doomed forever
Where can I get some of the stuff they were smoking when they came up with these ideas?

Other Jamestowns

The world has quite a large number of other Jamestowns, some of which are…{aa}

Jamestown, South Australia.

Holetown, Saint James, Barbados; sometimes called its founding name, Jamestown.

Mount Olive-Silverstone-Jamestown, a neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario commonly referred to as Smithfield.

St. James Town, a neighbourhood in Toronto, Ontario.

Jamestown, Newfoundland and Labrador, a former settlement.

Jamestown, Ghana, a district of the city of Accra.

Jamestown, Churchtown, a townland in Churchtown civil parish, barony of Rathconrath, County Westmeath.

Jamestown, Conry, a townland in Conrycivil parish, barony of Rathconrath, County Westmeath.

Jamestown, County Laois.

Jamestown, County Leitrim.

Jamestown, an alternate name for Bayan Lepas, Penang.

Jamestown, New Zealand, an abandoned settlement in northern Fiordland.

Jamestown, the name of a former town on the edge of Morton Bay on Nevis in the late 1800s.

Jamestown, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Jamestown, Western Cape, South Africa.

Jamestown, Easter Ross, Scotland.

Jamestown, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland.

Jamestown, Fife, Scotland.

Jamestown, California.

Jamestown, Colorado.

Jamestown, Georgia.

Jamestown, Indiana, in Boone County.

Jamestown, Elkhart County, Indiana.

Jamestown, Steuben County, Indiana.

Jamestown, Kansas.

Jamestown, Kentucky, in Campbell County (now part of Dayton, Kentucky).

Jamestown, Kentucky, in Russell County.

Jamestown, Louisiana.

Jamestown, Missouri.

Jamestown, New Mexico.

Jamestown, New York, the largest American city bearing the name.

Jamestown, North Carolina.

Jamestown, North Dakota, the second largest American city bearing the name.

Jamestown, Ohio, a village.

Jamestown, Morrow County, Ohio, a ghost town.

Jamestown, Oklahoma.

Jamestown, Pennsylvania.

Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Jamestown, South Carolina.

Jamestown, Tennessee.

Jamestown, Texas, an unincorporated community in Smith County, Texas.

Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, including Jamestown Settlement, the living history museum reconstruction of the town and Historic Jamestowne, the archaeological site of the original town.

Jamestown S'Klallam Indian Reservation, an Indian reservation in Washington.

Jamestown, West Virginia.

Jamestown, Wisconsin.

James Town, Wyoming.

Jamestown Township, Steuben County, Indiana.

Jamestown Charter Township, Michigan.

Jamestown Township, Blue Earth County, Minnesota.

Jamestown Dam, a dam in North Dakota.

Jamestown (horse), American Champion racehorse.

Jamestown (ship), a large sailing ship carrying valuable lumber which was abandoned and ran aground off Iceland in 1881.

Jamestown (TV Series), a 2017 British television series.

Jamestown (video game), a video game set in a steampunk alternate universe in which Jamestown Colony is settled on Mars.

The Jamestown Massacre in the Virginian town of Jamestown, also referred to as the Indian massacre of 1622.

USS Jamestown, any one of a number of United States Navy vessels.

Jamestown, a song by The Movielife from the album Forty Hour Train Back to Penn (2003).

JamestownFoundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

JamestownRevival, a folk, folk rock, and Americana duo from Magnolia, Texas.

Old Jamestown, Missouri.

⋅ Jameston, Pembrokeshire.


{a} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{b} Into The Blue{17}{c} The Historic Environment Record{d} Tourist Information Office{e} Faron George{f} St Helena Astronomy Club{g} Green Renaissance{h} Matt Joshua{i} St Helena Travel (group){j} Google Street View™{k} Gonny Pitlo{l} Marc Lavaud/Tourist Information Office{m} Joanna Roberts-George{n} Google Earth™{o} en.wikipedia.org/‌wiki/‌Jamestown,‌_‌Saint‌_‌Helena{p} Google Earth™{q} François Rabelais{r} 1, 2 & 3 Main Street, 2015{s} 2021 Census, taken 7th February 2021.{t} Thomas Worthington King, 16th November 1842{17}{u} St Helena Travel (group){v} Dan Snow, TV History Documentary producer, January 2020{w} Government of St Helena{x} Kindly supplied by Ian Bruce, September 2018{y} recorded by the editor of this website from his home in Napoleon Street{z} The Independent, 1st February 2013, p23{17}{aa} Retrieved from The Wikipedia™, 27th July 2023.


{1} From where the stone for the 1840s spire on St. James’ Church was taken.{2} Donny’s Bar far right.{3} 625 from a total of 4,439{s}.{4} You can see the decline from the following Census figures: 1976: 1,516; 1987: 1,302; 1998: 864; 2008: 716; 2016: 657; 2021: 625.{5} The second surviving son of King Charles I and brother of King Charles II; later King James II.{6} See other debunked myths.{7} The temperature in Jamestown is some 5°C warmer than the rest of the island.{8} This is also why James Bay provides a safe anchorage, despite having no enclosing sea wall.{9} 24/7 Shopping has yet to reach St Helena. Even most restaurants and cafés don’t open on Sundays.{10} It is, however, always referred to as just ‘Jamestown’, even on official documents, or more colloquially just as ‘Town’.{11} Lower Market Street, Napoleon Street, Main Street and the associated side-roads.{12} Even if a suitable site could ever be identified.{13} The bays in the middle of Main Street, from the roundabout down to Association Hall.{14} Always assuming you can walk on the pavement - apart from where there are bollards most pavements are routinely used for car parking.{15} With the assistance of MWAI Architects and PLC Architects.{16} Others compared it to Milton Keynes.{17} @@RepDis@@{18} It is sometimes said that the cavern in Mundens Hill in Jamestown (opposite the General Hospital) is the beginning of this tunnel, but this is not correct. Actually this cavern is the former quarry, from where (inter alia) the stone for the original spire on St. James’ Church was obtained{6}.