Location map:
Location Map jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

Jamestown

Where it all happens

blank [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

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

François Rabelais

On the whole, if something is going to happen in St Helena, it’s likely it’s going to happen in Jamestown.

This page is in indexes: Island Place, Island Activity, Island Detail

Jamestown from the south [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Jamestown from the south

Below: In brief…Why ‘Jamestown’?A quick guided tourClimateBusy and quiet daysHistoryThe TunnelThen and nowJamestown DistrictIs Jamestown really a ‘city’?Jamestown Parking Proposals, November 2016Read More

In brief…

Jamestown is built on igneous rock in a small enclave, sandwiched between the steep cliffs that form James Valley. These cliffs are unsuitable for building, so the habitation is limited to the valley floor and thus is 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. The town is commonly divided into Lower and Upper parts, depending on the distance up James Valley, though with no precise boundary between.

The town has some excellent examples of British Georgian-era colonial architecture, having been largely un-modernised, 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 population{5}.

Why ‘Jamestown’?

Jamestown was so named in 1660 in honour of the Duke of York, later James II of England, to celebrate the restoration of the Monarchy in England.

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

A quick guided tour

Lower Jamestown, from above [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Lower Jamestown, from above

You start, as all visitors currently do{6}, at the Wharf. You disembark from your ship (be it the RMS St Helena, cruise ship or yacht) via a tender or ferry which lands you on the wharf steps. 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.

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{7}.

Passing through The Arch, constructed in its present form in 1832, you arrive in Grand Parade. The Castle is on your left - the current seat of Government and formerly a fort - along with other administrative buildings, including the Police office, courtrooms and library, built by Governor Hudson Lowe in 1817 on the site of the former main guard room. On your right you have the 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 is where many island events take place. Normally mostly a car park, on special days it is cleared and turned into a market atrea, 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 two on the island) with the Tourist Office behind and also ‘The Trees’ where, in former times, auctions were held (including those of Slaves). You have not passed the Rockfall Memorial Fountain, because it is no longer there…

Napoleon Street sign [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

The road then forks. On the left you have Napoleon Street{8}, so named because it is the road to Longwood, where Napoleon Bonaparte stayed during his exile here, and also the route to his tomb, via Side Path Road. In Napoleon Street{8} 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, pubs, The Market and the Bank. Next to The Market is the Bridge Memorial Clock. The road now becomes Market Street, and continues right up throught to the top of town, passing shops, churches, meeting rooms and many houses.

At the top of town you will find China Lane, so named because the imported Chinese labourers lived there. If you go up to the right you are on Ladder Hill, the main route to the heart of the island, via the top of Jacob’s Ladder, Ladder Hill Fort and Half Tree Hollow.

If you continue to the left you reach the 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 Road.

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

The photographs below illustrate many aspects of Jamestown:

From the air [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
From the air

Another airborne view [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Another airborne view{a}

James Bay [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
James Bay{b}

Compact nature [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Compact nature

Central Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Central Jamestown{b}

St. James’ Church [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
St. James’ Church

The Castle & Grand Parade [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Castle & Grand Parade

Castle Entrance [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Castle Entrance

Courthouse Cannon [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Courthouse Cannon

Jacob’s Ladder [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Jacob’s Ladder

The Prison [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Prison

Rainbow over Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Rainbow over Jamestown

The Market at Christmas [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Market at Christmas

Houses in Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Houses in Jamestown

View from Shy Road [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
View from Shy Road

Seaside and lower town [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Seaside and lower town

Wellington House [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Wellington House

The Bridge [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Bridge

Christmas Parade, Main Street [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Christmas Parade, Main Street

Carnival Parade, Main Street [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Carnival Parade, Main Street

Night view with RMS [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Night view with RMS

Essex House [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Essex House

The Arch [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Arch

Monument [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Monument

Museum of St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Museum of St Helena

Sunset over the bay [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Sunset over the bay

Castle Gardens [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Castle Gardens

Upper Town from Sidepath {1} [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Upper Town from Sidepath{1}

‘The Trees’ [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
‘The Trees’

View from the Eastern hills [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
View from the Eastern hills

Upper Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Upper Jamestown

Christmas lights [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Christmas lights

Wharf, 2016 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Wharf, 2016

SS Papanui wreck [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
SS Papanui wreck

The Run [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Run

James Bay [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
James Bay

Central town 2016 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Central town 2016{a}

Upper James Valley [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Upper James Valley

Sunset over the harbour [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Sunset over the harbour{c}

From the bay [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
From the bay

Lower Jamestown, from Ladder Hill [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Lower Jamestown, from Ladder Hill

Climate

Jamestown features an arid climate, temperatures being moderated by the adjacent ocean and ranging from 19-24°Celcius{9}.

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 norther coast, sheltered by the bulk of the island from the rain-bringing south-easterly trade winds{10}.

Busy and quiet days

Jamestown is at its busiest when there is a ship in the bay (RMS St Helena, 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 pubs and clubs operating until 1am. At other times it is quiet; on Sundays, with everything closed{11}, it can seem like a ghost town!

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?

Plan of Jamestown [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

History

Jamestown, 1794 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Jamestown, 1794

French map, 1690s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
French map, 1690s

James Bay is the most practicable anchorage on St Helena, and so what is now Jamestown is where all the earliest explorers landed. The history of Jamestown is therefore inextricably linked with the history of St Helena itself. Fernão Lopez, the island’s first exile almost certainly lived in James Valley.

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.

Most of the island’s more notable events also took place in Jamestown. To read about these please see our page A Brief History (How we got to here).

The following picture, taken in 1862, illustrates many interesting points. Click on the image to display an annotated version.

Jamestown, 1862 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown] (375.4Kb)

The following diagram, taken from ‘An Island Fortress (7.3Mb)’, by Ken Denholm, published in 2006., shows the development of Jamestown’s fortifications over the years:

The development of Jamestown’s fortifications [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]{d}

The drawbridge was replaced by a permanent bridge in 1935, using stone recovered from the demolished Ladder Hill Observatory. This then became the main entrance to Jamestown (and, indeed, to the island) and the route shown as ‘Access to Town’ fell into disuse{12}. The ‘Main Bastion’ is now the Mule Yard, to the left of which is the Swimming Pool. The West Bastion is now the Leisure Park, including The Coffee Shop.

The images below illustrate many aspects of Jamestown’s history:

Church Valley, 1658 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Church Valley, 1658

Thornton, 1711 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Thornton, 1711

1789 sketch [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
1789 sketch

Undated but maybe 1800s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Undated but maybe 1800s

1812 sketch [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
1812 sketch

Read’ Map, 1817 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Read’ Map, 1817

Sainson, c.1840s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Sainson, c.1840s

Main Street, 1857 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Main Street, 1857{e}

The Wharf, 1877 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Wharf, 1877

Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887

The Wharf, late 1800s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
The Wharf, late 1800s

Lower, 1890s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Lower, 1890s

Old hospital, early 1900s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Old hospital, early 1900s

Upper town, early 1900s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Upper town, early 1900s

From the bay, c.1900 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
From the bay, c.1900

Main Street, West Side, 1903 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Main Street, West Side, 1903{f}

Main Street, East Side, 1903 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Main Street, East Side, 1903{f}

Postcard, Jackson, 1905 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Postcard, Jackson, 1905{g}

Main Street, 1930s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Main Street, 1930s{h}

Postcard, 1947 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Postcard, 1947

Off for launch, 1968 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Off for launch, 1968{i}

Lower Napoleon Street, 1970s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Lower Napoleon Street, 1970s

From Jacob’s Ladder, 1970 {2} [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
From Jacob’s Ladder, 1970{2}

Main Street, 1979 {3} [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Main Street, 1979{3}

Alighting; the Wharf {4} [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Alighting; the Wharf{4}

Main Street, 1991 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Main Street, 1991

Main Street, 1990s [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Main Street, 1990s

Event in Grand Parade, 1995 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Event in Grand Parade, 1995

Unsurprisingly, given the amount of history it has experienced, many parts of Jamestown are said to be haunted, particularly the Wharf and the area around Pilling School (the former military barracks).

The Tunnel

In the 1990s it was discovered that a substantial underground tunnel runs at least from a spot outside the Canister (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 Office.

Then and now

We show below pairs of photographs, taken from the same spot many years apart. The cars are newer but not much else has changed. Such as has is noted beneath each pair:

Below: Main StreetLower Market StreetNapoleon Street

Main Street

1975 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
1975

2016 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
2016

Apart from the shorter spire on St. James’ Church, very little is different.

Lower Market Street

1975 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
1975

2015 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
2015

The shabby brown building (centre-left) was demolished soon after and replaced by a ‘modern’ supermarket, which later closed and at the time of writing{13} is being re-developed - again! The white line was removed because the road is too narrow for modern cars to pass. And skirts are nowadays rather longer!

Napoleon Street

1982 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
1982{j}

2016 [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
2016

At the time of writing{13} the building at the top is being renovated, after being derelict for more than a decade, while the one on the immediate left was in use but is now boarded up. Finally, the Banyan tree growing in the Community Centre (formerly the School) was pared back to almost a stump in August 2009.
If you can identify the three people, please contact us.

Jamestown District

The district of Jamestown also includes Rupert’s Valley, to the north of Jamestown. Rupert’s is designated for industrial development and should become the island’s main port for goods (it is expected that cruise ships will continue to offload in Jamestown). Rupert’s is where the slave graves were discovered.

Wide-angle view of Jamestown, from Signal House [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]
Wide-angle view of Jamestown, from Signal House, near the top of Jacob’s Ladder

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’{14}.

Jamestown at night [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

Jamestown Parking Proposals, November 2016

SHG crest [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

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{15}). 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:

  • All streets in Jamestown would be marked with delineated parking bays. This is to reduce the amount of space wasted by people parking with excessive space between vehicles.

  • Some of these bays would be reserved for Resident parking. The rest would be available for ‘Commuter’ parking (including shoppers and other visitors).

  • The scheme would operate between the hours of 8am and 4pm, Monday to Friday. Comment received proposed that the hours be extended from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Friday, and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays. Outside the operating hours all bays would be available free for any use.

  • Parking in Commuter bays would be at an hourly charge - provisionally suggested at £0.50p per hour for ‘prime’ areas (e.g. the Stand{16} and Grand Parade) and £0.20p per hour elsewhere. Tickets would be available in shops across the island, using a ‘scratch’ technique. In questioning it was noted that anyone wanting to park in a Commuter bay before the shops opened would need to buy a ticket in advance. The Wharf, around the Hospital and a few other areas would be designated for open free parking, i.e. not part of the scheme.

  • Residents could apply for a permit, entitling them to use the Resident bays. The fee proposed was £10/annum for the first vehicle and a ‘higher fee’ (not announced) for each subsequent vehicle. In discussion it was clarified that the additional fee would be charged only for a second or subsequent vehicle registered to the same person. Several people sharing the same address and each owning one vehicle would pay £10 each per annum. It was noted that Resident bays would not be dedicated; there would be fewer bays than the number of resident vehicles and possession of a permit would allow parking in a Resident bay but would not guarantee that one would be available.

  • Disabled parking bays would also be delineated, and would be free at all times to the registered disabled. Commercial vehicle bays would also be defined, with an annual licence fee (not yet set).

  • Traffic wardens would be employed to enforce the rules, and would also enforce other parking restrictions, e.g. not parking on pavements; not overstaying in ‘loading/unloading’ areas; etc. The cost of the wardens would be met from the fees received, aiming to break even.

Comments on the proposals can 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. (At the time of writing{13} they haven’t been!)

JamestownHalf Tree HollowSt Paul’sLongwoodAlarm ForestBlue HillLevelwoodSandy Bay

Districts of St Helena [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

Alarm ForestBlue HillHalf Tree HollowJamestownLevelwoodLongwoodSandy BaySt Paul’s

See also the Tourist Office brochure on Jamestown, St Helena (988.3Kb).

Read More

Article: “Reaction to the ‘Jamestown Vision 2020’.

Jamestown Vision 2020 cover [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown] (20.8Mb)

This intriguing document was issued at the end of January 2013 by Enterprise St Helena{17}, the Government body charged with preparing St Helena’s private sector businesses for the arrival of the St Helena Airport. It was presented to ExCo{22} which “welcomed the document as a valuable basis for public consultation{21}”. 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! (20.8Mb)

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

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
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?

More stories [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

closinghumourimage [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]

Laugh at funny jamestown humour - LOL [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]


Credits:

{a} Tourist Office

{b} Marc Lavaud/Tourist Office

{c} “Into The Blue”, used with permission{19}.

{d} ‘An Island Fortress (7.3Mb)’, by Ken Denholm, published in 2006.

{e} G.W. Melliss{20} from ‘Views of St Helena’, by G.W. Melliss{20}, published in 1857.

{f} ‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905.

{g} St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (SHATPS)

{h} Neil Fantom

{i} Sheila Cook, one of the Royal Engineers’ Team from 1978/80

{j} Andrew/Peter Neaum



Footnotes:

{1} Showing St. John’s Church (right), the Hospital (centre) and Maldivia Gardens (left).

{2} There is no swimming pool or Leisure Park and St. James’ Church still has its spire, but apart from that the photo could almost have been taken yesterday!

{3} Postcard.

{4} This is actually Prince Andrew, who came here in 1984.

{5} 2016 Census: 629 from a total population of 4,534.

{6} When the Airport opens, of course, things will be different.

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

{8} 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 moonbeamsforall.com • Moonbeams Shop • opens in a new window or tab [Saint Helena Island Info:Jamestown]Moonbeams Shop is in Napoleon Street.

{9} The temperature in Jamestown is some 5°Celcius warmer than the rest of the island.

{10} This is also why James Bay provides a safe anchorage, despite having no enclosing sea wall.

{11} 24/7 Shopping has yet to reach St Helena. Even most restaurants and cafés don’t open on Sundays.

{12} Though it is still accessible, via steps from behind the new Customs Building.

{13} W/c 19th June 2017.

{14} It is, however, always referred to as just ‘Jamestown’, even on official documents, or more colloquially just as ‘Town’.

{15} Even if a suitable site could ever be identified.

{16} The bays in the middle of Main Street, from the roundabout down to Association Hall.

{17} “With the assistance of MWAI Architects and PLC Architects”.

{18} ‘Legislative Council’, effectively the island’s parliament.

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

{20} Father of John Melliss.

{21} St Helena Independent, 1st February 2013, p23{19}.

{22} ‘Executive Council’, effectively the island’s cabinet (all members are also members of LegCo{18}).



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