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Place Names

Some we can explain; some we can’t

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare

You will encounter many interesting place names on St Helena. Here is why some of them are so named…

This page is in indexes: Island Place, Island Detail

Place Names Saint Helena Island Info

Below: The ones we can explain……and the ones we can’tContradictory names explained?Coastal FeaturesStrange business namesEven our island’s name is uncertainSt Helena Island in Scotland, UKRead More

The ones we can explain…

Below: Alarm ForestBarracks SquareBell StoneBotanical GardensBottom WoodsBroad BottomChina LaneCow PathDeadwoodDrummond Hay SquareThe DungeonField RoadFrancis PlainFrenchman’s TurningGuinea GrassHalf Tree HollowHay TownHead O’WainHutt’s GateKingshurstKunjie FieldLemon ValleyLongwoodMaldiviaMan & Horse CliffMulberry GutPiccolo HillPierie’s RevengePutty HillRopery Field‘The Run’Rupert’s ValleyShy RoadSisters WalkThompson’s WoodTrapp Cot

Alarm Forest So named because Alarm Forest was originally an area of woodland surrounding Alarm House. Prior to 1692 two guns were stationed here which were fired to raise the alarm whenever unknown ships were sighted in James Bay.

Barracks Square What is now Pilling School was once an East India Company garrison accommodating ordinary soldiers. Officers occupied houses around the square itself with sergeants’ quarters being at the upper end of the square.

Bell Stone An area in the Levelwood District where a large, isolated rock rings when tapped with a stone.

Botanical Gardens Towards the top end of Market Street in Jamestown, until 1792 this ground was wasteland. It was converted into gardens by soldiers who chose labour as an alternative to corporal punishment (which was fairly brutal in those days). In 1829 it was proposed to do away with the gardens, it having been replaced by Sisters Walk, and it was allowed to decay until the end of the 19th Century when the land was handed over to the War Office for extension of the Jamestown Barracks. The area is now housing, with only the road sign marking its former location.

Bottom Woods Why should a housing area on high ground with few trees be so named? The answer is that this area was originally part of the Great Wood, an endemic forest which encompassed much of the north-west of St Helena until it was destroyed by introduced goats and cut down for firewood by settlers.

Broad Bottom Unlike most of the Island’s valleys, which are normally narrow and steep-sided, Broad Bottom widens out and forms a fine flat piece of arable land. It was chosen as the site of one of the Boer PoW camps.

China Lane The name is connected to the indentured Chinese labour used on the island after the abolition of the slave trade. One of the main Chinese settlements was near the quarry opposite to China Lane on the eastern side of the valley.

Cow Path This is both a housing area that lies above Half Tree Hollow and also the route formerly used to take cows down to Jamestown, specifically Maldivia Gardens, for slaughter. Parts of the old cattle path are still visible below High Knoll Fort and it is thought the cow path was the only route up the western side of the valley until Governor Pyke cut what became Shy Road and upper Ladder Hill road in the early 18th Century.

Deadwood This area lies with what was once the GreatWood. It was one of the first areas to be completely destroyed, supposedly getting its name from the resulting number of dead tree stumps.

Drummond Hay Square Drummond Hay Square in upper Jamestown is named after Governor Edward Hay Drummond Hay, who also built Hay Town in Rupert’s Valley.

The Dungeon Not a dungeon at all - there isn’t even a castle! Actually a corruption from the French ‘donjon’, a tower, after the (now ruined) defensive tower nearby.

Field Road The road into Rupert’s is called Field Road, even though Rupert’s is pretty arid with not a field in sight. The road is named after Governor John Osbaldiston Field, in whose time it was constructed.

Francis Plain Formerly the Water Fall Plain. Referred to in 1692 as Henry Francis land neere High Water Fall and neere the Peake Hill. The name seems to have stuck! The history of the area can be read on our St Paul’s page.

Frenchman’s Turning This is the tightest bend on the lower part of Ladder Hill Road. A former French Consul drove off the road at this point and came to rest 60m below. Surprisingly he lived to tell the tale.

Guinea Grass In January 1789 the East India Company sent Guinea Grassmegathyrsus maximus seed to St Helena, simply because it was exotic but for no other apparent purpose. It seems to have been planted in this area.

Half Tree Hollow The name is derived from an earlier name ‘Half Way Tree’, a burial site in the 17th century. The Records report that in December 1696 one Mary Tewsdale was ordered to be buried at Half Way Tree with a stake through her body and a heap of stones cast upon her (it must be inferred that Mary Tewsdale had been judged to be a witch). The area was also used to graze cattle.

Hay Town This is the name given to the line of houses in Rupert’s Valley. One of these houses is called ‘Hay Town House’ and the name is thought to derive from the name of the governor at the time the first house was built, Governor Edward Hay Drummond Hay (1856-1863).

Head O’Wain Originally ‘Headland of Swain’ but corrupted while being passed down through the generations.

Hutt’s Gate Not, as you would imagine, a gate belonging to a Mr. Hutt; the place was earlier known as ‘The Hutts’, from the rudimentary buildings erected in the 17th Century to house the negro slaves working in the area.

Kingshurst Originally Hing’s Hurst. The land originally belonged a Chinaman, Ah Hing and Hurst is an old English word for a small woodland.

Kunjie Field Probably related to the indentured Chinese Labourers who were here in the 19th Century - ‘Conjee’ (rice water) is a common low-status Chinese dish. Or it may relate to Indian workers, who have a similar foodstuff called ‘Kanji’. Presumably this was where the rice was grown.

Lemon Valley Once filled with lemon trees, planted so that passing ships could take on lemons to alleviate Scurvy. Sadly introduced diseases killed them all by the middle of the 19th Century and today no lemon trees remain in Lemon Valley.

Longwood Today Longwood has few trees, but this area was originally part of the Great Wood, an endemic forest which encompassed much of the north-west of St Helena until it was destroyed by introduced goats and cut down for firewood by settlers.

Maldivia The area behind the General Hospital. In 1735 an English ship picked up ten Maldivians adrift in a boat 725Km off St Helena. Seven of them survived and were put to work making a new plantation garden which still bears the name of their place of birth, Maldivia. The house was originally known as Concord House.

Man & Horse Cliff This is another name recalling a precipitous fall. On this occasion a man galloped his horse over the cliff and fell 180m to his death. Today the name seems strange: there is no horse, of course, and as this is one of the least populated parts of the island, usually no man either! Maybe it’s just a local myth and there is an alternative true explanation for the name.

Mulberry Gut An area near Longwood in which Mulberry bushes were planted to provide food for Silk Production. The bushes remain; the silkworms do not.

Piccolo Hill Collection of houses built for the ex-pat staff of the Diplomatic Wireless Station, and named after ‘Piccolo’, the encrypted communications system they used.

Pierie’s Revenge The place above Ladder Hill Road, between Frenchman’s Turning and the top, from which the 1890 rockfall occurred. Pierie was the East India Company’s engineer in the late 18th Century, and always rode his horse quickly past this place because he feared a rockfall. Nowadays there is a brick buttress that was positioned after the 1890 fall to shore up the remaining rock.

Putty Hill So named because of the stickiness of the clay on the hill in wet weather (which may explain why Governor John Blackmore fell to his death from here in December 1690).

Ropery Field Probably one of the fields where the flax was laid out before being twined into rope

‘The Run’ So-named because the water from the ‘Heart Shaped Waterfall’ ‘run’s down ‘The Run’ to the sea{1}

Rupert’s Valley The Records in May 1734 say Here Prince Rupert, son of the King of Bohemia and nephew to King Charles I., on his return from India, came to an anchor and stayed to refresh his ship’s company. Hence Rupert’s Valley

Shy Road runs up from behind the Museum of St Helena to meet Ladder Hill Road about half way up and was the original route from Jamestown (the link to China Lane was added later). We think its name may relate to the story of the death of Bishop Welby on 6th January 1899. He died here when the horse pulling his trap ‘shied’ and ran out-of-control, tipping him over the edge to his death. A local ghost story is related to the incident.

Sisters Walk More properly ‘Sisters’ Walk’ but usually written without the apostraphe, this is the footpath connecting the wharf to Napoleon Street on the east side of James Valley. It was created by Governor Robert Patton (1801-1807) for the use of his daughters for exercise and fresh air, the name being derived from this.

Thompson’s Wood The name probably started as ‘Tombstone’ due to the fallen rocks that have rolled down the slopes and come to rest on the bottom land. When viewed from a distance the rocks appear to be the work of monumental masons and the arrangement of the rocks gives the appearance of a graveyard. Nearby, a similar rolling rock resting place is called ‘The Graveyard’.

Trapp Cot The Records for 27th August 1683 show Joseph Trapp granted land on the East side of Lemon Valley.

…and the ones we can’t

Wild flowers growing in ‘Barren Ground’ Saint Helena Island Info Place Names
Wild flowers growing in ‘Barren Ground’

At first sight some of our place names seem quite illogical.

Below: Barren GroundCleughs PlainConstitution HillDonkey PlainHorse PastureLevelwoodNosegay LaneOld Woman’s ValleyScotlandSeaviewShark’s ValleyThe Castle of Otranto

Barren Ground (Blue Hill) Actually lushly vegetated (picture, right) so the name Barren Ground is completely inappropriate.

Cleughs Plain (Or, maybe, ‘Cleugh’s’- we haven’t got a cleugh…) Hilly; definitely not a ‘plain’. In the Records for 1730 as Dr Moore’s Plain and by Hudson Ralph Janisch as ‘Clues Plain’.

Constitution Hill An old road out of Jamestown. Still in use and recently refurbished, it runs up to The Briars from the top (southern end) of town. There is no apparent link to the island’s Constitution. One theory goes that it is so named because you need a strong constitution to climb it!

Donkey Plain A quarry area on the headland west of Half Tree Hollow with no sign of any donkeys and not actually shaped as a plain.

Horse Pasture There have been no horses on St Helena since the 1980s, and in any case the area is sufficiently remote from Jamestown to have been a likely place to pasture horses needed for daily use.

Levelwood Actually a steep valley so not remotely a Level Wood.

No Entry Saint Helena Island Info Place Names{a}

Nosegay Lane Nosegay Lane is a small link-road that runs from Napoleon Street down to The Bridge, coming out beside The Standard (bar). A ‘nosegay’ is a small flower bouquet or ‘posy’, typically given as a gift{2}. So was there a flower seller in Nosegay Lane, or is there some other reason? Well actually we may have an explanation for this one, but maybe not. Nosegay Lane runs for much of its (meagre) length alongside The Run and it is know that, at least until the early 20th Century, this was little more than an open sewer. Our suggestion is that the smell from the Run was so intense that people held bunches of flowers against their noses when travelling up or down this route, to alleviate the smell (the pocket full of posies in the nursery rhyme). Well, it’s a theory… Incidentally, until 10th July 1981 two-way traffic was permitted in Nosegay Lane!

Old Woman’s Valley A strenuous walk, only for the young and fit - definitely not suitable for old women (or men, for that matter).

Scotland Forest, but definitely no lochs or mountains (but also see below).

Seaview Yes, you can see the sea from here - but also from just about everywhere else on the island!

Shark’s Valley (Levelwood). We have been told that the original name was ‘Shirk’s Valley’, it being a place where the work-shy (‘shirkers’) were sent as a punishment. But we are unable to confirm this from the old maps, so it may be just a folk-tale. The name ‘Shark’s Valley’ first appears on Edmund Palmer’s 1850-52 map, but is always attributed to the upper valley, and any sharks would have been in the sea…

The Castle of Otranto Saint Helena Island Info Place Names

The Castle of Otranto This one is quite a puzzle! If you look closely on Read’s 1817 map (extract, right), you will find a house, owned by one ‘Major W Seale’ with the intriguing name ‘The Castle of Otranto’. For those not familiar with 18th Century literature, The Castle of Otranto is a 1764 novel by Horace Walpole and is generally regarded as the first gothic novel. Comparison between Read’s and other maps shows the building in question to be Wranghams. Examination of the many histories and Records shows Wranghams only ever called as such; the name Castle of Otranto does not appear anywhere but on Read’s map. Why does Read name Wranghams as such? Nobody seems to know. It seems unlikely to have been a simple error; how could one possibly get from ‘Wranghams’ to ‘The Castle of Otranto’? Our theory is that it was some kind of private joke, either purely on behalf or Read or one he shared with Major W Seale. If you think you know, please contact us.

Contradictory names explained?

One possible explanation for some of the contradictory names goes as follows. Most Saints have nicknames, and often these are deliberately contradictory. ‘Polar Bear’ was a chap with very dark skin. So is ‘Seabird’. So maybe these place names are intentionally the opposite of the true description. Perhaps Barren Ground is so named because it is so fertile. If you can verify this, or have another theory, please contact us.

Coastal Features

This map dates from 1884 but is particularly useful for identifying the old names of the island’s costal features, many of which doubtless have an interesting story behind them.

1884 map by James Imray & Son Saint Helena Island Info Place Names
1884 map by James Imray & Son

Strange business names

Some business names can seem strange too. What would you expect for ‘The Rose & Crown’, ‘The Queen Mary’ and ‘The Victoria’? Pubs? No, they are all shops{3}. And how about ‘The Standard’? A newspaper? No, it’s a pub{4}! ‘Tinkers’ doesn’t sell household utensils; it’s a frozen food shop and ‘Little Italy’ sounds like a restaurant but actually it’s a grocery shop. At least there’s some logic to the name Moonbeams (follow the link to find out what…).

Even our island’s name is uncertain

If all of the above wasn’t enough, even our island’s name is is uncertain!

St Helena Island in Scotland, UK

In addition to there being a ‘Scotland’ in St Helena, there is also a ‘St Helena Island’ in Scotland, UK!

‘St Helena Island’ in Scotland UK Saint Helena Island Info Place Names
‘St Helena Island’ in Scotland, UK

1.5km SSW of Glenluce, St Helena Island is not a true island, though it can become one at very high tide. The photo looks across Luce Bay, a military Danger Zone, to the Mull of Galloway.{b}

Why does this glorified mudflat shares our island’s name? Apparently an Admiral Dalrymple Hay, who owned the land in the 19th Century, visited our St Helena, where he took cuttings from a tree growing on Napoleon’s grave and planted them here. The area has been known ever since as St Helena Island (even though it isn’t even really an island).

Read More

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Article: Mountains or Molehills over peaks controversy

By Nick Hewes, published in the St Helena Independent 19th May 2006{5}

One day at the end of 2004 the Conservation Group went for a walk along the high ridge that forms the Diana’s Peak National Park. The main ridge runs more or less from east to west, cutting right across the middle of St Helena. As one passes from peak to peak, the views are, at least on a clear day, quite astounding. In some places the ridge is no more than a few feet wide, so that you are able to take in uninterrupted vistas to the north and south at the same time.

When our party arrived at the last of the three peaks (that is, the most easterly), Mount Actaeon, we all sat down for a rest. Glancing at an Ordnance Survey map, it was interesting to note that our whereabouts was designated, not as Mount Actaeon at all, but rather, as Cuckhold’s Point. Whereas the St Helena National Trust map listed Cuckhold’s as the most western of the three peaks. Obviously a rare Ordnance Survey printing error, I thought. Little did I realise that I’d just stumbled upon a truly bizarre mix up over the proper names of any of St Helena’s three peaks.

For the fact is, all three peaks - Mount Actaeon, Diana’s Peak and Cuckhold’s Point - have shared each other’s names at various points of history. As a recent St Helena National Trust document says,

The names of the three peaks have been recorded differently on various maps over time, which has and still is causing some controversy.

Peak names controversy Saint Helena Island Info Place Names

Some of the various versions of the naming of the peaks are listed below (with acknowledgements and thanks to the St Helena National Trust).

From the west, Cuckhold - Diana’s - Actaeon:

  • Trigonometric survey of the island of St Helena, George W. Mellis 1825-1836

  • 1984 Quentin Cronk’s several published papers and book

  • 1996 National Park Guide

  • 1996 National Park of St Helena Management Plan for 1996-2001, by Doug Smith and Nick Williams, Agriculture and Forestry Department

  • 2000 St Helena and Ascension Island: a natural history by Philip and Myrtle Ashmole (the footnote on page 125 explains the problem)

  • All signs and information in the Park erected by ANRD during the past decade

  • This is the sequence used by those who work on the Peaks

From the west, Actaeon - Diana’s - Cuckhold’s:

  • Royal Artillery map of 1850

  • Planters’ map of St Helena, 1852

  • Royal Engineers’ map of 1872

  • Current edition (1990) of Ordnance Survey Map

Maps of the peaks Saint Helena Island Info Place Names
A recent Ordnance Survey map (left) and the current National Park map (right)

What is even more remarkable is that some maps even disagree on which peak is the highest. On some maps Diana’s Peak is given as the highest point, but many other sources - John Melliss, in 1875 for example{6} - instead list Actaeon as the highest. This may not sound like much to worry about, but don’t forget that you are talking about a country and its highest peak. The fact that there is confusion about the name of the highest point on the Island is touchingly and eccentrically odd - a bit like the Welsh not being able to agree on whether Snowdon or Cader Idris is their tallest mountain! As one commentator told me,

It’s so weird that this confusion could have come about on such a small island.

Sources showing Actaeon as the highest point include the following:

  • Maps from 1904, 1922 and 1956

  • 1966 publication (survey probably 1941) Ministry of Defence (War Office)

  • 1974 Ordnance Survey map

The Independent asked Dr. Rebecca Cairns Wicks, at the St Helena National Trust, about the controversy.

The first time I became aware of the confusion was ten years ago, when the Ashmoles were researching for their book on the natural history of St Helena. They wanted to get the names of the peaks right. At that time we were using Doug Smith’s interpretation{7}. Doug himself had based the names on the system adopted by George Benjamin, (working for ANRD at the time), and George in his turn was going on the local knowledge of the time. It was a word-of-mouth thing really. So now our nomenclature [naming system] is just based on what we’ve been told. I’m sure that other people though, might see things differently. Some will say that Diana is the highest peak, and others will plump for Mount Actaeon. That’s how it’s always been. The mapmakers, now and in the past, will generally have gone and asked ordinary people about the names of local features; they will then base their maps on this information. I suspect that is what happened when the most recent Ordnance Survey map was being prepared. They just asked locals for their versions of the names. The names have been changed several times in the past. What can you do? How far do you go back? Do you go right back to the original nomenclature, or do you simply accept the most recent changes? It is a real problem at the moment because the maps produced by the Tourist Office and the Conservation Group tell you different things. In short, Actaeon and Cuckhold’s have been reversed. It would make sense to know which way round we’re getting it.

Rebecca says that another change in the names of the peaks would make life very difficult for the team of conservation workers who work on the ridges.

For the guys who work on the peaks, it makes much more sense to keep things as they are. We [the conservationists] are the only people who have consistently been up there over the last ten years. We’ve been managing 81 hectares, which have been divided into 69 different packets of land, each one of which has its own label. The people who work there have all these names in their heads. If we changed the names again, it would cause great difficulty in how to interpret the working records. If someone were told to go and irrigate Actaeon No. III, for example, it could be very confusing, because Mount Actaeon would be in a different place - it would have fundamentally changed its whereabouts! So all the workers would have to check and double-check these details on a daily basis, to make sure they were working in the right place.

The Head of the Tourist Office, Pamela Young, was asked for her opinion on the confusion over the names of the peaks. She said that even amongst Saints there is disagreement.

We’ve had queries from locals, and there is definitely a difference of opinion about which Peak is which. There is a basic contradiction about the names. I went up there at Christmas with a group of 12 local people, ranging from 47 to 62 years of age. Every member of that group insisted that the names of the peaks were different to how they remembered them, and that therefore the signs were incorrect. According to their memories, the names were the same as the OS map.

Lastly, The Independent paid a visit to the Legal and Lands Department, in order to ask the Planning Officer, Mr Gavin George for his views on the matter. He told me,

From a personal point of view, I would say that, as an Islander, Cuckhold’s is the most easterly peak - that is, the one nearest to Rock Rose and Levelwood. And there are good historical reasons backing that up. For example, a Royal Artillery map of 1850, and also a Royal Engineers’ map of 1872, show Cuckhold’s to the east. Even as a boy I can remember Actaeon to be in the west; that is, the same as the OS maps.

Gavin says that the confusion is not just an academic matter. It could have serious consequences.

Imagine if a tourist seriously injured themselves on what is, according to the sign, Mount Actaeon. One of the injured person’s companions runs for help and rings the emergency services. Off goes the ambulance, and the navigator takes them, according to his or her Ordnance Survey map, to Mount Actaeon. Unfortunately however, they end up looking on completely the wrong hill, because the Tourist map and the sign contradict each other! It first came to light for me when I went walking a few months ago. The people I was with noticed a discrepancy between our map and the sign. They actually gave me some flak because they thought, what with me working in planning, that I must have changed the map!

How should the confusion be resolved?

I think that you should always go back to the source. One reason for doing that is that the changes in the names are quite recent. Why should history be changed, just because mistakes have been made in the recent past! Something’s got to give, because at the moment tourists who come here are quite confused, due to the signs saying something different to the maps. Rebecca and her team are following the knowledge that they have inherited from her predecessor. There are good reasons for doing that, but there is no possibility that the Ordnance Survey maps will be changed.

Perhaps the last word on this fascinating contradiction should be given to the writer and historian Ian Mathieson. In his guidebook Exploring St Helena: A Walker’s Guide, Mathieson writes,

The names of the three peaks are the subject of one of St Helena’s more extraordinary and longrunning controversies. The case has been argued for the sequence of names to run, from the south, Diana - Actaeon - Cuckhold’s; or Actaeon - Diana - Cuckhold’s. The sequence used in this description is that used on the current maps (Cuckhold’s - Diana - Actaeon) but as to which is ‘correct’ there will probably never be agreement.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Place Names

Laugh at funny Place Names humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info


Credits:

{a} St Helena News Review, 10th July 1981.

{b} www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1654989, Retrieved 4th June 2016{5}



Footnotes:

{1} Names don’t have to be clever!

{2} en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosegay.

{3} Though a pub with the name ‘Rose & Crown’ did exist near Hutt’s Gate in the 19th Century.

{4} It closed in August 2016.

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

{6} ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, by John Melliss, published in 1875.

{7} Doug was a naturalist who had come out here from the UK on a DfID contract.



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