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The Run

A long, thin park

A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure. It offers a necessity of life that must be rationed among those who have power over it.{c}

Every Capital City needs a river. Jamestown has ‘The Run’‍‍

‘The Run’ is the name for the watercourse that runs through Jamestown. It is thought to be so-named because the water ‘run’s out to the sea… Melliss’ 1839 map refers to The Run of water passing through James Valley.


The Run is shown in blue on the following map:

__: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{d}.

The Cistern
The Cistern
The Run in upper Jamestown
The Run in upper Jamestown
The Run in lower Jamestown
The Run in lower Jamestown
Footbridge in lower Jamestown
Footbridge in lower Jamestown
At Duke of Edinburgh Playground
At Duke of Edinburgh Playground{e}
The Run under Donny’s
The Run under Donny’s
Discharge into sea
Discharge into sea
Running cables
Running cables
Natural watercourses, 1690s
Natural watercourses, 1690s{1}
1781 by Lafitte (extract)
1781 by Lafitte (extract){f}
Before The Market
Before The Market
1875 diagram
1875 diagram{g}
The Run in 1968
The Run in 1968A new bridge, 2019
A new bridge, 2019{h}

The watercourse that becomes The Run starts on the slopes of Diana’s Peak, flows via Francis Plain to the top of the Heart Shaped Waterfall.

After cascading down it then flows alongside the waterfall walk to a cistern at the top of town, just above the Hospital at New Bridge (a long time ago this was used as a swimming pool by the residents of upper Jamestown). The cistern is sometimes known as the ‘New Bridge Pond’. This is the start of The Run. Exiting from the Cistern it then flows enclosed but uncovered down the back of the houses on the east size of Market Street, all the way to just below the Duke of Edinburgh Playground. It is crossed by one road bridge, at Seales’ Corner, and many footbridges, some less formal (they are just planks or old doors).

It continues, covered, beneath The Bridge and The Market, then returns to being uncovered as it travels alongside Narra Backs until it reaches the Prison, where it is again enclosed, flowing beneath the museum and Leisure Park until it emerges at the bay, underneath Donny’s Bar.

Use today

The Run itself is merely a flow of water but an informal footpath runs the length of the un-covered part from the hospital down to the Duke of Edinburgh Playground. There are numerous access points along the way and The Run is used as a footpath for travelling up and down upper and middle Jamestown. It is surprisingly quiet and peaceful and provides an attractive alternative to walking along the Market Street main road. Being a supply of water in an otherwise dry area, it features abundant wildlife and wild plants.

Unfortunately not all of The Run’s users are always in the best condition:

At 6:00pm Police received a report that a man who was alleged to have been under the influence of alcohol had fallen in to The Run. He was taken to the Hospital and treated for minor injuries and later discharged himself.{i}

It is also a convenient duct for pipes and cables needing to connect upper and lower Jamestown.

There is a fine not exceeding £10,000 for dumping rubbish in The Run.



Because of the warm climate in Jamestown, The Run could easily become foul and a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other bugs, particularly in summer when the flow is lower. It also tends to collect litter. So every day at around 06:00h it is ‘flushed’ - the gate at the sluice behind the General Hospital is opened, allowing a surge of water down The Run which clears away the debris.

The Run normally continues flowing all year round, though it does occasionally dry up, as it did in February 2001 when it had to be cleaned out manually, an unpleasant job.

In Saint-speak, ‘Flush down The Run’ is a term for Curry{3}.

Plans for the future

It has frequently been suggested, since before 1985, that the uncovered section between The Market and The Prison, alongside Narra Backs, be covered and used to create more car parking for Jamestown. At present there are no plans for this but it was raised again as recently as the late 2010s. In 1985 the response by the (then) Chairman, Public Works & Services Committee, Mrs Peters was:

The suggestion has been raised before and there are three major factors against the idea:

‘Doing up’ The Run is frequently proposed, but no concrete plans have ever been discussed.

I often look up The Run and have a vision of how beautiful the area could be if only a certain amount of clearing and preparing bedding plots for pretty trees, shrubs, plants and flowers. Also if a series of small sluice gates or ramps were placed at various points down The Run, water could be flowing gently along and the whole place could quite cheaply become a much loved attraction. With seats and arbours and ‘Lovers’ chairs’ how glorious it could look.{j}

There seems to be general agreement that The Run could be made more attractive and useful, but nobody has yet come forward with a serious proposal for exactly what should be done. The Government of St Helena did, however, fund a number of ‘safety improvements’ in 2018/19, including fencing and replacement footbridges.

Many mostly-older Saints still make use of ‘traditional remedies’ based on plants growing wild around the island, particularly along The Run. Some of these are documented on our page Edible Wild Plants.


Originally James Valley had a Y-shaped watercourse. Starting as a single flow at the top of town, somewhere around where The Market now stands it split into two, running down both the west and east sides of the valley to the sea. The eastern branch ran to The Wharf and water was collected for the use of ships in two cisterns, which have more recently been roofed and converted to buildings - one was formerly the Customs House{4} and the other was formerly The Mortuary. You can still see the route of the bottom end of the eastern fork on the photograph (below) from c.1866. The western fork just flowed to the sea.

Water Channel in Sisters’ Walk
Water Channel in Sisters’ Walk

From the Records:

This is the eastern branch being used to provide water for both the Company’s Garden and the gardens of several of the landowners on the same side of the valley. Apparently they grew an abundance of lemons and other fruits. In 1782 Governor Skottowe had the eastern fork enclosed in lead pipes to improve the reliability of the flow to The Wharf, though in Capt. John Barnes’ ‘A Tour through the Island of St. Helena’ (1817) we read that At the extremity of the valley a perpendicular fall of water of about 100 feet is received into and runs through [the town]; at a convenient place, part of the stream is diverted and carried in a stone drain to reservoirs on The Wharf where ships are watered with convenience and facility. The part of the route behind Castle Gardens became Sisters’ Walk when this was created by Governor Robert Patton. You can still see parts of the channel in the footpath (right).

Lafitte’s 1781 map shows only the western branch, presumably because the eastern fork no longer flowed as an open stream. It is not known when the eastern flow was closed off; indeed the pipes may, at least in part, still be there! The map also shows The Run (in earlier times referred to as ‘The Channel’) flowing under the road at lower Market Street.

Until 1836 the fire brigade relied on The Run as a source of water. A deficiency in the same was one of the contributing factors in the Theatre burning down in 1831. Governor Dallas responded to this by installing ‘fireplugs’ throughout the town.

In the 1850s the entire flow from the top of town to the sea was enclosed in a basalt block-built channel, using rocks that were quarried from behind the present Prison. This became what we now know as The Run. Some think some of The Chinese Labourers were involved in the construction.

Sign on The Arch marking the 1878 Flood Level
Sign on The Arch marking the 1878 Flood Level

The aim in enclosing the flow was to reduce the risk of flooding. Indeed, a proposal to fully-cover The Run was opposed in February 1828, for fear that it would increase the risk of flooding. Despite this, The Run has on occasions failed to deal with the volume of water flowing down it, and flooding has occurred. At the beginning of the 1870s, when High Knoll Fort was being extended, it is said that the spoil from the works was just pushed over the side of the valley, landing in upper Jamestown and blocking The Run, leading to extensive flooding in September 1873{5}.

Another serious flood occurred in April 1878, with two lives lost. A plaque (right) on The Arch in Grand Parade, Jamestown records the event.

On 8th May 1932 The Run burst its banks causing widespread flooding, especially in Market Square, though no loss of life. This from the Diocesan Magazine for June 1932:

In the afternoon of May the 8th Jamestown experienced the biggest flooding of the Run since 1878. An extremely heavy downpour in the Halley’s Mount district resulted in a mass of water accumulating above and bursting through Hunts Gut. The bed of the valley was swept clean and tons of debris and mud caught by the great thorn trees were piled up feet high on the road below Rural Retreat. From thence the flood tore through the Briars Valley, sweeping away the Black Bridge at Drummonds Point in its course.

The valley bed below Chubb’s was cleaned to the bare rock, the dam at New Bridge filled in and the sides of the Run for its whole length scooped out. Every little bridge across the Run was carried away and the bridge at the Mill all but demolished. The tunnel adjacent to the Lower Cemetery was blocked - but not before a mass of debris had been carried out to sea to create a kind of breakwater there. The water in the blocked Run then rising and overflowing the wall poured through the narrow entry into the Market Square leaving a deposit of evil smelling mud and yam roots. Unhappily, some of it found its way through the back door of 2 of the shops on The Bridge and did damage to a certain amount of stock. Beyond this and the breaking of some of the water pipes by Chubb’s Reservoir not much damage was done. On the credit side it proved much needed emergency work for the unemployed. And incidentally in washing out the Briars Valley it has cleansed the route of our supplementary water supply and possibly prepared the way for an improvement of the whole system. We congratulate the Public Works Department on the energetic and admirable way in which they took the situation in hand.

It flooded again in 2002, causing property-damage only, particularly at Donny’s.

The Run has remained largely unchanged since it was created. The cistern at New Bridge was not constructed until 1897, concreting of the channel was completed in 1898 and safety rails were installed on the steep section near Old Brewery Yard in 2004. The Run ceased to be Jamestown’s sewer in 1903 when a public sewerage system was created in the town, piping all household drainage to an outflow pipe at West Rocks.

In September 2018, after the heaviest August rainfall on record the Government of St Helena declared use of The Run prohibited due to high water levels, but exactly how this was to be enforced was not made clear.

A law from 1987{6} prohibits the keeping of livestock (swine, goats, cattle, sheep, horses, donkeys or fowls) within 500 yards either side of The Run. As the floor of James Valley is not 1,000 yards wide at any point, this makes the options for potential goatherds either the steep hillsides, or somewhere out of town!

During the 2016/17 drought the Run almost completely dried up:

Read More

Article: Water, Water Everywhere, but where does it all go?

By Johnny Drummond, published in the St Helena Herald 26th April 2002{7}

Water - where does it go?
Water - where does it go? Olias Humphry
Olias Humphry
Water - where does it go? Old Cisterns
Old Cisterns
Water - where does it go? 1805 drawing
1805 drawing

The saying ‘it never rains but it pours’ has been particularly true of the last few weeks of uncertain weather on the Island. One day it’s blazing with heat and sunshine the next it’s pouring with rain. Recent weekends have seen Napoleon Street awash with mud, rain and rocks, which have caused householders great concern as to the safety of their properties especially those parts below road level. The PW&SD and Fire & Rescue Service were called out to clear the road.

Questions cropped up on street corners amongst huddles of concerned ladies. Where does all the water go? they asked, Are all the underground drains in Napoleon Street completely blocked up? People living further down in Main Street began to ask the same questions as none of the water appeared to be going down the available drains but continued onwards down to the Grand Parade leaving a carpet of pebbles and mud outside the Courthouse along with reddish alluvial streaks like auburn hair newly washed in a stream.

The Herald went off to investigate. It appears that underground drainage in Napoleon Street has either been blocked off deliberately or is completely inadequate for the purpose of carrying off these periodic floods. The same situation exists in Main Street, which has no less than six drains on either side of the road for the purpose of taking rain water underground and directing it towards The Run, also presumably underground. There is no obvious evidence of any inlets to The Run that would suggest that this was the case. So what goes on under our City? No one appears to know.

Looking back over history and studying available maps, the oldest of which dates back to the 1800s we know that The Run used to flow down the eastern side of the valley probably through what is now the Castle Gardens, where maps show an area of great cultivation 100 years earlier. This outflow served two purposes the main one of which was to provide adequate supplies of reasonably clean water to ships of which there were many in those days. The Herald discovered that the two domed buildings now known as The Old Mortuary and the Customs House a little further down were originally sealed reservoirs, which allowed ships to fill their barrels and people to drink by what was later known as Thompson’s Crane, which was then the main landing for such purposes.

As Jamestown developed The Run was diverted under The Bridge and channelled into its present course under the Market and down Narra Backs towards the sea.

In the early 1990s, probably by accident and as a result of the replacement of an electrical pole or perhaps the erection of a pole to carry Christmas illuminations over the festive season, it was discovered that a substantial underground tunnel ran at least from the spot outside The Cannister, so significantly marked by our very first Mini Roundabout, to a point just below Broadway House.

It would appear that the tunnel was fairly dry inside but there was some speculation that it may have acted as a storm drain. It seems that the extent of the tunnel at either end was not investigated. So what was it for, where does it go and if it’s of any use why aren’t we still using it now? A local historian has suggested that well before the fountain{8} was erected a ‘sump-house’ stood on the site and gathered inflows from The Run, which could settle for proper human consumption as well as serving visiting ships via a more complex method than existed before The Run was diverted.

Another man of great experience of drainage in Jamestown maintains that at the bottom end of the tunnel it was directed to the left possibly along Church Lane and under some of the buildings and then into The Run. But no one knows for sure. Some of the underground drains in lower Jamestown are completely blocked, either by design or by years of neglect, and the only evidence of water presence is a luxuriant growth of grass and other less desirable flora, struggling skyward from the dampish earth through the bars of their subterranean Gaol.

We are in the process of laying underground water mains through Jamestown, which will provide the freshest of water to the inhabitants of the town. Work is progressing at an excellent pace and hats off to the men working on the project, but what is happening to all the water not fit for human consumption, which is currently flowing into the sea and apart from ‘down The Run’ has nowhere else to go but down Main Street? The history of this town is amazing above the ground but what goes on underground seems to be anyone’s guess.

The Herald came across the following reminders from the past as a result of a brief perusal of the Records:


{a} Google Earth™{b} Marian Yon{c} Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.{d} Government of St Helena{e} Chris and Sheila Hillman{f} UK National Archives MPH 1/251{7}{9}{10}{g} From ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{11}{h} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.{i} St Helena Herald, 28th March 2003{7}{j} Julian Cairns-Wicks, writing in the St Helena Herald, 6th June 2003{7}


{1} We have seen this map attributed to Bellin, 1764, but we cannot accept this attribution because the Lines were established in 1706 and the Castle was rebuilt in 1708 but neither of these is shown. If this map were drawn in 1764 it was around 60 years out-of-date. It has also been attributed to Bellin with a different date - 1704 - which seems more likely.{2} The thumping sounds are larger objects being washed down by the force of the water.{3} It is probably best not to consider the implications of this on the pre-Sewage System arrangements in Jamestown.{4} The blue building shown at the top of our page Historic Buildings.{5} Swept down The Run and into the bay were cast-iron troughs, donkeys and even a woman, who was apparently saved from drowning by her voluminous Victorian skirts.{6} The Public Health (Jamestown) Regulations 1987, to be precise.{7} @@RepDis@@{8} The Rockfall Memorial Fountain.{9} Not to be confused with the St Helena Archives.{10} Download the full map.{11} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.