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St. Paul’s Cathedral

Important, but with humble beginnings

My own mind is my own church.{l}

Originally just the ‘Country Church’, St. Paul’s now has Cathedral status‍‍

Please note: this page is about the church. For the District see our page St Pauls.

SEE ALSO: St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of our many interesting historic churches, including St. James’ Church and St. Matthew’s Church.



The current St. Paul’s Cathedral replaced two earlier churches on broadly the same site. The first is thought to have been built quite a while after the island was settled, but we don’t know exactly when. From the Records:

Notice reference to the Church, singular, suggesting there was only one. But Philip Gosse in ‘St Helena 1502-1938’ for 1678 says that Two surveyors of highways and two churchwardens, one for each church - for another church had been built in the country near to White Gate - were chosen by the Governor.

Whenever it was actually built, this first ‘Country Church’ is known to have been constructed of wood, and located on a site near the current Cathedral.

Because of its wooden construction this church gradually decayed. From the Records:

It is known that a second Country Church, of stone construction, was built on a hill overlooking the current Cathedral site, but we don’t know quite when. In 1701 it appears Governor Poirier attended a service in the Country Church{4}. Would the Governor have attended a church that was declared much decayed ten years earlier? But in a 1732 Vestry Report:

Was this still the wooden original?

Whenever it was built, two images of the stone church building survive (below). Read’s map of 1817 (also below) shows the church with a spire, but there are several inaccuracies in Read’s map and we are inclined to believe the other images, which show it with a tower.

It is not known when burials in the churchyard actually began but the church records list burial #1 on 2nd May 1830, one John Charles Greentree aged 11 years. The first recorded marriage in the church took place on 5th June 1830; John Ellis got married, but sadly the register is too faded to read the name of his bride. The first baptism recorded is somewhat earlier: 30th June 1822, of one Sarah Alvares, born 29th November 1821.

By the 1840s this second church too was decaying, with the walls propped up with wooden stays. So in 1848 the site for the present church was cleared, and work started.

Contemporary newspaper
Contemporary newspaper

Designed by distinguished London architect Benjamin Ferrey, the foundation stone was laid by Governor Patrick Ross on 6th February 1850.

Although some parts of the old church were re-used, the new church was much bigger. As is reported in a contemporary newspaper (right) the new components were actually fabricated in England by Winsland & Holland of Duke Street, Bloomsbury and shipped out in parts: the stone for the doors and windows was carried on the barque Glentanner; the roof and other woodwork, ironwork, paving slates, pulpit and seats followed later on board the Juliana.

The newly-‘Liberated Africans’ were employed on the works, mostly carrying stone up for the project, providing them with a welcome escape from the monotony of depot life, but also being of significant benefit to the costs of the construction - they were not paid for their labours, whereas an island labourer would have earned 7s a day (7s=£0.35).

Construction was completed in 1851 and the new church held its first service on 3rd September. It became the cathedral church for St Helena when the Diocese of St Helena was established in 1859. The graveyard was extended in 1891 and again in 1915 and yet again 1932.

The building was closed from 25th June 1939 until 1945 while damage caused by White Ants was repaired which made the roof in the main building unstable and liable to collapse. In the interim weddings and a weekly small service were held in the vestry, but larger gatherings took place in Bishopsholme. It was re-opened on 13th May 1945 and re-dedicated on 6th October 1946.

The Lytch Gate at the eastern entrance was built in 1947. Electric lighting was installed in 1949 - presumably from a generator because the ‘mains’ supply did not reach the area until the 1960s. It was refurbished again in 1982, including re-tiling of the floor, re-opening on 1st August. The graveyard was extended again in 1982 and yet again in 1994, including annexing the former military cemetery.

The Cathedral Today

Governor’s Gate
Governor’s Gate

In addition to the main entrance, via the Lytch Gate, and a second entrance to the east, there is a ‘back door’ into Plantation House, formerly used by Governors as a short-cut from home to church. As you can see from the photograph (right) it is clearly no longer used…

Apart from the many Memorial Stones that adorn the walls and the two stained-glass windows there is also a Sanctuary lamp dedicated to loyal churchwarden Reginald Constantine who died in 1980. The brass for the lamp came from the SS Papanui.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is designated as a Grade I listed building. Maintenance is a continual problem - there has been a ‘Restoration Fund’ since at least the 1980s (and probably for some time before that!) - see the article below.

You can download a leaflet about St. Paul’s and its daughter churches.

The Bell…and the ‘experts’

As can be seen from John Isaac Lilley’s 1860s photograph (below), the bell was not originally in the tower…but now it is{5}. This is the history of the bell…{m}

In 1849, when the current building was being designed, one Richard Kempthorne wrote to Bishop Gray that he had received Mr Ferrey’s drawings and generally liked them, but for one criticism:

The West End…runs up into a rather high Bell turret, containing three bells. This rather disappoints me, as I had set my heart upon a LARGE bell…

It is therefore apparent that the bell tower, as designed and built and as shown in John Isaac Lilley’s 1860s photograph, was intended to house three smaller bells, though at the time of the photograph these had not been hung. It can be inferred from later events that this was because concern had been expressed (presumably by an ‘expert’) that the bell tower, as built, would not support the weight of three bells.

The three bells had clearly been procured because in 1867 it was decided to hang two bells in the tower, ‘expert’ opinion having advised that this might be done without risk (the the third bell was given to St. Matthew’s Parish in 1887). No photographic or Records evidence exists to show the tower in this configuration. These were replaced by a single, larger bell in 1886, even though this bell was not quite as large as Kempthorne desired, requiring the bell tower to be modified to its current design. This is how it is shown in the c.1903 and 1940s photos (below).

As little as a year later an ‘expert’ - one Sapper Robert Newhouse (Royal Engineers) - wrote to say that he did not advise continuing with this arrangement, saying:

If any casualty ever occurs with the Bell in Turret at St. Paul’s, I should advise the bell to be stationary and a double clapper fixed upon Cill of Turret, then there will no strain upon Bolt only Vertical.

It is not clear if his advice was heeded or ignored but apparently the bell fell from its mountings in 1948 and was taken down, probably because an ‘expert’ advised that the tower had become too weak to support it; it was placed in the North Porch. But the bell was replaced in the tower in 1967, presumably after advice from another ‘expert’; then again it was taken down in 1978 (another ‘expert’?), and in 1983 a Civil Engineer (yet another ‘expert’) advised that it would be dangerous to replace it. Despite this it was put back up again in the 1990s (one more ‘expert’), where it has remained ever since.

The ringing mechanism failed in 2007 and was repaired two years later, but the bell remained in the tower throughout.

From 1948 to 1967 and again from 1978 to the 1990s when the bell was not in the tower it was mounted on the two white posts which can be seen in the churchyard (see main photo, above). Although the bell is back in the tower{5} the posts are still there, presumably in case another ‘expert’ arrives…

If you have anything to add to this sorry tale of warring ‘expert’s, please contact us.

Memorial Stones

Here are some of the memorial stones from the walls of the cathedral{n}:

A fuller list of the memorials is given here: graves-at-eggsa.org/‌main.php?g2_itemId=2495030 and also here www.findagrave.com/‌cemetery/‌2394980/‌st.-paul's-cathedral-churchyard.

Why was St. Paul’s the Cathedral?

It is often asked why St. Paul’s was designated the Cathedral, and not the older and more prominent St. James’ Church. The answer lies in a letter written by Bishop Gray in 1866:

As to the Cathedral: It was because it was the generally expressed wish of the habitants that the Country Church should be made so, that it was named. My view would have been to have made St. James'; but I yielded to a general wish.

Read More

Article: Moonlight Stroll

Published in the St Helena Herald 21st April 2006{6}

The Moonlight Stroll - A great success - £1,106.56 raised for the St. Paul’s Cathedral Restoration Fund.

Article image

A big thank you from Bishop John, the Churchwardens and the Parish Council to all those who participated in the stroll on the 13th February and, to everyone who so generously sponsored the strollers or gave donations.

Congratulations to: Raymond Young, who completed the route in 50 minutes, his brother Brian Young who did it in 52 minutes and to Linda Thomas who was the first lady to complete the route, closely followed by Patsy Greentree.

Thanks are also extended to the team who contributed to the success of the evening: Peter Thorpe, our surveillance marshal and Patrick (Dooley) John, Beatie and Francie Peters, Ruth and Gordon Pridam for the refreshments and marshalling at St Helena and The Cross, Eric Andrews for the sweets, Di Roberts, John Styles, Doris Yon and Hazel Stevens for donating towards, preparing and serving the soup and rolls to round off the evening at Bishopsholme and to Bishop John for the use of Bishopsholme.

The evening was thoroughly enjoyed by all.

A sincere thank you to everyone. We look forward to your continued support and invite you to join us in worship at the Cathedral at any of our services, especially during the Eastertide.

God Bless

Joy George
Churchwarden and Chairperson of Fund Raising Portfolio.


{a} By W. Thomas, for ‘European Magazine’{b} G.W. Melliss{7}{c} Nicky McMillan{d} Rambling Wombat{e} www.eggsa.org{6}{f} Tourist Information Office{g} Government of St Helena{h} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866{i} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{j} Andrew / Peter Neaum{k} Copyright © 1991 Film Unit, used with permission{l} Thomas Paine{m} Many thanks to Cathy Hopkins for researching this for us. Additional material from Rev. Edward Cannan’s ‘Churches of the South Atlantic Islands’ (1991){n} Mostly from graves-at-eggsa.org/‌main.php?g2_itemId=2495030


{1} The plots marked 282 and 283 were incorporated into the church grounds when the Cathedral Church was built.{2} The cleric is identified as Bishop Turner.{3} This photo appears on graves-at-eggsa.org/‌main.php?g2_itemId=2495030 and is dated Sat Oct 6 16:04:21 2012, but as far as we know the bell was in the tower in 2012. Can anybody help?.{4} Apparently, on his way he noticed a ‘Black’ working and reprimanded his owner for breaking the Sabbath.{5} Or at least, it was the last time we checked. But as the story shows, it’s not a good idea to be too definitive about this.{6} @@RepDis@@{7} Father of John Melliss.


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