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What to buy

Souvenir shopping on St Helena

We travel because, no matter how comfortable we are at home, there’s a part of us that wants - that needs - to see new vistas, take new tours, obtain new traveller’s checks, buy new souvenirs, order new entrees, introduce new bacteria into our intestinal tracts, learn new words for ‘transfusion’, and have all the other travel adventures that make us want to French-kiss our doormats when we finally get home{a}

Some suggestions for things to take back with you after your visit

What to buy

Apart from photographs, like everywhere else in the world St Helena offers the visitor a wide variety of souvenirs to take home as a reminder of the visit.

Some, however, although they may carry the name St Helena and possibly some local images, are actually manufactured elsewhere and imported for sale.

On this page, for the benefit of our more discerning visitors, we concentrate on the souvenirs that are actually produced on St Helena, often using largely local or recycled materials, always by hand and in many cases using skills that have been passed down over many generations.

SEE ALSO: For day-to-day shopping, see our page Shopping on St Helena. There are also sometimes informal markets set up in Grand Parade on Cruise Ship Days.

You can no longer buy the book ‘A Souvenir of St Helena’, published in 1905, but you can read it here!{1}

Some particular things to look out for when shopping for souvenirs are described below:

What to look for

Below: Local woodcraftHandmade laceSeed WorkOther items worthy of note

Local woodcraft

Local Woodcraft
Local Woodcraft{b}

St Helena has a long tradition of woodcraft, with skills being passed down through the generations. As a result the island has producers of handmade wooden souvenirs, many of them made with locally-grown wood and occasionally even with Endemic Species. There are strict rules in place governing the use of endemic woods: the raw material must only come from a plant that has fallen naturally, or been cut down as a conservation measure (e.g. through planned thinning). Such items naturally attract a premium price because of their rarity.

Wood items are mostly sold at The Art & Crafts Centre, in Main Street, Jamestown.

Handmade lace

Lace making

Another craft with a long tradition on St Helena is lace making.

As a craft this was encouraged at the end of the 19th century with the aim of creating an island industry, largely by Emily Jackson{2}. A lace making school was opened in 1908. Although the industry did not survive, the skills have been passed down.

Fine examples of lacework can be found for sale on St Helena; some are useful - coasters, bookmarks - and some are purely decorative. Marvel at the intricate work that went into producing them! Lace items are mostly sold at The Art & Crafts Centre, in Main Street, Jamestown.

To learn more go to our page Lace Making or see the article (below).

Seed Work

There is a long tradition of making decorative items from local plant seeds. Products include coasters and placemats but also pots and other creations. The Art & Crafts Centre has a good selection.

Other items worthy of note

Tortoise, made from flax

How about a Tortoise, made from flax? These and other flax-based items are made by our social enterprise for the disabled, S.H.A.P.E. and available in many shops. The Art & Crafts Centre also has some knitted ones.

Napoleon souvenirs are widely available but, unsurprisingly, the gift shop at Longwood House specialises in them!

Many people on St Helena make jewellery. Every item is handmade, and in some cases each piece is unique. Local materials are used when possible, though we are limited by what’s available.

If you take a great photo while you’re here you can have it printed on a keyring, plaque, mug, t-shirt, etc. Enquire at Moonbeams (Market Street).

You can also buy stamp sets and First Day Covers and presentation commemorative coins from the Post Office in Jamestown.

Where to find quality souvenirs

Advert, 1980
Advert, St Helena News Review, August 1980

Places where you can shop for quality locally-made souvenirs include (all of them in Jamestown):

The Art & Crafts Shop

Art & Crafts

The Art & Crafts Association (also referred to as the ‘Arts & Crafts Association’) provides support for local artists and producers of craft products, including providing a shop in Jamestown where both members of the Association and others can sell their work. The Art & Crafts Shop is located in The Cannister in Jamestown, next to the Tourist Information Office - (+290) 22101.

SEE ALSO: Our Community Pages page Art & Crafts Association.

Read More

Article: Jessica March MBE, Lace Maker

Extracted from an interview with Jessica March by Cathy Hopkins, published in the St Helena Herald 7th May 2010{3}

Jessica’s work in progress
Jessica’s work in progress

She recalls that her mother made lace. Butterflies and things like that. One nursing sister was out here, she used to tend people…she was a lace maker. And they got talking, her and my Mumma…she said she had one bumble bee and she couldn’t work it. She ask my Mumma if she could work it. My Mumma tell her no, she won’ be able to do that, but my Mumma tell her don’t know if I will be able to do it. So she tell Mumma to bring it home and ask me. And Jessica worked the bumble bee pattern and her mother took it back the following week when she went to town for her treatment. And when she look at it , she was astonished. She say that she’ll never be able to work that! So what she done, she give Mumma the pattern bring back and give it to me.

Jessica then went on to tell me about how she learnt lace at the Lace School in what is now the Public Library - she used to take her mother’s lace to town to the Handicrafts to sell and one day when she got there, Lady Bain-Gray (wife of Governor Bain-Gray) was in the Handicrafts and asked Jessica what she did at home? I tell her I do the water, cooking, get wood in. That not good enough. She say that I got to do that work too (referring to lace work).

Jessica March in 2010
Jessica March in 2010

But this wasn’t quite as straightforward as it might have been. For one thing Jessica’s parents felt they needed her at home to help round the house and they also felt it was a long way for a young girl to go - there was no public transport in those days! For three weeks they resisted her pleas to join the classes until finally they said she could give it a try. And the following Tuesday was her first day at the Lace School. She recalls it well!

I get up early every morning, no lying in bed, but I never used to do no work before I go. I get my bath and I get my food and then I go. So, OK, when I get down there by the Governor’s garden gate (The Castle Gardens gate) I was ’shamed, I couldn’t go in, I stand out there like I was frightened. I stand up out there by the gate. And Miss Finnegan, she must be see me, looking out at me. So she come out meet me and put her arms round me…and she could feel I was frightened…I was little t’ing, see? Anyway, she went inside with Miss Finnegan and found all the young women sitting around the big table at work on their lace or embroidery. I had to sit separately by myself. I never done no work that day, I had to prepare, wind on my bobbins. So while I was wind on my bobbins one man come in…Mr Robert Broadway, he was Miss Finnegan’s boyfriend. OK, he tell her he was going to send her eleven o’clock tea down by one servant so she tell him I was from way out country…so he say he will send tea down for me too. And after that when he came down again, he told her that she must go up to his house and have some food to eat whenever she came to town, not just when she went to class. The next time I went to class I had to start my lace, the second day. So that day I went town, I done my lace. Miss Finnegan say I good enough to take the cushion home. Ho, Ho! …I excited now. I used to bring my bread home, now I’d take two bags in case rain. I couldn’t help rain…now I had one bag with my loaves of bread and one bag with my cushion.

Jessica went up the Ladder on her way home and at the top she met people coming up with their donkeys. Blanche Caswell and all those people…they say, it’s very kind you know, they say I can put my load on their donkeys. However, Jessica felt she could move quicker on her own and kept on walking! I carry on all the way thinking which way I got to put my bobbins. She was anxious not to forget what she’d learnt so she could work the lace correctly. When she got home, she had some tea and her mother told her Don’t cook tonight, she say she’ll do the cooking. I went start my lace. My Mumma come over look at it. But she couldn’t help Jessica with it as she didn’t know the pattern. When Jessica went down the next Tuesday, Miss Finnegan looked at it. She said I had it perfect, every pin hole was right! So she was able to take it home with her all the time. She worked the lace square and then asked Miss Finnegan what it was called. But she say it had no name, it was a pattern she make up. So what she do…I was the first one to work it, she name it ‘Jessica’.

Jessica can remember the date when she began lace classes - 19th May 1942; she was nearly 16 years old.

Additional notes: Jessica March was awarded the MBE in the 2001 Birthday Honours. She lived until 7th May 2017.


{a} Dave Barry, in ‘The Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need’{b} MJ Ltd


{1} Beware - some of the island history portrayed was believed correct at the time but is now known to be inaccurate.{2} Who was also one of the island’s historians.{3} @@RepDis@@