➥ Loading Saint Helena Island Info



High Knoll Fort

Important, in the past and today

Defend me from my friends; I can defend myself from my enemies{d}

The largest military installation on the island - important; and also interesting‍‍


High Knoll Fort stands 600 metres above sea level and is the largest, most prominent and most complete of the forts and military installations on the island. It is located to the south west of, and overlooking Jamestown. It is designated as a Grade I Listed Building and has twice been voted one of the Seven Wonders of St Helena.

The current fort was built by the Royal Engineers in 1874, but this structure incorporated an earlier fort on the site built in around 1790 by Governor Brooke. This earlier fort comprised a high, square structure with two outer towers and stone ramparts. On Read’s 1817 map this fort was named ‘High Knoll Citadel’.

The old fort, depicted in 1821
The old fort, depicted in 1821{1}
Satellite view
Satellite view
Entrance in 2010
Entrance in 2015

High Knoll Fort in World War 2
In World War 2
1976 with satellite antenna
1976 with satellite antenna{f}
Internal view, 2018
Internal view, 2018{g}

In 1816 Governor Lowe, as part of a general programme of improving the island’s fortifications, recommended High Knoll be made into a ‘Covering Fort’ for Ladder Hill Fort, providing a second line of defence if an enemy made a successful landing in James Bay and securing the high ground to the rear. Whether significant improvements were made is unknown. In John Melliss’ ‘List of Guns’ for 1825-36 High Knoll is listed as having two 14 pounder iron guns and eight 18 pounder carronades. You can see another illustration{h} of the old fort from the early 1800s.

Darwin described it in 1836 as very picturesque [᠁] like an old Welsh castle.

In the 1860s and 1870s Britain went through a period often referred to as ‘fortification mania’. In this period it was decided that High Knoll should be substantially improved. The current structure is the result. The new fort had two purposes: It had many more guns trained on James Valley and others trained inland, to defend against an attack from either direction; and it was officially a redoubt fort, where the population of the island could shelter in case of an invasion (hence the size of the large central area), although as the fort has no water supply its effectiveness under siege would have been rather limited.

Site clearance began at the beginning of the 1870s{2} and construction work began in 1874, as marked by the plaque over the gate, but were not completed until around 1894.

The fort has four water wells, each of approx. 60cm diameter, one within the tower area and the others in the main arena. The ‘Quarters’ area is divided into rooms, many with small fireplaces. It is thought some were later used as stables.

Magnificent though the new fort clearly was, it never had the opportunity to fulfil its purpose. No enemies attempted a landing on St Helena in its lifetime. It was briefly useful in the early 20th Century, to house some of the more difficult Boer PoWs, but apart from this, and as the military presence on St Helena gradually reduced, High Knoll Fort slowly became a disused monument; a place to visit to get a good view of the island. As the picture (right) shows, the fort’s only military use was as a location for photographs.

The current iron gates are not original, and examination of the gate area shows the remains of a mechanism that would probably have operated a drawbridge.

In the early 1970s an American team from the US Defence Mapping Agency in Washington DC were allowed to set up a satellite tracking station at the fort. But in order to make way for their antennae they cut down a flagpole, which angered the Governor and they were sent away.The station was taken over by members of 512 Specialist Team, Royal Engineers (512 STRE), comprising Army, Navy & Air Force personnel, known by the islanders as ‘Geodetics’, busily engaged in the tracking of satellites, rabbits and anything else that moves, but they are being very secretive about their success rate on all items{i}{3}. It closed in April 1984. More on our page Memories of St Helena.

The fort was also used to quarantine animals until a purpose-built quarantine station was opened by Governor Smallman in Ruperts in November 1998. A music festival was held there on 15th June 1990, to raise money to buy equipment for the General Hospital. Currently Sure have TV transmission equipment located there{4}.

The fort is said to be haunted.

High Knoll Fort has a key, and at some time in the 1950s it was lost. It was entrusted by the island’s police sergeant to a marine serving on the island, who inadvertently took it away with him when he left the island. It was returned by his widow in April 1991 and is now in the museum. Nobody knows when High Knoll Fort was actually last locked - probably when some of the Boer PoWs were held there in 1900-2.

In August 2019 Executive Council decided to hand over formal responsibility for the fort to the St Helena National Trust in a lease agreement. It was intended that the Trust would then be able to raise funds to maintain the fort. However the Trust was unable to do so and control quickly reverted to the Government of St Helena.

Rough Plan

Early 21st Century

The Fort in 2007

In 2006 a plan was announced to invite Country Music singer Mick Flavin to perform at High Knoll Fort in December, as part of the island’s Festival of Arts and Culture. As interest grew it became necessary to relocate the project to Frances Plain, partly due to the numbers of people and also because there is limited car parking at the Fort{5}.

Largely through neglect, in the early 21st Century parts of the fort crumbled away.

On Wednesday morning, it was discovered that a part of the eastern wall of High Knoll Fort had collapsed. A member of the public reported this to Public Works & Services Department and Officials from St Helena Government undertook a site visit, and it was confirmed that a vertical section of the wall, about 12 x 12 feet, had fallen down. The hole is situated not far from where Cable & Wireless has its broadcasting equipment. Alan Hudson, Chief Engineer, said on Wednesday afternoon that it appeared that the damage to the wall had gone all the way down to the foundations and that it appeared that the area of the wall had been repaired previously. He also said that the thickness of the wall would make it a major task to repair, especially as it has to be done in a manner suitable for an historic building such as High Knoll Fort.

A press release from the Castle late Wednesday afternoon said that:
The Legal, Lands and Planning Department has advised that High Knoll Fort has been closed until further notice. Head of Department, Gavin George, explained that this decision has been taken in the interest of public safety. The public will be advised when the Fort is re-opened but, until further notice, it will remain closed. The gates are now equipped with a lock. Further assessments of the damages will now be undertaken and the repair works will commence in due course.{k}

In fact, High Knoll Fort remained fully closed until 2012 and then only partially open, for special events with many areas sealed off, for a further three years. It was the subject of an expert survey in 2009 which concluded that restoration was indeed possible and that traditional building techniques would need to be used to effect a complete repair (See Article, below). The public was even asked if it should indeed be saved (see newspaper notice).

At the beginning of 2015 the St Helena National Trust responded to the challenge and took on the job of restoring High Knoll Fort using the traditional materials and techniques originally used to build it.

The fort re-opened to the public on Saturday 26th April 2015:

Last Saturday evening saw the opening of High Knoll fort to the public. The event was hosted by the St Helena National Trust and included speeches from Governor Mark Capes, Councillor Lawson Henry and St Helena National Trust President Ethel Yon. Food was provided by Mikes Munchies and the bar by Amphibians.

The fort was closed in 2007 when large sections of the walls collapsed causing it to be deemed structurally unsafe. In recent years the St Helena National Trust and others funded rebuilding efforts that have repaired the damages sections of the wall and repaired other structural weaknesses. The work was conducted by Brian Leo and his team using the traditional materials. Although there is more work to be done, the fort is now open for public use.{l}

Use Today

The fort can now be booked for larger events. In November 2015 Creative St Helena, a local arts & culture group, booked the fort for a Saturday evening show, to include an art exhibition, fashion show and live music.{6}.

It has also been proposed that High Knoll Fort might be used for open-air theatre productions. One use it already has is as a photography back-drop.

On 16th December 2016 High Knoll Fort was illuminated for the first time{7}. Governor Lisa Phillips switched on the lights. They failed a few years later and at the time of writing have not been repaired.

The St Helena Astronomy Club meets at the Fort because of its isolation - away from artificial light - and because the skies are usually clear here.

Creative Saint Helena was planning to present an event at the fort on 18th April 2020, which would have been the first major public event held there since restoration, but due to Covid‑19 this did not go ahead.

Other Photos

Read More

Below: Article: The ‘Oil Tanker’ is not ready for scuttlingSeven Wonders Voting

Article: The ‘Oil Tanker’ is not ready for scuttling

Published in The Independent 6th March 2009{8}

High Knoll Fort, thought by many to look like a stranded oil tanker, was given the prospect of a promising future when Ben Jeffs and Ed Simons told us of their investigations so far.

Ben and Ed are here to assess the conservation work required to bring the Fort to a reasonable standard of maintenance, undertake some archaeological work in and around the Fort, research its history and produce educational and tourist material about the Fort.

Starting with the gun tower at the Half Tree Hollow end of the Fort, they explained the main work required was to sort out the damp problem and then return parts of the structure to the original. The damp is not a serious problem in that it should be relatively easy to fix. However, if it is not fixed it could do serious harm to the stone walls, ceilings and floors. Altering the structure mostly involves removing concrete blocks used to seal window and door openings and other similar work so the inside of the tower is once more as it was originally designed. The work required is not thought to be extensive or expensive. When completed it will be possible to explain to visitors why the inside of the tower is constructed the way it is and how it would have been used in defence of the Island.

The tower is constructed so that the guns on top of the tower have an unobstructed range of fire over a large section of the northern sector of the Island. The inside of the tower is mainly a munitions store for gunpowder and cannon balls. The inside is divided into four. Each of the four quarters is exactly the same and constructed so that gun powder can be stored in the top half of the tower and carried up steps and through doorways and openings up to the gun crews at the top by the army’s version of the navy’s ‘powder monkeys’. They were boys used on warships to carry gunpowder from the store to the guns. The top of the tower has been altered over time to house different types of guns. Remnants of the original designs can still be seen among the alterations.

The walls of the Fort are, overall, also in fairly good condition. The current estimate is that about 20% of the entire length of the walls will need conservation and maintenance. Different sections of wall will need different amounts of work to get them into an acceptable state of repair. This means some sections which are easier to get up to standard can be completed, if necessary, earlier than those parts of the walls which need more planning and a lot more work. Ben said the buildings at the Red Hill end of the Fort are thought to be barracks. More work is required on several aspects of the Fort’s construction and history but it seems details of the construction of the various rooms were decided as the work went along. The most westerly room was certainly a kitchen and one room towards the centre has definitely been altered in more recent times for a purpose which cannot be worked out. Most of the other rooms are slightly different from each other in the way they are finished. Another consideration is the presence of endemic plants in and on the Fort’s walls. Barn fern has already been spotted in some places as well as Island mosses.

There are many questions which need to be answered about High Knoll Fort. It’s Ben and Ed’s job to find the answers. The questions range from what state are the various parts of it in now? How much will repairs cost and how long will they take? What is the best way to explain why the Fort is located and designed the way it is? What is the Fort’s history and what is its future?

Ed Simons leaves the Island on Sunday. Ben Jeffs is here until April; at least that was the original departure date for Ben. When asked now when he is leaving he just looks at you with a puzzled expression. Both will continue working on what they have found here when they are back in the UK. The result of all this will be several reports with detailed descriptions, explanations and recommendations. The main part of the work will be the High Knoll Fort Conservation Plan.

Seven Wonders Voting



The appeal (right), made by visiting archaeologist, Ben Jeffs, was broadcast on Radio St Helena prior to the 2008 Seven Wonders voting:


{a} Tourist Information Office{b} CKW Photography{c} Marc Lavaud/Tourist Information Office{d} Maréchal de Villars{e} Chris and Sheila Hillman{f} Steve Brown{g} Tourist Information Office{h} www.britishmuseum.org{i} St Helena News Review, 1st August 1980{8}{j} Stewart Evans, 26th January 2018{8}{k} The Independent, 7th August 2007{8}{l} The Independent, 1st May 2015{8}{m} Manfred Rippich/Radio St Helena


{1} This may not be an accurate portrayal. It is by Wathen, who also drew Jamestown - as shown on our page Do they mean us?.{2} 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 and contributing to the extensive flooding in 1873.{3} The satellite tracking teams were Royal Engineers, working with Royal Navy and RAF electronics engineers. Various teams rebuilt the room and the small storage shed on the round tower in order to relocate the tracking equipment from the damp cellar below the round tower. The project was to track specific satellites which were using gravity and radio telemetry to determine the shape of the earth. I was on one team from September 1976 to January 1977. The RE teams were seconded to the US Defence Mapping Agency as part of a world-wide effort. The end result was a geoidal model of the earth. St Helena was used because of its mid-ocean position{j}.{4} Sure’s TV antenna can be clearly seen in the view from the air. How planning permission was ever secured to erect such an eyesore in a prominent position on a historic monument remains a mystery.{5} Later the project was cancelled.{6} Unfortunately the event had to be cancelled at the last minute because the organisation that had agreed to provide the portable toilets for the event (there are no facilities at the fort) inexplicably pulled out.{7} It is sometimes claimed that the money for this project was raised by not putting the planned lift into the refurbished Market, but we have been assured by Enterprise St Helena (ESH) (who were responsible for both projects) that this was not the case.{8} @@RepDis@@


Ⓘ highknollfort.htm⋅processforftp⋅fb:1.10.0⋅wombat2018⋅24.07