Historic Buildings In Brief - Jamestown

A sample

There is a small English town within the great bay, standing in a little valley between two high steep mountains.
T. H. Brooke, Esq., quoting Captain Dampier, who visited in 1691


Jamestown has many historic buildings, some of which are introduced here

SEE ALSO: This page should be read in conjunction with our page Historic Buildings, which goes into more detail about our more significant historic buildings and links to pages describing many more, and our Historic Buildings In Brief - Country page which introduces ‘up-country’ buildings. There is also the Jamestown page.

Below: ‍The Prison‍‍The Arch‍‍The Post Office‍‍Foresters’ Hall‍‍Musk’s Bakery‍‍Yacht Club HQ‍‍Association Hall‍‍1-3 Main Street‍‍Poor Society Building‍‍The Moon‍‍Wellington House‍‘‍The Standard‍’Which Graveyard?Read More

‍The Prison‍

Location Map prison

The prison was built in 1827 and is still in use today, the building largely unaltered. If you want to see the inside, you first have to commit a crime…

The prison was declared unsuitable for further use in the 1850s and Governor Gore Brown built a replacement at Ruperts in 1853. This was a model prison designed by Colonel Jebb, constructed mainly of timber and sent out from England in kit form. Construction was completed towards the end of 1854 and the prisoners were re-located. But the Ruperts Prison was short lived - in 1867 a military prisoner who was confined there burnt it to the ground (which took only around an hour), and the prisoners had to be moved back to the old prison. This was reported in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1867 with the following comment:

With the present claims upon the Government I see but little hope of commencing a new jail for the next two or three years.

years later and the -year-old prison remains in use!

The second photo (below) shows Andries Smorenburg, one of the Boer PoWs, being led out for trial in 1901 after he attempted to escape from St Helena.

See also ‘Lowry’s Cell’.

In former times a family had their home in the upstairs of HM Prison, Jamestown, from where they ran a video-rental business. You had to be let into the Prison to borrow or return a video.

The prison does not conform to modern standards, as reported by the UK Inspector of Prisons in the 1990s. It was decided to relocate prisoners to a new purpose-built prison, but it took from then until 2018 to agree a suitable site. On 29th May 2018 Executive Council announced that the new prison will be built in Bottom Woods, near the Meteorological Station. No completion date was announced and neither was the budget, though the latter was rumoured to be c.£6m. Planning Permission was not granted until March 2020. At the time of writing construction has not yet begun.

During his 2018 visit the Prison Advisor for Overseas Territories, Keith Munns, said that HM Prison in Jamestown has the worst structure of any of the prisons in the Territories he has visited. In December 2018 the island’s Equality & Human Rights Commission released a report ‘Conditions of Detention at HMP Jamestown’ which concluded that a large number of improvements needed to be made to the existing prison to bring it up to minimum Human Rights standards. The prison was re-furbished in 2019 following this report.

Escapees from our prison are discussed on our Escape! page.

‍The Arch‍

Location Map thearch

The Arch is the entrance to Jamestown from the Wharf. The current arch was constructed in 1832, prior to which there was a simple bridge across the moat in this position and access to Town was also from behind where the Customs Building now stands. Pictures of the removal of Napoleon’s body indicate a semi-circular headed arch in lieu of the present rectangular gateway but whether this was artistic licence or when it was altered is not known. Some reconstruction work was undertaken in August 1989 which included making the top demountable (in case a high load needed to pass beneath), though as far as we are aware this option has never been used. The artwork was done by local schoolchildren.

‍The Post Office‍

Location Map postoffice

Described by Crallan as a fine Victorian Building but actually rather older, it was originally a private house (it was, inter alia, the winter residence of Lt. Gen. John Skelton) and then from 1820 the Soldiers & Sailors Institute{2}, after the withdrawal of the Garrison in 1906 it became the base of the Government Lace School from 1907. In c.1915 the Post Office was moved from The Castle, restricting the Lace School to the top floor. When the latter closed in 1917 the top floor was used for accommodation and during World War 2 became the ‘Red Shield Club’ for servicemen (NB it was run by the Salvation Army so only served non-alcoholic drinks).

Now with the growth of email and the Internet, the building is too large to be filled by the Post Office alone. From 2003 to 2010 it was shared with the Bank of St Helena. Now it houses a variety of Government offices, though the Post Office still operates from there.

Close inspection of Hugh Crallan’s 1974 photograph suggests that at some point the rear of the building was altered. The blockwork to the right of the central staircase is materially different to the construction used in the remainder of the building, but note that the right-most wall is closer to the style of the left-hand side. It is not known when this was done or what was there before.

‍Foresters’ Hall‍

Location Map forestershall

Foresters’ Hall was formerly owned by the Ancient Order of Foresters. It is not known when the building was actually constructed; the Order was founded in December 1871 but the building is probably older. The Hall was used in 1942 to house some of the survivors of the SS City of Cairo.

The Ancient Order of Foresters was dissolved on 2nd May 2000. The building is now owned by the Thorpe Family and let as office space.

‍Musk’s Bakery‍

Location Map muskbakery

Formerly Musk’s Bakery, Jamestown, the island’s main bakery. Started in the 1940s, Musk’s closed the bakery on 31st July 2007. Two successive owners failed to make a viable bakery business there and it is now a shop. If you ask nicely they may allow you to explore…

‍Yacht Club HQ‍

Location Map yachtclubhq

One of the older buildings on the wharf (seen in the earliest photos) this is now the home of the St Helena Yacht Club.

‍Association Hall‍

Location Map associationhall

It is thought Association Hall (left, white) was built before 1800, like most of the surrounding buildings. In the early 1900s the building was managed as a hotel (‘The Hotel’). It remained a hotel up until 1948 when it was bought by Solomons. In later years, the building was owned by the Working Men’s Christian Association and acquired its current name. It is now a commercial building, owned by the Thorpe Family, on three levels with rented accommodation at the top.

The other three buildings to the right are numbers 1-3 Main Street.

‍1-3 Main Street‍

These three buildings are always referred to together. They were built in 1772 as houses for The East India Company officials, on the former site of St. James’ Church. They were until recently Government of St Helena offices. In the 1960s they were locally known as Smugglers’ Row because the Chief of Police, the Income Tax Collector and the Customs Officer lived there.

2016, just before conversion
2016, just before conversion

The Crallan Report (1974) has:

Map No.





Staff House: 4 bays, Basement & 2 St., segmental headed windows. D. S. end, in-opening casements, Modern area walls.

See note for 35



Staff House: 3 bays, Basement & 2 St., segmental headed windows. D. S. end, in-opening casements, Modern area walls.

See note for 35



Staff House: 3 bays, Basement & 2 St., segmental headed windows. D. S. end, in-opening casements, Modern area walls. Note: Teale II.2.65. Date evidence confused. Look not earlier than 1750. No. 33 believed to stand on site of pre-1774 St. James’ Church, so they could be post-1774. Item 33 includes archway connecting with Church.



You can download the relevant part of the Crallan Map.

Location Map 123main

In June 2014 Executive Council approved registration of St Helena Hotel Development Limited to own the buildings and convert them into a hotel. In April 2015 it was announced that Mantis Collection would run the hotel. Conversion began in July 2016 and the hotel opened for business on 14th October 2017 - the day the scheduled commercial air service commenced operation.

Mantis St Helena

Mantis writes{h}:

The buildings originally served as an officers’ barracks for the East India Company, who administered the island at the time. They served as military accommodation up until the last garrison left the island in the 1900s. Most recently they were residential buildings and Government office space.

The original buildings were constructed from stone, bonded together with mud and mortar, pointed and rendered with lime which also formed the whitewash. Any joinery was done with local timber but, along with the rest of Jamestown’s buildings, suffered extensive damage as a result of termite infestation from 1840 onwards and the timber was replaced with teak and iroko. The roof was composed of imported slate tiles with wooden supports which were also extensively damaged leading to the replacement of wooden supports with iron framework and corrugated iron sheet roofing and later, asbestos. Though the application of new Victorian design meant none of the buildings have retained their complete Georgian features, these have been carefully and accurately restored, where possible in the construction of Mantis St Helena.

The St Helena Heritage Society conducted an archaeological survey on the buildings and gardens behind the buildings, which originally featured a number of ancillary buildings (like the ‘Cottage’, now suites 7 and 8), and more recently storage areas and garages. A great number of artefacts were discovered and recorded during the survey, and these were archived at the St Helena Museum, and a number of more interesting items are on display in the hotel’s reception area, including Chinese ceramics, stoneware and earthenware and remains of various glass bottles - most likely containing gin or Arrack - painting the picture of a rowdy establishment back in the days of the East India Company, where officers had not much else to pass the time except drinking and gambling.

Other finds include an intricate and detailed archway, now located in the reception area, that was originally Georgian and adapted to Victorian design and later covered up - only to be unearthed during construction works. One of the more significant finds in the garden of number 3 was an old well or ‘watering hole’ constructed from rubble masonry and pointed lime. And we believe this to be one of the earliest remaining pieces of built heritage in Jamestown. This has been partially restored and kept in situ, as a feature of the hotel{3}

The buildings as they are now more accurately resemble their original Georgian design, albeit with a few Victorian and later features.

‍Poor Society Building‍

The Poor Society building in Market Street, Jamestown was renovated by the Government of St Helena after the Poor Society closed in 2000. Sadly the renovation lost many important aspects of the original building. Note the modern-style replacement windows, rather than renovating the original sash windows.

‍The Moon‍

Location Map moon

The ‘Moon’ is in Napoleon Street, Jamestown. A plaque outside The ‘Moon’ says the building dates from 1763, but the plaque was added when the buildings were restored in the 1990s so can only report the best understanding at the time. It was originally a Punch House and is thought also to have been a brothel{4}. It is said that the enslaved were held in its cellars before being taken to be sold. It became a private house and remained so until the 1990s when it was sold for restoration.

Local legend has it that the building is so-named because the ‘famous astronomers’ (Halley, Maskelyne, etc.) used to meet there. Charming though this story is, Halley & Maskelyne were not actually here at the same time. And if the plaque on the building gives its correct date of construction, that was two years after Maskelyne left, and 63 years after Halley’s last visit.

It is known to have been the location of the inquest by Mr. T. B. Knipe held on 16th September 1845 into the death of James Emily who had fractured his skull by throwing himself over a precipice on the side of Ladder Hill Fort, that morning about six o’clock.

It was owned by the Cairns-Wicks family until 1984 when it was sold to Cliff Huxtable who restored it in the 1990s. It was then, at various times, the home of Cable & Wireless, the Solomons Insurance Agency, a gift shop, a café and others. Visitors are, of course, welcome during opening hours!

‍Wellington House‍

Wellington House, Main Street, Jamestown
Wellington House, Main Street, Jamestown

Location Map wellingtonhse

Wellington House was probably built in the late 1730s, on the site of the old ‘Sessions House’ that collapsed on 2nd January 1735. In September 1738 The East India Company granted a lease to one Francis Wrangham{5} (who was Secretary to the Council), covering an area of 40x200ft, on the understanding that he would build a substantial dwelling house with convenient speed. The current building is the result.

Wellington House today is a guest house, and welcomes visitors.

Two signatures, scratched into the window glass, probably with a diamond, have attracted the attention of historians. One reads either Sally Wrenton, 1781 or Jas Wrenton, 1781 (‘Jas’ was a common abbreviation for James). The other reads Bazett Knipe, 1865. Neither is thought to have any great historical significance - they were, perhaps, just Graffiti!

Did the Duke of Wellington stay at Wellington House?

It’s a popular belief that Wellington House is so-named because Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington stayed there during his visit in 1805. But actually he didn’t. In Jamestown he stayed at (Old) Porteous House, just across the road from Wellington House, which was destroyed by fire on 2nd April 1865 and recently re-built. He also stayed at The Briars. Wellington House is named in his honour - that’s all{6}.

‘‍The Standard‍’

Location Map standard

The current building housing the bar ‘The Standard’ is a boring 1960s-built concrete box, but the building it replaced, also housing ‘The Standard’, was far more interesting.

You can see it in the photos (below). Apparently it was clad with corrugated iron, but over what we don’t know. Was the corrugated iron original, or was it installed to protect an earlier decaying structure?

We are trying to find out more about this original building. If you can help, please contact us.

Which Graveyard?

There was some debate on Social Media about this photograph:

Some thought it showed the old Middle Graveyard, now the site of the Police Headquarters. Others thought it had been ‘flipped’ (as below) and was actually the Lower Graveyard, now site of the Duke of Edinburgh Playground.

Debate centred on whether the tall building visible behind the trees was Foresters’ Hall (Lower Graveyard theory) or the Mechanics’ Hall (Middle Graveyard theory). Discussion was finally settled when it was observed that, if this is the Lower Graveyard, then the building at the bottom of the picture (dark stone, two windows, single storey, apex roof) would have to be what is currently the London Gift Shop, which it clearly isn’t because the latter is a very old two-storey building with a flat roof.

So it was agreed that this is the Middle Graveyard - first image above.

Unless you want to argue otherwise, in which case please contact us.

Read More

Article: Archaeological Discovery behind 1-3 Main Street

Press Release issued by St Helena Hotel Development Ltd., August 2016{7}

Water feature 1

As part of the Archaeological Mitigation Strategy, Adam Sizeland and Edward Baldwin from the Museum of St Helena, working on behalf of Mantis Developments, made an interesting discovery. Mr Baldwin explained:

While digging test pits to check for archaeological remains in the back gardens of the Georgian houses at 1-3 Main Street, Jamestown, in their second 1m square by 1m+ deep test pit, they found part of a curious curved wall, which could not be immediately explained.

It was constructed of carefully selected flat stones and solidly pointed with hard lime mortar, finished smooth on the inside of the curve. If part of a full circle, this was estimated to have a diameter of approx. 5 metres. As this was at the depth of one metre, it was decided to make further investigations once the surface level had been reduced to the construction level required by AGMAC CONSTRUCTION AFRICA cc, the construction Management contractor.

While surface stripping was being carried out, the excavator pulled out a chunk of similar curved masonry in the back garden of No 3. Detailed excavation by hand followed and revealed this to be part of a similar circular structure which proved to be exactly eight feet in diameter and about a foot deep. The base consisted of a paving of small beetle stones, solidly pointed with the same white lime mortar. On the South side of the circle, the circular wall increased in height to at least two feet from the base.

Water feature 2

Mr Baldwin provided an explanation of these structures being a public water supply of fresh water, channelled from further up the valley. A location where early inhabitants of Jamestown would have collected their drinking water. A spout would have been provided so that a pail could be placed beneath, probably on a support structure of some kind, which has not survived. This basin was allowed to overflow into the lower 16 foot basin, which would have been used for washing clothes and possibly even personal ablutions and watering animals. Mr Baldwin is delighted to be involved with this finding as he stated:

This water system was clearly in use for some time before the construction of the buildings of No 1, 2, 3 so a reasonable date would be 1700-1725. However, it could be earlier. This public water supply is probably the oldest surviving structure in Lower Jamestown; certainly the oldest structure known, which has not been modified since 1740, apart from the accidental partial demolitions.

With this in mind, Mantis Development and AGMAC CONSTRUCTION AFRICA cc are working closely with the Technical Design Team on the possibilities of incorporating this unique Archaeological feature within the Hotel Designs.

Saint Helena Island Info Note:

It has since been proposed that the ‘well’ dates back to around 1645, making this the original watering hole for Jamestown where what is now the Run ran its course - and thus possibly one of the oldest remnants of human habitation in town. If this date is correct it may be the only remaining Dutch or Portuguese structure. The watering hole is shown on Thornton’s 1702-7 map of Jamestown, as below - the ‘fried egg’(!) to the right of the Fort:

{a} Paul McCartney, Hobart, Australia{8}{b} John Coyle{c} Hugh Crallan{d} Tim Cattley{9}{e} Adam Sizeland{f} Matt Joshua{g} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866{h} mantissthelena.com/the-hotel, Retrieved 4th July 2018{7}

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{1} This image is extracted from a photo taken to record the arrival of the Boer PoWs in 1900. It also shows the Soldiers & Sailors Institute next door (in what is now Harris’ Guest House); this later moved to the Post Office Building.{2} An alternative explanation is that Crallan is almost correct, and that the Skelton’s house was demolished and the Soldiers & Sailors Institute constructed in its place.{3} Read more in the article on this page.{4} Apparently the Officers’ brothels were in Napoleon Street, and the Enlisted Men’s brothels were in Market Street!{5} Of Wranghams fame.{6} See other debunked myths.{7} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{8} Paul’s father was the island’s doctor in the 1960s and Paul accompanied him here. Paul visited St Helena in June 2018 and kindly gave us permission to use these family photographs.{9} Proud to have been ‘island born’ while his father was working here for Cable & Wireless..

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