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Historic Buildings, Country

A sample

Where the English settle they first build a Punch House, the Dutch a Fort and the Portuguese a Church.{h}

St Helena 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 gives an introduction to the subject and discusses some common issues, and our page Historic Buildings, Jamestown which introduces Jamestown buildings. The Historic Environment Record may also be of interest. Other historic building and structure pages are indexed on our page Island Structures.

Selected Buildings

Below: ‍Signal House‍‍Boer Cemetery‍‍Quarantine Station, Lemon Valley‍‍Bertrand’s Cottage‍‍Three Tanks‍‍Hay Town House‍‍Prince’s Lodge‍‍Clifftop House‍‍Farm Lodge‍‍Alarm House‍‍Rose Cottage‍

‍Signal House‍

Signal House consists of the Signal Room, perched directly at the edge of the cliff, and the bungalow behind it, which was the home of the signal man. It is within the walled compound of the Ladder Hill Fort Complex.

Photos taken by John Isaac Lilley during the 1860s show no house where Signal House now stands (left, below). They do show a small stone shed that could be the core of this house. An 1877 illustration from ‘The Graphic’, showing this same piece of land, appears to show a building very similar to Signal House. Thus, it seems that the house in its near to present form was built sometime between 1863 and 1877.

From 1929 to 1933, Signal House was occupied by the Corporal of Signals, Bert Bolwell, and his wife. Her memoirs are summarised on our page Memories of St Helena. The signal gun was restored in 2007.

According to a manufacturer’s mark the mast at Signal House was installed in 1853, but must have replaced an earlier near-identical one (illustrated in the drawing from 1850, below). The Union Flag is normally flown from the mast whenever a Cruise Ship or other visiting ship is in the harbour (right).

The Signal House at Ladder Hill Fort should not be confused with the one above Prosperous Bay, more properly known as the Prosperous Bay Signal Station.

Please Note purists may complain that Signal House, and indeed the whole of Ladder Hill Fort, is technically in Jamestown. The district boundary actually includes all the land north of Three Tanks in Jamestown. But to most people (and indeed, on most maps) everything at the top of Jacob’s Ladder is Half Tree Hollow so we’ve shown it here.

The Mast

Mast stump
Mast stump

As mentioned above, the mast at Signal House is supposed to fly the Union Flag whenever there is a visiting ship. However, in January 2019 it became unable to do so. The mast was found to be in urgent need of major repair. Repair in-situ was deemed impracticable so the mast was dismantled. The mast was a long-established landmark and Signal House is a listed building so a replacement mast had to be provided. According to an announcement made on 4th February 2019 work would begin on 11th February and would take three weeks, but on 14th March the Government of St Helena said: The next stage will see the removal of the top section of the Signal House Mast and the temporary removal of the scaffolding until a replacement can be sought. Nothing further happened in 2019 and when Saint Helena Island Info enquired on the status in January 2020 the following statement was issued by Cllr. Russell Yon:

Signal Mast: Ladder Hill, 18th January 2020

The responsibility of replacing the Signal Mast at Ladder Hill falls within the remit of the Infrastructure and Transport Directorate.

Following the removal of the Upper Mast and Yard arm was removed last year, the Directorate identified two manufacturers in the UK who specialize in this type of mast repair. Contact with several possible manufactures in South Africa was also made, however we received no favourable responses. The Directorate is aware of the historic element of the mast, hence a like for like replacement was sought.

The cost of the replacement mast and yard arm was not forecast and budgeted for in the 2019/20 Budget, therefore the Directorate would only be able to procure the mast if there would have been sufficient underspent in the recurrent budget. However, money that possibly could have been used was directed to more urgent requirements. The Directorate is very mindful of the need to replace the mast and will do so when funds become available.


The mast was eventually re-instated in May 2022, driven by the aim to fly the Union Flag from it for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations at the beginning of June, which indeed it did (right). The flag was flown at half mast in September 2022 during the official period of mourning for HRH Queen Elizabeth II.

‍Boer Cemetery‍

The Anglican Church refused to bury in consecrated ground the Boer PoWs who died in captivity, declaring them to be ‘heathens’ and ‘enemies of Her Majesty’. However the Baptist Church granted ground and the nearby church building was also put at the disposal of the prisoners for their religious services. 167 Prisoners are buried here. The two granite monuments record the grave numbers, names and ages of the dead. Knollcombes is a short walk from Plantation House. The church remains in use to this day.

‍Quarantine Station, Lemon Valley‍

The quarantine station at Lemon Valley housed some of the ‘Liberated Africans’ who were found to be suffering from Smallpox.

‍Bertrand’s Cottage‍

General Henri Gatien Bertrand and his family were loyal supporters of Napoleon during his exile on St Helena. They arrived with Napoleon in October 1815 and initially lived in what is now the vicarage for St. Matthew’s Church. In 1816 Bertrand and his family built a residence just across the road from Longwood House, moving in on 20th October 1816. After Napoleon’s death and the Bertrand’s departure the building became a farm house, hence its alternate name of Longwood Farmhouse. When Longwood House passed into French ownership in 1858, Bertrand’s Cottage remained in the hands of the Government of St Helena. It was used as accommodation for Government staff until recently. Some say it is haunted.

The building was converted by the Government of St Helena into a Government-owned restaurant with bed-and-breakfast accommodation with the title Bertrand’s Cottage Limited. However the business was not successful and in December 2019 it was announced that it would close on 26th January 2020, with the building being put up for sale. It re-opened as a restaurant under new (private) management in November 2020.

‍Three Tanks‍

The old water storage tanks at ‘Three Tanks’, Half Tree Hollow, installed in 1916. The image (right) shows the maker’s information in more detail.

They are such a landmark the name is now commonly used to identify the surrounding area.

‍Hay Town House‍

In 1862 a scheme by Governor Drummond Hay to start a new housing development in Ruperts Valley, part of a planned re-development of the valley made possible by the establishment of a reliable water supply piped into the valley from The Briars, never quite took off, and so the Hay Town area is at best a hamlet rather than an actual town. It encompasses the place where the South Atlantic Cable came ashore in 1899, and the site of the 1902 desalination plant. Hay Town House was one of the few houses actually built, together with some stone cottages, only a few of which remain. Stones on the front façades are as shown (right){3}. The photo (left) also shows modern developments.

Hay Town House is a large square two-storey house, with three bays on the front façade, and two on the side. The interior walls are stone rather than partition, and there is a central entry hallway leading to two symmetrical reception rooms. A veranda extends along the south side of the house.

Hay Town House is on the east side of Ruperts Valley, facing west.

‍Prince’s Lodge‍

Often written as Princes Lodge, its date of origin is uncertain and in 1814 carried the name Knoll Cottage, due to its proximity to High Knoll Fort. According to the Records the land was leased in 1814 to W Brabazon, Master Attendant (i.e. Harbour Master). It then passed to Shortis, Superintendent of Works, then Barker the farmer, and finally to one Richard Prince, a member of the firm of W & J Prince, of London. However, a plaque set in the side of the house reads: RICHARD PRINCE, 1808. We assume the plaque to be a later addition and the Records to be correct.

(Richard Prince himself is interesting - he came to the island in 1813 from Cape Town, to settle debts owed by Solomon, Dickson, Taylor & Company. He was ordered off the island in both 1815 and 1816, but in neither case did he actually leave and eventually acquired a number of properties, including Farm Lodge.)

Prince’s Lodge was the residence of Governor Harper from 1925-1932, and owned by HW Solomon (the last country residence of the Solomon family) until April 1961 when it was bought by the Bishop of St Helena and used as his residence (‘Bishopsholme’) until 1999. In 1999 ownership passed to Robin Castell. It was refurbished and some more recent additions removed, and since April 2000 has housed the Castell Collection of historic prints of St Helena (claimed to be the largest collection of St Helena pictures in the world).

The house is set in the upper reaches of Clay Gut, almost opposite the road up to High Knoll Fort. The house has two stories, five bay windows and has a two story back projection that runs the length of the house and projects at the sides. Following the recent refurbishment it now has 20th Century casement windows, and is surrounded by a spacious ground floor veranda and patio. The internal layout has the classic central entry hall and symmetrical reception rooms on the sides.

The building and/or grounds can be hired for special occasions. More at www.robincastell.com.

‍Clifftop House‍

Clifftop House is perched on the cliff overlooking Jamestown, and a room built on the cliff-edge provides a spectacular view (see the view from Jamestown, left).

Thought to have been built in the latter half of the 19th Century, Clifftop House is architecturally similar to nearby Veranda Quarters and Bleak House, also echoing the style of older houses on the island. Two storeys high with five bays and only one room deep on the ground floor, the central door leads to an entrance hall, with the two reception rooms on either side. Double half-light Dutch doors open onto the two storey veranda. The front façade is exposed basalt ashlar and the sides and the back are rubble stone. The kitchen is in the outbuildings at the back.

Like the other houses in this area, Clifftop House is associated with the garrison based at Ladder Hill Fort, being quarters for a senior officer while the ‘ranks’ were barracked within the fort. It is most likely the house that Mrs. Bolwell refers to as ‘Town View’. It is owned by the Government of St Helena and for many years has been used to house ex-pat government staff. In March 2017 the Government of St Helena invited tenders for refurbishing the house.

There is a Trophy/Tropic Birds colony in the cliff below the house, but the endemic Cliff Top Grass eragrostis episcopulus is not named after the house; it just grows on cliff tops!

‍Farm Lodge‍

On the edge of Rosemary Plain, Farm Lodge is set in 10 acres of arable land. The house faces north-northeast, overlooking the plain.

It is currently a two-storey, five-bay house, one room deep, with a first floor veranda and sash windows. A chimney is located at the east end with a central entry hall and reception rooms to right and left.

Built in the 1690s as a Planter’s house for The East India Company, at the time of Napoleon’s exile it was at the time still a single-storey house. Napoleon expressed a wish to live there but Governor Lowe decided it would be too difficult to secure. In the mid-19th Century it was sold to the Moss family, close friends and in-laws to Saul Solomon and his family and also partners in Solomon, Gideon & Moss. It is thought the Moss family added the 2nd storey.

Sometime in the 1970s it was bought by then-Governor Geoffrey Colin Guy and occupied by him and his wife from his retirement in 1981 until April 1986. Farm Lodge was bought by Steve & Maureen Biggs in 1995 and converted into a Hotel, which opened in 1999 and continues in business today. It also still operates as a farm, producing food for hotel consumption and also coffee.

‍Alarm House‍

Alarm House

Alarm House is the prominent pink building seen high on the hill as you travel into Alarm Forest. Built probably in around 1760, the name comes from the ‘alarm guns’ placed here in 1692 to be fired if a ship was sighted approaching James Bay; a practice continued until the 19th Century when it was replaced by the Telegraph. The guns are now situated outside the Courthouse in Jamestown. T. H. Brooke, Esq. owned the house but did not live there.

Listed Grade I, it is a two storey, four bay house, with two nineteenth century wings, a hip roof, and sash windows. It has an ornate, regency style porch, incorporating the unusual feature of two front doors. This device maintains the symmetry of the façade, but is not otherwise seen in Island architecture. The two doors lead to the two reception rooms, with no central hallway between them. Facing northwest, naturally it has excellent views of both Ruperts and James Bay.

Alarm House featured in the mutiny of Christmas 1787, being occupied by the mutineers until they were captured by loyal troops. One in ten was executed and their ghosts are said to haunt the area.

‍Rose Cottage‍

Rose Cottage is situated in Sandy Bay district, on the ridge known as Mount Pleasant (after the house of the same name).

Now usually described as a ruin totally beyond repair, it was originally a two storey, five bay house with a basement. It had elegant semi-circular steps leading to the arched front door, a chimney at either end of the main block, and two symmetrical one storey wings with arched doors at the front. The two-storey section with a high chimney has at sometime had its original stonework rendered over, but the adjacent single-storey building also with a chimney, still has its original stonework visible. Rose Cottage is secluded from view in every direction by surrounding high trees and flax plants.

It has historical interest, being listed in 1815 as occupied by one ‘Mrs Greentree’. Indeed some of the Greentree family from Rose Cottage were present at Mount Pleasant when Napoleon came to visit Sir William Webber Doveton there in October 1820. It seems Doveton, who was Secretary to the Council of The East India Company, gave Rose Cottage to Eleanor Greentree as a Dower House{4} in 1824. In 1909 a Mr Adams tried to establish a flax mill there, without success. Rose Cottage fell into disrepair (another victim of the White Ants) and in the 1950s it was inhabited by a Mr and Mrs Lunn, who reportedly moved from room to room as the floors collapsed. In the 1970s it was acquired by Tony Thornton who had plans to restore it, but unfortunately he was excluded from the island before he could make any progress. He did, however, arrange for a bust of himself, erected by his daughters in the 1990s, to be mounted on a column placed in the garden, bearing his nickname The Man. Beneath this his ashes were interred after his death in 2010.

It is understood that it is again being restored…

Read More

Below: Religious BuildingsArticle: Dear Editor

Religious Buildings

Article: Dear Editor

By Julian Cairns-Wickes, published in the St Helena News 5th January 2000{5}

I am completely mystified at what is happening to/at Plantation House. The manner in which its prime use was so recently replaced by tented occupation was bad enough but now I understand that an early and useful Toilet Fitment has been removed. This early porcelain Gentlemen’s Toilet Self Flush Urinal had been strategically and most usefully positioned within easy reach of the reception rooms and was most certainly a feature of sufficient interest to be looked upon as an integral part of the Island Heritage being held on trust by the present transitory occupants of Plantation House.

How is it that although this is a listed building, various modifications can be made apparently on the whim of some person who clearly has no regard for tradition and things of interest which should be (and would become) part of our heritage. I also would be very interested to find out who authorised this work to be carried out without that person having sought the approval of the Historical Society (or any other Island body) or showing due regard to the fact that it is a most Historic Building and should be allowed to have certain warts and blemishes as part of its genuine character.

Julian Cairns-Wicks, Market Street, Jamestown


{a} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866{b} Tourist Information Office{c} www.robincastell.com{d} Taken by a participant in the island’s first ‘Dark Sky Tour’, May 2015.{e} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{f} John Tyrrell{g} Chris and Sheila Hillman{h} Governor Janisch{i} Ed Thorpe


{1} You can see Longwood House behind (left).{2} With Observatory, demolished c.1938.{3} It is not apparent who ‘GDB’ and ‘LAH’ might have been. Maybe the original owners?{4} A dower house being a house occupied by the widow of the estate.{5} @@RepDis@@