Lost and almost-lost Buildings

‘In need of some work…’

Old houses mended, cost little less than new, before they’re ended.
Colley Cibber


Conservation and heritage are relatively new concepts on St Helena…

Below: ‍Porteous House‍‍American Consulate Building‍‍Longwood New House‍‍The Longwood Windmill‍‍Horse Ridge farmhouse‍‘‍The Taxi Building‍’What Was This?Heritage SocietyAlmost lost, but now…Read More

SEE ALSO: This page features buildings that have been, or seemingly will be lost forever. Buildings which were thought lost but have been, or are being restored, can be found on our Saved Buildings page.

Conservation and heritage are relatively new concepts on St Helena, as can be seen by the fate of the balcony on Jackson’s Chemists. Many fine buildings were lost to the White Ants. Other buildings have been allowed to deteriorate, or have been unsympathetically replaced. Here are some examples.

‍Porteous House‍

Location Map porteoushouse

Porteous House was a fine Georgian mansion in Jamestown, just up the street from Castle Gardens. Napoleon stayed there for his first night on St Helena, as did the Duke of Wellington some years later (in the same room, by all accounts!).

For much of its life, Porteous House served as a boarding house. Built towards the end of the 18th Century, it was the home of The East India Company’s Head Surgeon, John Charles Dunn, until 1811, when it was bought by William Balcombe, and quickly sold again to Henry Porteous, the Company’s Botanic Gardener. On his death in 1819 it remained in the Porteous Estate under its Trustee, Thomas Baker, who let it to Andrew Eyre as a boarding house until it fell, almost inevitably, into the hands of Saul Solomon as his ‘hotel’. After his death shares were offered in it, but not successfully it seems as the Colonial Treasurer, John Gabriel Doveton, bought it and sold it on to Robert Pooley, the commercial agent who later became US vice-consul (1872-76). By 1863 he had sold it to George Moss, the French vice-consul, partner in the firm Solomon, Gideon and Moss. In his history Philip Gosse gives a photograph of George and Isaac Moss taken on 10th February 1863, sitting in the garden behind the house with Baron de Rougemont. The front of the house is shown in views of St Helena published that year by JE Fowler, taken from a photograph by Barrackmaster John Isaac Lilley - the 1st image below. Two years later, on Sunday 2nd April 1865 the finest house in Main Street was reduced to a fire ravaged shell by an unknown arsonist.

It remained a burnt-out shell - 2nd photo below - until demolished in 1937{4}. In the Crallan Report of 1974 it is listed as a vacant plot - 3rd photo below.

In 2001 local businessman Rodney Buckley got planning permission to re-develop the site. It was intended that the new building would incorporate as much of the detail of the original including the coping and corner edgings{5}, including mostly Georgian-style windows but with large ‘Picture Windows’ at the front. You can judge for yourself how much the new building looks like the old - 5th photo.

On 31st March 2005 the new building was sold to SHELCO, and it is now part of Paul O’Sullivan’s Trade Winds project.

Why is this building here, and not on the Saved Buildings page? Because, in our opinion, New Porteous House is not a restoration of Mr. Porteous’ original house. It is a modern building built with modern materials which happens to occupy the same space, and share the same name as the original, but has nothing of the elegance of the building it replaced.

‍American Consulate Building‍

Location Map americanconsulate

American flag

We have chosen to call this the ‘American Consulate Building’. The building in question does not, as far as we know, have a proper name, and as it no longer exists it never will, but it did house the American Consulate from 1836 until 1908 so we have named it from that.{m}

This building seems to have had two versions (rather like Jackson’s Chemists). In the first and second images (below), from 1863, it can be seen between (old) Porteous House and Broadway House{6}, apparently with an upstairs balcony, a door lower right and a window lower left. We assume it was originally a private house. We don’t know when it was built, though it was probably around the same time as (old) Porteous House - towards the end of the 18th Century. Neither do we know by whom it was built or who originally owned it.

In 1836 it was taken over as the American Consulate. The balcony may have been removed at this time. At some time a flagpole was installed to the front and the window converted to a door. The third image (below) is from 1895, taken by the then Consul Mr Coffin, and shows it in use as the Consulate. The roundel featuring the American Eagle can be seen above the (new) door.

The American Consulate itself is interesting. It was founded on 4th February 1831 (clearly located elsewhere), the first Consul being Mr William Carrol, who served until 1847{7}. It dealt with any matter relating to American ships or citizens, and with the Whaling Industry in full swing and many American whalers in the area, it seems it was quite busy; from 1866 it also had a Vice-Consul. But with the decline in whaling at the end of the 19th Century, the Consulate was closed on 30th June 1908 (requiring an Act of Congress passed 11th May 1908).

The fourth image (below) is an enlargement from one of the Porteous House images, from 1900 taken to record the arrival of the Boer PoWs. A person can be seen standing on the steps watching the parade, and we assume this to be the Consul. The fifth image was taken in 1903, from the top of Jacob’s Ladder, and the sixth in 1914, after the Consulate closed.

The building was demolished sometime between 1908 and 1941 (see the right hand side of the 1941 image below). We do not know when, but it was probably 1937, with (old) Porteous House. Where it stood became access to what then became the Paramount Cinema and is now a Thorpes warehouse.

Was the American Consulate ever located in The Consulate Hotel?

Main Street, 1857
Main Street, 1857{n}

Postcard, post-1891
Postcard, post-1891

The Consulate Hotel was originally The Royal Hotel (postcard, left). We don’t know exactly when it was renamed, but why choose the name ‘The Consulate’? It has been suggested that the American Consulate was located there but, as can be seen from the above, this was not the case.

But the Americans were not the only people to have Consulates on St Helena at this time. The French, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes and about ten other mostly-Whaling nations had them, and Saul Solomon, and later his descendant Homfray Solomon was, it seems, the Consular representative for many, maybe most of them! The 1857 image (right) shows an unknown (because the image is not colour) flag, but probably French, flying over the Solomons building; Saul Solomon was definitely the Shipping Agent for France from 25th July 1833{8}. Probably towards the end of the 19th Century the Solomon family bought the Royal Hotel{9}. It is possible that Saul renamed it ‘The Consulate’ simply because of his many consular appointments.

Another theory is that the American Consul lived there when he was first on St Helena, the name was created by local people (Nicknames are popular here) and this was then formalised, possibly by Saul Solomon himself or possibly later by his business, Solomons. The name ‘Royal Hotel’ was certainly inapropriate - no British royalty had ever (and to date still hasn’t) stayed there!

‍Longwood New House‍

Location Map longwoodhouse

We have seen this building referred to as ‘Longwood Mansion’ in late 19th Century books.

When Napoleon was moved to Longwood House in December 1815 he instantly disliked the building. It was, let’s be fair, rather less grand than the palaces with which he was familiar.

A new house was planned to be built for him, the necessary materials arriving on 17th May 1816, but due to many delays building of the new house only began in October 1818 with the foundation being laid in 1819. It was completed in February 1821; before Napoleon’s death but he never occupied it. Built of yellow sandstone, it was located some hundred metres to the northwest from the old house. Interestingly, from the Records:

For some years one of its rooms was used as a Church and quarters were provided for the Chaplain. It was also used as a place of recuperation for invalids from India. But a proposal to use it as a ‘Young Ladies Boarding Seminary’ came to nothing.

Governor Dallas moved to Longwood New House in 1832 because of the smell from the drains under Plantation House (his family contracted what was probably typhoid), and remained there for the rest of his term. The incoming Crown Governor, Maj-Gen George Middlemore appears to have re-occupied Plantation House so presumably by then the drains had been fixed.

In 1858 the Napoleonic properties, Longwood House and Napoleon’s Tomb were sold to the French Government{10}, though Longwood New House as not included in the sale and remained Crown property. Major Nicolas Martial Gauthier de Rougemont, the first Curator of the Properties with the title of Commander of the Imperial Residences of St Helena, rented Longwood New House from the Crown and spent a lot of (French) money in the late 1850s trying to turn Longwood New House into a suitably palatial home for himself on the island, devoting to it 90% of the appropriations allocated to the maintenance of the whole of the properties. However in 1861 he informed Paris that cracks had already appeared in the walls built without foundation. On 23rd January 1867 the commander gave the keys of Longwood New House to the vice-consul of France, George Moss and, after a stay of almost nine years, departed for France.

Nobody else seems to have occupied Longwood New House, despite its wonderful view over Deadwood Plain. In 1934 it was declared too large to maintain and it was demolished in 1949, being replaced the same year by a Dairy{11}.

Here are some 1914 photos from the National Archives{o}:

A detailed description of Longwood New House and its construction can be found in ‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905, starting on page 223.

‍The Longwood Windmill‍

Location Map longwoodwindmill

Little is known about the Longwood Windmill. Indeed this is one rare instance where we have more photographic evidence than written.

We know the windmill was built by Thomas Deason in or around 1858. It is reported in ‘St Helena, The Historic Island, From Its Discovery To The Present Date’, by E. L. Jackson, published in 1905 that it was made, at least partly, of locally-made bricks:

Mr. Thomas Deason, of Longwood, manufactured bricks of good quality with which he built a windmill tower. This, although more than twenty years old, still is in excellent condition, the bricks showing no signs of deterioration.

The same book later reports:

Longwood is farmed by Messrs. Deason and is in an excellent state of cultivation. The late Mr. Thomas Deason was very keen on introducing modern improvements and implements. Here are to be seen silos for storage of fodder and a windmill for which he had bricks made on the island, and which he fitted with machinery of various kinds.

Most European windmills feature a moving top with a rudder, such that the blades are always pointed into the wind, but with the prevailing wind on St Helena so consistent this was clearly considered unnecessary.

And that’s it! We don’t know exactly where it was, though one photograph is annotated 1st Tee, Golf Course, and appears to show Longwood House in the background, locating it perhaps where the former Longwood First School is today.

We also don’t know what was milled, though we can assume it was locally-grown wheat for flour. And we don’t know when the windmill ceased to be used (clearly sometime after 1914, from the photograph, below) and whether it was dismantled or just left to fall down.

A note on the internal view claims that the threshing machine shown had previously been located in Longwood House after Napoleon’s death.

‍Horse Ridge farmhouse‍

Location Map horseridgefarmhouse

We have the photograph (below) and the location (right) but sadly that’s all we know. We assume this to be another old house that fell victim to the White Ants. If you can provide more please contact us.

‘‍The Taxi Building‍’

Building identified

Location Map serenas

There is a small building just to the right of Broadway House that mostly goes unremarked unless you wish to shop at Serena’s Gift Shop or are resident in one of the apartments above. It is a modern building, completed in the early 21st Century, but an original building formerly stood on the site about which we can find almost nothing!

We know from photographs taken in the late 19th Century (below) that the site was occupied by a three storey building, three windows wide to the front with a substantial entrance way, in a plot that runs all the way to the hillside. There are no indications that it was anything other than a house but we do not know the details of any owners.

Sometime in the late 19th Century it became disused. The photograph from 1902, showing the Boer PoWs arriving, shows it (partial, far right) apparently boarded up. We do not know why it was abandoned but infer from what happened later that it might have suffered, like so much of Jamestown, from attack by White Ants. Sometime at the beginning of the 20th Century the top storey was demolished (or maybe even fell in). The photograph from 1911 shows it (partial, far left) minus the third storey.

The lower parts of the building must have remained functional, or perhaps were repaired, because we next see it in 1939, still with only two stories but now we think serving as a taxi office (we think that’s what the sign says). As this is its only known use we call it ‘The Taxi Building’. The upper windows, however, still seem to be boarded up, so clearly the whole building was no longer in use. Indeed it is not obvious that it actually had a roof!

By the 1960s the original building had clearly been demolished, and a start had been made on constructing a modern block-built structure. And that is exactly how it remained for the rest of the 20th Century! Only in the early 21st Century was the current structure completed.

If you know anything about the original building - its proper name; who owned it; what it was used for; etc. - please contact us.

What Was This?

We came across the image below on social media. It isn’t dated, but it shows St. James’ Church with a tower so must be before 1843. Most of the buildings are recognisable and remain today, albeit somewhat altered in many cases, but one has definitely been removed - the small structure in the foreground to the left, between the artist and what is now the Post Office. Whatever it was, it certainly isn’t there now - The Cannister stands roughly where it stood.

It is too small to be a house, but appears to be made of stone with a solid roof, so would not have been a temporary construction. Closer inspection of the image, however, provides a clue. There appears to be a group of people clustered round the Northern (Seaside) end, perhaps obtaining something from the building? We think it may have been a water supply point for the citizens of lower Jamestown and the people are collecting water from it.

We know The Run passes further to the west but it would not have been beyond the capabilities of 19th Century engineering to run a pipe from there, though actually as The Run was, in those days, practically an open sewer, it is more likely any supply pipe would have come all the way from Chubb’s Spring, as Jamestown’s water does today. Or could it even have been a small bath-house?

Please contact us if you know or have a theory.

The Heritage Society

Heritage Society Logo

Founded in November 1979 and operators of the Museum of St Helena, these days the St Helena Heritage Society lobbies for the preservation and protection of St Helena’s history, though with limited financial resources it can only do so much…

Almost lost, but now…

The following were previously featured on this page. They had been left to rot and seemed beyond repair. And yet in recent years both have been restored and brought back to the fine country houses they once were. As a result their entries have been transferred to our Saved Buildings page:

Read More

Below: Historic Environment RecordArticle: Letter to the Editor

HER image

Historic Environment Record

For more about our historic buildings consult The Historic Environment Record.

Article: Letter to the Editor

Published in the St Helena Herald 26th October 2001{12}

Dear Editor,

It seems a pity to lose the 100 year old wood and iron building at the Briars known as the Old Exiles Club; particularly on the eve of the Quincentenial Celebrations. There are not many buildings of this type left in the world, let alone in the Southern hemisphere, and this one has some fine details (roof trusses). As visitors to the Briars Pavilion we found the Old Exiles Club added to the interest of the area, the Pavilion itself providing but brief entertainment (sorry, Napoleon). After all, Cable & Wireless is still a power on the island: might there not be room for a display in the building informing the visitor of the fascinating communications history of this part of the world? From flags and guns to emails? Could this building really not be saved, even at this late juncture? The space might provide a community hall, recreational venue for visitors wishing to listen to island music, have tea etc.; at worst it could be dismantled and re-erected as a customs shed at the airport.

Yours Sincerely,
Max & Jo Walker

The 100 year old Exiles Club was indeed demolished by Cable & Wireless in August 2005. Many people protested but it seems nobody could (or would) prevent it happening.

{a} JE Fowler{b} Clifford Masters{c} Adam Sizeland{d} Domaines Français de Sainte Hélène{e} Attributed to John Kerr, Paymaster of the 66th Regiment, ‘Series of views in the Island of Saint Helena’, dedicated by permission to Lady Lowe, London, Colnaghi & Co. 1822{f} W R Smith{g} From ‘Views of St Helena’, by G.W. Melliss{13}, published in 1857{h} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866{i} Paul McCartney, Hobart, Australia{14}{j} Hugh Crallan{k} Andrew / Peter Neaum{l} Neil Fantom{m} Some information herein kindly provided by John Coyle, in turn possibly sourced from ‘U.S. Consular Mail from St Helena’ (2002), by Michael D. Mueller, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Philatelic Society (‘SHATPS’){n} From ‘Views of St Helena’, by G.W. Melliss{15}, published in 1857{o} UK National Archives on Flickr™{12}{16}

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{1} Easily dated because the soldiers are escorting the incoming Boer PoWs.{2} Roof only visible, centre front. Old house on hilltop, right.{3} The crack in the bathroom wall can be clearly seen.{4} It seems likely that the small building next to it (to the south), that had until 1908 housed the American Consulate, was demolished at the same time.{5} St Helena Herald, 27th July 2001.{6} Which, by the way, is so-named because it used to be the home of the Broadway family.{7} He was, apparently, also the Consul for Sweden from 1844-1873, succeeded by Charles Andrew Carrol, presumably his son, from 1873-1887; and thereafter by Saul Solomon.{8} Later the French Consulship was vested in whoever was appointed by France as custodian for the French properties on St Helena: Longwood House; Napoleon’s Tomb and The Briars Pavilion.{9} Interestingly, from the Clark family, originally Americans! The Clarks also owned Broadway House and the Royal Banner Pub in Market Street. The last Clark left St Helena in 1910 for Canada; this may have been when the hotel changed hands.{10} Which actually required a change to the law, as ‘foreigners’ were not allowed to own land on St Helena.{11} Which itself closed in the 1990s and is currently being re-purposed as a business park.{12} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{13} Father of John Melliss.{14} 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.{15} Father of John Melliss.{16} Images are labelled ‘No known copyright restrictions’. Not to be confused with the St Helena Archives.

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