Shopping: What to buy

A bit of St Helena to take home

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
Dave Barry in ‘The Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need’


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

Shopping: 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, 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 locally, often by hand and in many cases using skills that have been passed down over many generations.

Places where you can shop for quality locally-made souvenirs include:

Some particular things to look out for when shopping are described below.>

Note, please, that shopping on St Helena is not a 24/7 experience. Shops tend to open from 9am to 5pm on Weekdays (but most close at 1pm on Wednesdays), and from 9am-1pm and 6:30pm-8 or 9pm on Saturdays. Few main shops open on Sundays. They also tend to be closed on Public Holidays.

Below: Local woodcraftHand-made laceOther items worthy of noteForeign CurrencyShopping - a different experienceEclectic shopsYou don’t even have to land here…And finally…Arts & Crafts AssociationRead More

In 2010 it was estimated that there might be as many as 250 shops on St Helena, though many of these are part-time, operated within a dwelling for friends, family and neighbours only. This contrasts with the situation in 1883 when ‘A Few Notes on St Helena and Descriptive Guide’ by Benjamin Grant reported There are in Jamestown 29 shops, most of which are of fair size, and very respectable, in fact a credit to the place. In the Country there are only five, at Half-tree-hollow, Half Way House, Red Hill, Sandy Bay, and Hutts Gate.


Souvenir shopping is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.


Local woodcraft

St Helena has a long tradition of woodcraft, with skills being passed down through the generations. As a result the island has producers of hand-made 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 Arts & Crafts Centre, in Main Street, Jamestown.

Hand-made 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{1}. 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 Arts & Crafts Centre, in Main Street, Jamestown.

To read more go to our Lace Making page.

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.

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 hand-made, 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. Two places do this: MK Prints (top floor of The Market) and Moonbeams (Napoleon Street).

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

Foreign Currency

Most businesses on St Helena will accept foreign currency for payment, but usually only VoidSterling, VoidUS Dollars, VoidEuro and VoidSouth African Rand (these currencies are not Legal Tender). Sterling is accepted at par (i.e. 1:1) with St Helena Pounds; the rates at which the other currencies are accepted will be based on (but not necessarily the same as) those published weekly by our local bank. These may differ from rates advertised on websites and from other sources.

Local Debit Card Scheme

You may see signs in shops for the ‘Bank of St Helena Debit Card Scheme’ (image, right). Originally this was purely a local scheme - it is not compatible with overseas credit and debit cards - but in December 2020 Bank of St Helena announced that it would soon become possible to buy a pre-paid card for tourist use (contact the bank for details).

Shopping - a different experience

The cost of provisions does not differ much from the prices in England.
‘Nature’s Neglected Citadel’, W Straker, 1891

If you’re used to shopping in vast ‘Malls’ filled with food courts and flashy modern shops (and exactly the same range of shops as the Mall in the next town) then shopping in St Helena will be quite an experience for you. For a start, there are no Malls; each shop is in a distinct building. Yes, we have some relatively-modern shops, but we also have remaining a few of the old traditional ones. Here you don’t wander around with a basket or trolley selecting items to take to the checkout; you ask for what you want and it is fetched and presented to you with loving care for your inspection! Have a bit of an explore and you may find something interesting{2}.

Here are a few images of some older shops:

Every Saturday use to go to Town from Levelwood With the donkeys laden with fruit veg and meat and collect dry goods from Eva Benjamin’s shop. bread from Aunty Rosie John abs fish from Aunty Renie in the Market.
Contributor to Social Media

Eclectic shops

In recent memory the layout of goods in shops sometimes seemed strange to anyone coming from outside. Why was motor oil next to shampoo? The answer was simple - that was where there was space on the shelf. Everybody knew that if you wanted shampoo you looked next to the motor oil (and vice-versa), so it didn’t matter.

More recently, to make life easier for tourists most shops have reorganised, but the eclectic nature of retailing on St Helena goes back a long way - at least to the early 20th Century and probably a long way beyond that. In 1905 Tom Jackson, island chemist and photographer, produced a book ‘A Souvenir of St Helena’, featuring photographic plates of his own creation. He also included the following advert for his shop:

Jackson’s also sold locally-made soda water from a machine illustrated below (see the testimonial from him, bottom left):

You don’t even have to land here…

In February 2016 this website was contacted by the Vessel Superintendent of the tug Skandi Admiral with an unusual request. The message said the tug and payload would be passing St Helena at the end of February and could we put them in touch with an island merchant who could provide them with some essential supplies?

Naturally we were keen to help. We emailed the likely local merchants and Thorpes responded. Negotiations then proceeded between Thorpes and the Skandi Admiral, as a result of which a sizeable bag of supplies was taken out to the tug as it passed and winched aboard. You can see images of the process below.

We’re glad to have helped!

And finally…

Newspaper advert, June 1988
‘Bee Team’ advert, June 1988

When the St Helena News was introduced in July 1986, for the first time the island’s newspaper was laid out using a computer. This made it possible to introduce (relatively) good-quality graphics. The St Helena News also, for the first time, started accepting advertising copy.

‘The Hive’ shop in Market Street (where ‘The Hive’ is today, but with different management - Belfred George) began producing rather inventive adverts, based on the idea that the staff in the shop were ‘The Bee Team’ (well what else would you find in a hive?)

An example from June 1988 appears (left).

The one below, from 1987, is rather less inspiring but may amuse because of the vehicles listed (and remember this was 1987, not 1967):

Solomon's engineering store 1987

Until November 1996 retailers did not import basic foodstuffs themselves. The Government of St Helena imported these, maintaining the ‘Government Foodstocks’ which supplied the retailers at regulated (and subsidised) prices. This began during World War 2 when the disruption to ship calls brought about a real fear that the island might run out of food (though why the Government of St Helena believed it could manage this better than the retailers is not clear). The ending of the system inevitably led to increases in prices, at a time when incomes were depressed and work in the UK severely restricted. Earlier in the year there had been the ‘Riot’ and public unrest remained.

The Arts & Crafts Association

Arts & Crafts

The Arts & Crafts Association provides support for local artists and producers of craft materials, including providing a shop in Jamestown where both members of the Association and others can sell their work. The shop is located at the roundabout, next to the Tourist Office.

Read More

Below: Article: No luck in London? Try Jamestown…Article: ‘Shopping’ - the memories of Anthony Hopkins from the 1960s.

Article: No luck in London? Try Jamestown…

Published in the St Helena Herald, 21st August 2009{3}

We all know that St Helena is a world leader when it comes to shopping. There can be few, if any places on the planet with quite so many shops for the size of population. Perhaps someone should check with the Guinness Book of Records. Maybe it is something to do with Napoleon, who once dismissed England as a nation of shopkeepers… then got sent to Longwood, to wait his turn at the great checkout of life.

But do all those establishments actually sell anything that the discerning customer cannot buy in the world’s major commercial centres? The answer is… yes!

The elusive batteries

A visitor reports that he brought an unusual electrical item to the island, assuming he would be able to pick up the required batteries on his journey through three countries. He was wrong. The swanky duty-free shopping centre at Heathrow Airport, famed for its vastness, had nothing to offer in stores that boasted all the latest high-tech wonders. It was the same at Frankfurt Airport, and in Namibia’s most sophisticated tourist resort (no, not Walvis Bay… though no one sold the elusive batteries there either).

But soon after arriving on the island, our visitor had a chance encounter with Tara Thomas, who runs the Rose & Crown shop in downtown Jamestown, the offshore shopping Mecca of the South Atlantic. Tara owned exactly the same extremely obscure electrical item. That’s amazing, said our visitor. I’ve got the same thing - but I can’t get any batteries.

No problem, replied Tara. We sell them in our shop. It took a lot of rummaging around in a drawer, but the said batteries were indeed produced. Our man went away glowing… just like his electrical equipment.

What was this precious item? Well, it was a pair of plastic spheres that now glow in the dark and change colour as they are swung through the air. I won’t say they were indispensible, says our visitor, but finding the batteries in Jamestown, after failing in London and Frankfurt, was an absolute joy.

Article: ‘Shopping’ - the memories of Anthony Hopkins from the 1960s.

Published in the book Speaking Saint by Creative Saint Helena, February 2015{3}{4}

Eva Benjamin’s Shop, Jamestown, 1970s
Eva Benjamin’s Shop, Jamestown, 1970s

There wasn’t a lot of shops in Jamestown like it is today, we bought all the rations from Beatie and Herbie George. The shop use to open early in the morning up until eight o’clock mainly for the lovely fresh baked bread, and then it would open again at nine o’clock till half past five. Everybody trust the rations until the Saturday. Lard, margarine, peanut butter and jam were sold loose, you would take a saucer to put this in, they would weigh the saucer first and then put the margarine, or whatever you were buying, into the saucer after and a piece of grease proof paper was slap on top, and then there were separate cloth bags tied with a string for flour, sugar and rice. People couldn’t afford to buy the whole packet of biscuits so it was cut in half, and you bought a half packet and black sauce, Worcestershire, was sold so much per tot. We could never afford the whole bottle. I use to drink the sauce from the tot as I leave the shop to go back to the barracks and then fill it with water from the tap outside of Blanchie’s house, but you could never fool Muma and so often I had the lashin for doing so. The black sauce indicated that we were having porpoise curry for dinner.

We all use to pick the flesh out the bread as we were coming from the shop and then if there was a little piece of cheese or chop pork etc. on top of the big piece, that would also be eaten before going home. Rosie John use to make lovely bread sticks and ammonia cakes. If for any reason there was no bread Muma would make salt fritters plastered with jam for tea.

I use to collect all the peelings for Beatie George’s goats and she would give me a bag of sweets on a Saturday night, most of which were rancid but we shared them out and ate them, don’t ever recall getting sick. These sweets were Sunrise toffees, Cape heather marshmallows, Murray mints, reading sweets saying I love you etc.

I remember when Muma bought her first spring mattress. We were so excited it was for her and Dada’s bed, and I jump on the bed lovely and springy and having a pen in my hand it stuck up in the roof of my mouth, I had to go to the hospital. I couldn’t eat properly for a few days so was lucky to buy ice cream from Lena Marnsa. All the other children said they wish the pen would go up in their jaw then they would get ice cream too.

{1} Who was also one of the island’s historians.{2} And don’t be afraid to go down little alley ways - there are no dangerous places on St Helena.{3} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{4} Speaking Saint is available from local shops and for Kindle™ via Amazon.co.uk.

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