Earlier this year I was taken to see Wranghams, a fine late eighteenth century house, secluded down a long drive above Sandy Bay, with a fine view of the hills to its front. It stands in three acres of now overgrown garden and orchards, sadly neglected by its owners, the St Helena Government.
Having seen the state of some of the other country houses on the island its current neglect was a matter of some concern. Houses on St Helena deteriorate very fast.
I was interested therefore to read last week on St Helena online that the newly elected Councillors, have thrown out a Government proposal to downgrade it from a listed Grade III to a Grade II building.
Wranghams has in the past had some unsympathetic alterations, but it could be restored to something approaching its original state, and it is encouraging that the new crop of Councillors are sensitive to such issues. I do hope that the means to save Wranghams will be found before it is too late.
St Helena's Country Houses
The country houses on St Helena mostly date from the latter part of the eighteenth to the early nineteenth century. They were built for the prominent, established families who held all the important positions during the days of the East India Company. At the apex was Plantation House, the country home of the Governor, the representative of the East India Company on the island.
These fine Georgian country houses, reflecting the aspirations, life styles and aesthetic tastes of St Helena's elite, are a vital part of the island's heritage, and an unique part also of British colonial history.
Of the remaining houses Bamboo Grove and Bamboo Hedge seem, from photgrapic evidence, not in imminent danger, although I would be surprised if they were in as good a state as Oakbank.
But Rock Rose, and sadly now Teutonic Hall, on which I have written before, look to be past the point of no return.
Then there is the sad story of Rose Cottage. Earlier this year I got permission from a representative of the Thornton Trust to visit this remote house above Sandy Bay, close to Mount Pleasant.
Sad to say what remains of this once elegant house is not visible until you reach its walls. In fact you might miss it altogether, but for the statue of "The Man", the late G. A. D. 'Tony' Thornton, who was deported from the island by Governor Sir Thomas Oates in 1975.
During my stay this year I met two inhabitants who as children were taken to tea at this once fine house.
This provides a graphic illustration of what can happen quite quickly to houses that are neglected on St Helena.
This survey would not be complete without mention of Rosemary Hall on Francis Plain, perhaps the finest of them all, home of the Austrian and Russian Commissioners during the captivity of Napoleon.
This imposing house was destroyed in the early 1930's, reputedly a victim of the termites that have done so much damage to the buildings on the island since the 1840's, and which are now said to be threatening Wranghams.
A brief study of these houses, all built in a similar classical style, affords a unique insight into St Helena society at the height of East India Company rule. From the arrival of Napoleon things would never be the same again.
One final reflection is perhaps in order: clearly it would have been possible to have housed Napoleon in rather better circumstances than Longwood. Insofar as he ever expressed any preferences, Napoleon himself said he would wish to live in the more fertile part of the island, where of course most of the fine country houses were built. Clearly the inhospitable and isolated plain at Longwood was chosen for security reasons alone.
NOTE: Note: This blog has more photos than usual. I have decided to keep them small, but all may be enlarged if they are double clicked.