Friday, 5 April 2019

Longwood House Restoration 1950-1955

Royal Visit to Longwood House, 1947

The visit by the Royal family in April 1947 probably proved crucial in safeguarding the future of Longwood House and of the French properties on St. Helena.

New material on this has now come to light from the archives diplomatiques du ministère des Affaires étrangères on the Facebook page of the Domaines nationaux français à l'île de Sainte Hélène, Atlantique Sud .

Longwood House 1951 rebuilding commences

Apparently when Georges Peugeot took charge on 15 October 1945 he found Longwood House in such a bad state of repair, largely as a result of the depradations of the termites thought to have been introduced on the island from the 1840's, that he felt he had no choice but to close it to the public. On 12 November he informed the French Government that the house was in a lamentable state inside and out and would create a very bad impression on any tourists who visited. Peugeot tried to convince Paris that a full restoration was necessary.

18 months later, in April 1847, with Longwood House in an embarrassing state, resembling plus à une ruine qu’à la dernière résidence d’un empereur, M. Peugeot was faced with the prospect of a visit from the Royal Family, on their way back from South Africa. Somehow he managed to to get Longwood into a presentable state for the royal visitors. King George VI duly signed the visitor's book, and said he had found the visit very interesting. Nevertheless he noted the enormous damage the termites had done, and expressed the hope that the French Government would take the necessary steps to restore the historic house.(1)

1953, Rebuilding in progress

On returning to England the King summoned the French Ambassador, M. Massigli and informed him of the bad state of Longwood House. As he had done on St Helena, the King said that he hoped the French Government would quickly begin to take the necessary measures to preserve the building. (2)

This intervention perhaps saved Longwood House from suffering the same fate as New Longwood House and the Balcombes' house at the Briars. In March 1950 the project was approved, and over the next 5 years the house was restored.

Reopening, 27 March 1955

1. Restauration 1950-1955 des appartements de Napoléon à Longwood, Domaines nationaux français à l'île de Sainte Hélène, Atlantique Sud
2.Letter from L. Roché, chargé d’affaires de France en Grande Bretagne, 2 septembre 1947.