When workmen broke up the concrete pathway at the bottom of Main Street, they found an 18th century pavement that would have been the perfect finishing touch to the island’s new hotel.
Here was an historic feature almost as old as the hotel structure itself: a row of East India Company buildings soon to welcome the kind of high-end tourists who appreciate a bit of heritage.
Rob Midwinter, overseeing the work for Enterprise St Helena, was very excited. “When the contractors were breaking up the concrete, I was actually there,” he says. “I ran straight over to Jeremy.”
That’s Jeremy Harris of the St Helena National Trust. He contacted Adam Sizeman at the museum, who raced up with a camera to photograph the discovery.
“It was beautiful,” says Rob. “We got the chief engineer over and got in touch with the chief planning officer.”
They were asked if the planning consent for the hotel could be varied to incorporate the old stone slabs as a feature. Everyone agreed.
The slabs provided an unexpected chance to complete work started by the former planning chief, David Taylor, to bring back the old look of Georgian Jamestown.
But it was not to be, say Rob. “Unfortunately, when the contractor started relaying them, [they] couldn’t get an even surface. They’re quite ripply on top.
“The contractor did a section, and the chief enginer came out and had a look and called out Jeremy, and it was agreed that for public safety couldn’t use them. We couldn’t get approval.”
Instead, modern concrete paving blocks have been laid, whichare generally agreed to be an improvement on the concrete, but very obviously not historic. “They’ll weather over time,” says Rob, hopefully.
And it wasn’t all disappointment. “Under that concrete was also the original kerbstones. They will be part of the project. That’s a continuation of what we’ve got in the rest of Main Street. We’ve put new pavement down but we’re using original kerb stones, so it looks almost the same.”
The hope had been that the pavement would be as pleasing as the cobblestones on the other side of the street that had also been covered by concrete and later brought back into the light… only for some of them to be dug up to make way for high-speed computer cabling.
“It would have been so nice to incorporate the originals but unfortunately, we can’t,” says Rob. “We had to try.”
At least these days, he says, there is an understanding of the importance of heritage features. “In the old days people didn’t show that level of care. Now we have had a number of examples with the hotel, where they found features and tried to incorporate them. People are getting on the ball now. We stopped the work. The National trust came over. There is a record of what was uncovered.”
As for the ancient slabs, they will be stored and preserved by the National Trust. “If they are able to be used in some heritage project somewhere, they will be.”
That’s as long as no one nicks them…