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Welcome To Texas, St Helena

Longwood Gate, start of the Avenue and a key reference point on St Helena.

Longwood Gate, start of the Avenue and a key reference point on St Helena.

MEET THE COMMUNITY OF LONGWOOD | Sharon Henry

Longwood was once perceived as the black sheep of St Helena, perhaps because of a ‘bad boy’ image inherited from notorious resident/prisoner, Napoleon Bonaparte. These days the district’s reputation has completely turned around and they own bragging rights to not one or two, but three of the island’s flagship attractions. There is the endemic wirebird, the airport and of course thanks to the French emperor’s incarceration, Longwood House, placing the district firmly on St Helena’s tourist map.

Goats tethered on the golf course at Longwood offer an eco-friendly brand of lawn control. This is also the only golf course on St Helena.

Goats tethered on the golf course at Longwood offer an eco-friendly brand of lawn control. This is also the only golf course on St Helena.

Here is also where you’ll find grazing cattle and working donkeys. And goats feeding off the island’s only golf course. The majority of the island’s vegetables are grown here, produced from the green, yellow and brown quilt of fields that pepper the district’s fringes.

The Cowboy Lifestyle

Old Texas, USA number plate gets a second life in 'Texas,' St Helena. This is in the Deadwood part of the Longwood district.

Old Texas, USA number plate gets a second life in ‘Texas,’ St Helena. This is in the Deadwood part of the Longwood district.

Longwood was known among Saints as ‘Texas.’ Maybe it stems from a love of country music. Perhaps also the fact that horses were once kept here.

“The way I know it,” a lady tells me pegging washing on the line, “is that we’re called Texas because there used to be a lot of bar fights. I can remember people saying, ‘don’t go to Longwood because of the fights.’ It’s not like that anymore though.”

That said, above all the perceptions, labels and tourist attractions, Longwood in my opinion is where you’ll find the strongest sense of a close knit community on the island.

Prince Andrew School students homeward bound after a long day in the classroom. There are 790 people (17% of island's pop.) living in Longwood, as per the 2016 St Helena Census report.

Prince Andrew School students homeward bound after a long day in the classroom. There are 790 people (17% of island’s pop.) living in Longwood, as per the 2016 St Helena Census report.

Welcome To Longwood

From the moment of entering Longwood Gate it feels like stepping through the door of a large, countryside compound; you’re instantly enveloped into the neighbourhood.

"The best thing about Longwood is us!" L-R Fred Crowie, Laysil Williams, Maxina Yon, Terrance 'Rocker' Crowie, Shane 'Bones' Green

“The best thing about Longwood is us!”
L-R Fred Crowie, Laysil Williams, Maxina Yon, Terrance ‘Rocker’ Crowie, Shane ‘Bones’ Green

There’s the Avenue, Harford school, Pub Paradise, Rose & Crown supermarket and the Longwood Green, an area that’s become the nucleus of the community. It’s a favourite spot for kids to play and hang out after school, where people meet and relax after work, like Terry ‘Rocker’ Crowie and friends. “People are always here chilling or doing a cook up,” he says. “We like to spend time on the green, have a drink and make friends.

“The best thing about Longwood is, us!” he tells me, “everybody gets on with everybody, it’s the people, friendships and the scenery.”

A friendly donkey near Longwood Hangings. Diana's Peak can be seen in the distance, highest point on St Helena.

A friendly donkey near Longwood Hangings. This is one of the few remaining working donkeys on the island. The St Helena Donkey Home is a sanctury for retired animals. Diana’s Peak can be seen in the distance, highest point on St Helena.

A patchwork of fields surrounds Longwood which grows the majority of St Helena's local vegetable produce.

A patchwork of fields surrounds Longwood which grows the majority of St Helena’s local vegetable produce.

Cattle and wind turbines on Deadwood Plain. The track leading through the turbines and up the hill to the right leads to Flagstaff, one of the easiest postbox walks on St Helena.

Cattle and wind turbines on Deadwood Plain. The track leading through the turbines and up the hill to the right leads to Flagstaff, one of the easiest postbox walks on St Helena.

Speaking of scenery, Longwood is graced with the backdrop of Flagstaff and The Barn, two island landmarks and exciting Post Box walks. Both are preceded by the sweeping expanse of Deadwood Plain where once you would have found a Boer War prison camp (further fuel to the bad boy image). It’s now home to wind turbines, wirebirds and cows.

Being A Good Neighbour

Fred Benjamin sits on the Green, reminiscing of times gone by in Longwood. The Longwood Green in St Helena is a very social and well used space.

Fred Benjamin sits on the Green, reminiscing of times gone by in Longwood. The Longwood Green in St Helena is a very social and well used space.

“Longwood always had a good atmosphere and community spirit,” Fred Benjamin tells me, lowering himself onto a park bench on the green. “But before days there use to be a lot more activity, we had the Dairy in operation, they had horses, cattle and pig production. They made milk, cheese and butter. Life was far different to what it is now.”

Longwood Avenue flanked by houses and trees strikes a pretty line to Longwood House, last home of Napoleon Bonaparte and now an important stop for tourists visiting St Helena.

Longwood Avenue flanked by houses and trees strikes a pretty line to Longwood House, last home of Napoleon Bonaparte and now an important stop for tourists visiting St Helena.

Some of the beautiful houses that line Longwood Avenue on St Helena.

Some of the beautiful houses that line Longwood Avenue on St Helena.

Longwood House, the last abode of Napoleon Bonaparte who lived here for six years until his death in 1821. The house and grounds have been immaculately restored and is now St Helena's premier tourist attraction.

Longwood House, the last abode of Napoleon Bonaparte who lived here for six years until his death in 1821. The house and grounds have been immaculately restored and is now St Helena’s premier tourist attraction.

Freddy Crowie (85) tends a flourishing vegetable patch in his back garden on Longwood Avenue.

Freddy Crowie (85) tends a flourishing vegetable patch in his back garden on Longwood Avenue.

Striking a line to Napoleon’s house, Longwood Avenue is flanked by bungalows with pretty verandas and flower gardens. Freddy Crowie, 80 years old goes one step further and grows vegetables. “I do it for myself more or less,” he says leaning on a fence post. “Barbara there (points to a neighbour) just asked for couple of beetroot, so I told her yes, pick it up when she comes back from the shop. I don’t worry about charging, I’ll give it away. At the moment I’m growing beetroot, cabbage, onion and potatoes. I’m an old man, so it’s something for me to do and try to keep myself fit.”

Once A Longwoodian, Always A Longwoodian

St Helena Brownies, Shantelle Youde, Holly Rose Crowie and Emily Brough working on their challenge in the Longwood Guide Hall (built in 2000) with Leader, Betty Joshua.

St Helena Brownies, Shantelle Youde, Holly Rose Crowie and Emily Brough working on their challenge in the Longwood Guide Hall (built in 2000) with Leader, Betty Joshua.

Lord and Lady Baden Powell visited St Helena in 1936 and were impressed with the size of the Scouting movement. Eighty years later and although it’s dwindled somewhat in number they’d be pleased to see the dedicated Longwood contingent of Brownies that meet every Wednesday. Brownie leader, Betty Joshua who lives in Jamestown, spent the first 10 years of her life in the district. “Because I’ve got an association with Longwood, I went to school here, learned family values here, I just feel as though I’m coming home once a week. My favourite thing about the place is the people, the people who recognised us and loved us as a family, that’s what makes me feel very much at home here.”

Child's play; jumping off the swings on Longwood Green. Note the top of Longwood House visibile in the background, through the trees.

Child’s play; jumping off the swings on Longwood Green. Note the top of Longwood House visible in the background, through the trees.

Ghost sign of an enterprising old farm advertising sturdy seedlings for sale, one of my favourite little gems in Longwood.

Ghost sign of an enterprising old farm advertising sturdy seedlings for sale, one of my favourite little gems in Longwood.

The neighbourhood of Blackfield and Longwood Avenue within Longwood, St Helena.

The neighbourhood of Blackfield and Longwood Avenue within Longwood, St Helena.

The district spans three miles from Hutts Gate to Bradley’s and a further mile to the airport terminal at Prosperous Bay Plain. The original landscape was once described as a ‘Great Wood’ hence Longwood’s name. Unfortunately man and goats destroyed that natural habitat over the centuries and the Great Wood no longer exists.

Bringing Back The Forest

Fast forward to present day and we have the St Helena National Trust‘s reforestation project; the Millennium Forest near Bottomwoods. Since the year 2000 they have established over 6,000 endemic gumwood trees, with a further 55,000 needed to cover the forest’s designated area of 250 hectares. It has become an island attraction and a viewing platform for activities at the new airport.

Juvenile canopy of endemic gumwood trees at the Millennium Forest, a reforestation project that started in 2000. St Helena Airport in the distance.

Juvenile canopy of endemic gumwood trees at the Millennium Forest, a reforestation project that started in 2000. St Helena Airport in the distance.

Evergreen trees throwing long afternoon shadows at Bottomwoods, Longwood.

Evergreen trees throwing long afternoon shadows at Bottomwoods, Longwood.

Flags flying outside offices of airport construction contractors, Basil Read, at their headquarters in Longwood. (l-r) Basil Read, South Africa, St Helena, Great Britain, Halcrow.

Flags flying outside offices of airport construction contractors, Basil Read, at their headquarters in Longwood. (l-r) Basil Read, South Africa, St Helena, Great Britain, Halcrow.

Left: Mia and Kyla Hopkins tucking into the latter part of a Wednesday routine; Brownie Guides and ice cream. Right: Jenna Thomas and Martika Youde hanging out at their favourite spot on the Avenue.

Left: Mia and Kyla Hopkins tucking into the latter part of a Wednesday routine; Brownie Guides and ice cream.
Right: Jenna Thomas and Martika Youde hanging out at their favourite spot on the Avenue.

Wednesday afternoons signal a family ritual for young Mia and Kyla Hopkins. Legs swinging on the picnic bench they lick ice-creams bought from Shirley’s van parked on the green. “We pick up Kyla from Brownies,” says mum Kelly, “have ice-cream then go home for dinner and bed. Longwood is better for children for play areas, whereas in Jamestown the traffic is dangerous.”

There are 790 people (17% of island pop.) living in Longwood and over the last four years the population has been boosted by airport contractors, Basil Read, which in turn has introduced more traffic and employment in the area.

Young boys out playing in the Deadwood area of Longwood, taking time out to chat and let me photograph them.

Young boys out playing in the Deadwood area of Longwood, taking time out to chat and let me photograph them.

Little Shop Of Laughs

“For me the best thing about Longwood is the friendliness,” says Cynthia Green who manages the ‘Longwood Store,’ an old-fashioned over-the-counter shop on the Avenue that still uses balance scales. It belongs to the son of the previous owner who is now deceased. “It was her wish that I carried on with the shop,” Cynthia explains. “We don’t make any profit off it, we just keep it open for the sake of the people coming in for a chat and socialising. We do bread orders, sell local vegetables and stock the main household items. People always say, ‘don’t close it down, it’s a friendly shop and we have loads of laughs and jokes in here.’ That’s the reason why we keep it open.”

Holding on to tradition, Cynthia Green weighs tomatoes on balance scales in Longwood Store. This was once a common sight in shops on St Helena, but today is quite rare.

Holding on to tradition, Cynthia Green weighs tomatoes on balance scales in Longwood Store. This was once a common sight in shops on St Helena, but today is quite rare.

Unlike Jamestown’s after-work exodus, Longwood gets a mini shot in the arm of returning residents in the afternoon which livens the district. People shop, congregate on the Green, children ride bikes and play in the park, and chimneys start smoking for the evening’s dinner using vegetables freshly dug from the garden. Animals are fed, homework done, TV watched, then bed and ready for the rising sun on another day in Texas – Longwood.

A great view of some of the farming areas in Mulberry Gut with the main Longwood district at the top of the hill. St Helena's central peaks can be seen in the far distance.

A great view of some of the farming areas in Mulberry Gut with the main Longwood district at the top of the hill. St Helena’s central peaks can be seen in the far distance.

Acknowledgment: Lord & Lady Baden Powell info from the booklet, ‘A History of The Wharf, St Helena,’ by Barbara B George.

 

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