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