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William Dampier, whose vessel HMS Roebuck was wrecked off Ascension in 1701

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  of Georgetown (Page One)

Ascension was claimed for Britain in the name of King George III on the 22nd of October 1815. At 5.10pm HMS Zenobia and HMS Peruvian, two Brigs of War, anchored in English Roads. The ships logs record that at 5.30pm, their captains came ashore, raised the Union Jack, and took possession of Ascension Island in the name of his Britannic Majesty. At 7pm the ships boats were again sent to the shore to look for turtle, luckily for the turtle none were found. The next day, a Lt Hobson was sent to dig for water behind Long Beach, a Lt Thorne was sent to the mountain to explore for water and goats, and ship's carpenters were sent to start the erection of wood and canvas shelters that were to become Georgetown. There appears to have been 3 stages in the development of Georgetown. The original settlement; a move in 1830 from this site to the plateaus it occupies today; and the replacement of some of these buildings plus additional facilities from 1880 onwards until the departure of the Navy in 1922. Only very limited construction took place from this date until the mid 1950's.

 

 

THE EXILES

The Exiles was constructed in 1830 as a single storey Marine Barracks. In 1848, a second storey was added bringing the capacity of the barracks to 150. A clock was provided as an alternative to the firing of a gun every hour to mark the time. It used to be said that time passed so slowly for the marines on Ascension that the clock chimed "Oh Gawd" every quarter of an hour. The building remained in use until 1903, when a replacement barracks were built. The old Barracks were kept as storerooms, (Maxim gun ammunition was kept in the cellar), and emergency accommodation, until 1922. With the withdrawal of the Navy, the building became the Ascension Club. It is interesting to note that although the Exiles is still standing, the building that replaced it was demolished in 1966.

 

 

ST GEORGES TANK

Built in 1830, St Georges Tank was the main water storage on the island for many years. All roofs in Georgetown were at one time connected into a nearby tank, and as these individual tanks overflowed, the water went into St Georges. Water from the mountain was also fed into this tank. A pipe (through a separate header tank) fed to the pier, so that ships barrels could be easily replenished. The tank also had a capacity of 1674 tons, or376,000 gallons. The nearby tower contained a header tank to supply water to the town. A windmill was used to pump water to the header tank. Until the development of the English Bay Power Station, water was closely rationed. Two gallons per person, plus 20 gallons per family was the total allowance.

 

COURTHOUSE AND LIBRARY

The current Courthouse and Police Office was built by 1900. It was originally used as a library and courthouse. From 1922, when the manager of the ETC was appointed as Resident Magistrate, the building housed his office, and that of his clerk. In 1960, the building was extended to provide an office for the Assistant Manager, who was the JP. In 1967 a new office was built for the Cable & Wireless staff, and the building was handed over to the Administrator.

 

BOWLING ALLEY

The Navy built this building, now the Georgetown Hall, at the turn of the century. The Naval maps of 1900 show it as the Recreation Rooms, although somehow it acquired the name of Bowling Alley. When the Navy withdrew, it was used as a hall and cinema, with the ends of the building being used as a club, and as offices. Films were shown regularly until 1987, when the hire cost forced a conversion to video projection. With the rise of TV and home video, this service ceased in 1990.

 

 

ADMINISTRATORS OFFICE

The Administrator's Office is on the site of the Seamen's Mess built at the turn of the century. Following the withdrawal of the Navy in 1922, it was converted into a married quarter. Although substantially rebuilt, the inside walls are the originals from the Seamen's Mess. Known as the Wickiup, it had the reputation for being the dustiest building on the island, so it was not surprising that Cable & Wireless gave the building to the Administrator in 1966.

 

 

THE BAKERY

The old Bakery was also probably built at the turn of the century, and except for the period between 1943 and 1947, was used to provide bread for the island until 1977. The building originally had an old wood or charcoal oven, with doors and fittings that came from an early HMS Lord Nelson. Different ovens were provided over the years, but always in the same building. A lean-to annex at the seaward end of the building provided accommodation for three St Helenian men for many years. Between 1943 and 1947, and from 1977, the island's bread was baked at the American Base, a practice that still goes on today.

 

 

THE AFRICA STORE

This building is earlier than most others in the area. It is one of the store rooms for the old Naval canteen. Originally it had a cellar, although this has now been filled in. From 1925 this building housed a refrigerator for shop supplies.

 

 

NUMBER 9

The stone walls near the area give a rough idea where the building stood. It was the only two storey house in Georgetown; all other two storey buildings being messes or offices. The building was used, after the naval withdrawal, to house the ETC company manager, or Resident Magistrate. The building was demolished in 1971 after a new No. 9 was built. The nearby No.9b, was built by the ETC in 1927, and known as the Bishop's Annex. It was used to house visitors to the island, except of course the Governor, who stayed at Governor's Lodge on Cross Hill.

 

 

THE POLICE STATION

The Police Station was completed by 1899, and had been in use as such ever since. With the withdrawal of the Navy, the building housed two constables from St Helena who were to represent the law here on Ascension. It is reported however, that the constables only dealt with the ETC St Helenian personnel, with any infringements from the UK staff being dealt with by the company manager directly. The building has four jail cells underneath the living accommodation.

 

 

THE ROCK SHOP

The Rock Shop was originally the Naval Canteen Kitchen. Probably built well before the turn of the century, it at one time contained a coal fired stove. Following the withdrawal of the Navy, it was used as a grain store by the ETC. It became the 2nd private shop on Ascension, the first being the Turtle Nest.

 

 

THE CHURCH

The first Naval chaplain came to the island in 1844, but it was not until 1861 that the church was actually consecrated. Divine Service had until this time been held on the verandah of the Marine Barracks. The cornerstone of the Church was laid in 1843 by Mrs. Dwyer, the wife of the Commandant. The main body of the Church was completed in 1847, and the consecration in 1861 was performed by the first Bishop of St Helena, with the graveyards being consecrated at the same time. The building was modernised in 1879/80, a chancel was added, and the altar placed on its present platform. There are a number of additions to the fittings of the church right up to 1905, when the Naval Chaplain was withdrawn. From 1905 services were taken by lay readers, but improvements continued to be made. Electric light was installed in 1924, and also in that year, the first choir was formed.

 

 

FORT BEDFORD

Fort Bedford was constructed between 1903 and 1906. It is the most modern of the three naval forts, and originally housed two six-inch guns. All of the forts were deactivated after WWI, and their guns removed. With the start of WWII, Fort Bedford was re-armed, by fitting two 5.5-inch guns from HMS Hood. (They had been removed from the Hood as part of a refit in Malta in 1934). The guns were used in anger in 1941, when a U-Boat, U-124 approached Ascension to try and create a diversion. The U-Boat carrying many survivors was, with other boats, returning to France, and hoped to convince the British that they were still active in the South Atlantic. Fort Bedford proved to be too accurate for comfort, and the boat was forced to crash dive. However, the tactics worked, and all the boats returned to France safely. The Fort remained active until 1953, when HMS Sparrow called to service the guns, and to remove any live ammunition.

 

 
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Last revised on the 1st of September 2002. For any comments or questions about the Society and its work, or this website, please e-mail us via this link in Ascension.