Tuesday, 10 January 2012

New Longwood House

The new house built for Napoleon at Longwood - a mid nineteenth century view.

Longwood House was always intended to be a temporary residence, and on 17th May 1816 Sir Hudson Lowe told Napoleon that the materials necessary for building a new house had arrived. Napoleon, uwilling to accept his permanent imprisonment on the island, would not discuss it with him.

Sir Hudson Lowe prevaricated as to where it would be built, but eventually, in 1818, began construction on a site next door to Bertrand's cottage. It was pretty well completed by the end of 1820.

The house was pre-fabricated by John Bullock in London. Construction was under the command of Major Emmet. Among those working on the project were Mr Paine, a painter and paper hanger sent out from London, and Mr Darling, who served as undertaker at Napoleon's funeral and also assisted at the exhumation.

Napoleon watched the house being built, and once secretly visited it, but he always maintained that he would never live there. Shortly before his death he strongly objected to the iron railings that were placed around it, which to him had the appearance of a prison. These were removed and later used to fence off his grave.

In the last hours of Napoleon's illness Lowe and his assistant Major Gideon Gorrequer waited there for news.

No trace of the house now remains. It was demolished in 1947 and agricultural buildings now stand on the site.

Longwood House itself came very near to a similar fate around the same time.

For another image see previous blog on sites associated with the captivity of Napoleon.


Hels said...

Good story!

Since the house took such a major effort to construct and fit out, why was eventually demolished? Surely if the repairs were done as needed, it could have been used for other residents. Perhaps there was some sense of unease about its original occupant.

John Tyrrell said...

New Longwood House was a very pleasant house and was used extensively throughout the nineteenth century as far as I recall. I would imagine that like Longwood itself it had fallen into disrepair, perhaps because of the termites which by that time had penetrated virtually everywhere on the island.

The Balcombes' house at the Briars was demolished at much the same time. Longwood itself came close to demolition. The Briars pavilion would surely have gone a decade or so later but for Dame Mabel Brookes. I don't think there was anything particularly sinister about its demolition. Quite a bit of St Helena's heritage has been allowed to decay or been destroyed - as a perusal of Michel Martineau's blog will I think reveal. In all honesty I think that funds have alwyas been in short supply, and the island has always had more pressing problems and priorities.



albertuk said...

The site of the new house (or "palace" as it was called in the British press) was chosen to be Longwood because of... Gourgaud "revelations".
The construction was started early October 1818, after Lowe received the firm order from the minister to get on with the works. The OO Nicholls witnessed the arrival of the workers and reported: "There was no ceremony used in laying the first stone."

John Tyrrell said...

Thanks Albert for reminding us about the Gourgaud revelations. I had not realised that that was precisely why Longwood was chosen, although I knew that it was considered the most secure site on the island.

Do you have any idea of how many people were sent from London to work on the house?



Michel Dancoisne-Martineau said...

I did a full research on Longwood New House between 2002 and 2004... this was published in "Sainte-Hélène - île de Mémoire".
The reason for its demolition has nothing to do with its maintenance condition.. on the contrary !!! after the WWII this was one of the very few buildings in amazing good condition on the island as it was used by the British Army...
I met one of the "Saints" who demolished it... He confirmed this.
The reason then ??? this was a government decision to find a flat enough area to establish a "Farm Model"... and it turned cheaper to demolish the existing building rather than adapting it to its "model" criteria...

John Tyrrell said...

Fascinating, and from the sound of it all too typical of the lack of regard for St Helena's heritage at that period in particular.

One of these days I must read "Sainte-Hélène - île de Mémoire".

Many thanks for correcting me.