One of the many military fortifications on St Helena
(for others see also this separate chapter
). This one is located at a rocky promontory to the east of James Bay, a relatively short hike from Jamestown
. Apart from the various fortifications from different eras the place is also of interest because it was here that the last political prisoners, three Bahraini nationalists, were held from 1957 to 1961.
More background info:
The first fortifications at this point go back to the second half of the 17th century and are named after Sir Richard Munden, the Royal Navy captain who in 1673 commanded a military operation through which the brief Dutch
invasion of the island was ended and British
rule re-established – and after which construction of fortifications to defend the island were immediately begun all around the coast.
The ones at Munden's Point were expanded and modified many times over the following centuries, including some fairly modern bunkers and gun positions on the western side of the promontory that to me looked like they belonged to the WW1
era or maybe just before (like those coastal guns atop Ladder Hill
Anyway, in the 20th century these fortifications lost their importance and none of the former gun positions at Munden's still have their guns – though, like at so many places along St Helena
's coast, you can still find gun barrels strewn around away from their original positions.
While Munden's Battery may have lost all its military significance, it moved back into focus when it became the place where three Bahraini political prisoners were held, namely in a building on the northern side of the promontory, in what used to be a searchlight station. The buildings were specifically adapted for the prisoners, who lived there, under guard, from January 1957 to June 1961.
At the time Bahrain was a British protectorate (it only became independent in 1971), but one effect of the modernization, including in education, that came with the British presence in the Persian Gulf was also a rise in political awareness amongst the populace – and concomitantly an increase in anti-colonialism and nationalism. Soon enough, opposition movements formed in Bahrain that fought against the sheikdom rule propped up (and logistically run) by the British. In 1956 it came to a general strike, demonstrations and other disruptions – and three “ring leaders” were arrested and sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. They were then transferred to St Helena.
One of the Bahraini Three, as they became known, applied to the St Helena court for a writ of habeas corpus, but this was dismissed. (I won't go into the legal details of this – you can read about the full background of the case and the legal minutiae here
– external link, opens in a new window).
Back in Britain
the case was meanwhile causing increasing embarrassment, though, and when another one of the Bahraini prisoners appealed on the same grounds in June 1961, he was successful and all three were released (since the same circumstances applied to all three of them) and they soon left the island. They were the last political prisoners (to date) to be exiled to St Helena
The building that the Bahraini Three had been held in has meanwhile fallen into dereliction, just like the rest of the structures at Munden's. But they are still a popular destination for locals and visitors, going by the ample graffiti to be found on many of the walls inside the buildings.
There is also a prominent piece of graffiti on the front of the batteries/bunkers facing James Bay: “Welcome R.M.S. St. Helena” supplemented in fresh white letters by “Good Bye R.M.S. St. Helena 2018” above the old greeting. This is obviously a reference to the Royal Mail supply ship of that name whose service was terminated in February 2018 after the opening of the new airport – see under St Helena
What there is to see:
nothing that's in any way commodified
, just a relatively short scenic hike to some old fortifications and several abandoned buildings – together forming one of the best places for a spot of “urban exploration
” on St Helena
As you hike up to Upper Munden's Battery
you can already see from above the parts of Lower Munden's Battery that face James Bay. There used to be a separate path leading straight there, but this has become unstable and is now closed off. So access is via the upper part (along paths leading down on the other side of the promontory).
I first headed to the very top. Along the last stretch you pass a very big cannon barrel left on the grass, picturesquely rusting away. There is a lookout and in front of it an old gun emplacement and ammunition depots with rusty hatches … but no longer any guns. Neither are there any guns left in their positions at Lower Munden's Battery, as you can already see from up here.
On the way back down you can take a path branching off and through a gate (on which it clearly says “enter” …) leading to a building
on the north-west-facing side of the promontory, looking towards Rupert's Bay. This is where the three Bahraini political prisoners
were held in 1957-61 (see above
!). The houses are empty save for a bit of debris and the odd rusty-metal barrel. But it has a nicely derelict atmosphere and the views out are good. Behind the main house are two latrines/toilets atop the cliff … I guess back when they were still functional, users of these must have hoped they were attached securely to the cliff while they were doing their business … There's also another, separate house, maybe a former guardhouse or just for storage.
As a little aside: it's not in any way a dark feature, but I was surprised to find a cotton plant outside the Bahraini exiles' house! I wonder how that got there, and why ...
At the front of Munden's Point is an old sign that warns approaching boats of a telegraph cable and that anchorage was forbidden beyond a marker line. The sign is slowly crumbling away. Whether that means the cable is no longer there, I don't know.
You then come to the main old part of Lower Munden's Battery
. Again, no guns but you can peek into former storage and ammunitions depot structures. All good stuff for urbexing
. There's a hole in one wall beyond which a steep staircase descends to an even lower level, but I did not go all the way down (and now regret it – see below).
Heading round the corner towards the parts facing James Bay and the Jamestown
seafront, there's first another lookout – with indeed a good view (and plenty of graffiti). And then there's what I thought was the best bit: the large bay-facing fortifications
with two former gun emplacements well protected by thick walls and thick iron-clad ceilings. On the outside of this wall are the old welcome and the recent farewell inscriptions (see above) to the “RMS St Helena”. You can walk along the outside of this fortification – but there's a sheer drop down the cliffs to the sea, so care has to be taken.
From the rear I entered the large bunker-like
structure. It's cut deep into the rock face with plenty of room – but it's all empty now. The same can't be said about the mostly whitewashed inner walls. There's lots of graffiti, some of it even interesting – including one paying tribute to Johnny Cash (testament to the popularity of country music on St Helena
!). Yet I found it a bit cryptic: in includes a year statement, 1970, and the following: “Jonney [sic!] Cash / the, man in black / in remembrans [sic!] of his brother (Justin)” … leaving aside the bad spelling, it doesn't add up content-wise: according to the Wikipedia page for Cash, he didn't have a brother of that name. There is a Justin Cash who's also a musician/singer, but he's a) not Johnny Cash's brother and b) still alive. Johnny Cash did lose an older brother at the young age of 15, but that was in 1944 and he was called Jack. I found the graffito strange immediately when I saw it, now, after a bit of research I find it even weirder.
After poking around the inside of this big bunker I emerged at the northern end, through an archway. On the outside I noticed the top stone had a V & R sign carved on it (with the letters shoved into one another), that's the initials of “Victoria Regina” (i.e. Latin for Queen Victoria), so it was probably put there between 1840 and 1901.
After that I headed back for the return hike to Jamestown
And that was it … or so I thought ...
I've meanwhile found out that I did not actually see all of Lower Munden's … that's because I didn't go beyond that narrow enclosed passageway with stairs all the way down, as I didn't expect anything to be beyond there. What I unfortunately didn't know at the time is that there is in fact yet another ex-gun position below Lower Munden, reachable by metal ladders leading almost down to the sea level. On the shore are also more discarded cannon barrels of different types. (Google “Munden's Battery” for images and you will see.)
Nevertheless, all in all
I found exploring Munden's the most rewarding of all the military sites on St Helena
(see this separate chapter
for others). It was an unexpectedly rich place for a spot of urbex
. And that so close to Jamestown
! Not to be missed if you're halfway into these things …
to the east of James Bay, above and to the north of the wharf of Jamestown
, St. Helena
Access and costs:
a relatively short, moderate hike from Jamestown
Setting out to Munden's from the centre of Jamestown
, you first have to locate the beginning of the trail: from the bottom of Main Street walk through Castle Gardens past Ann's Place, and just north of the latter you'll find a small gate. This leads to an elevated path known as Sisters' Walk (so called since an early 19th century governor had it cut out of the hillside for his daughters to amble along). From there head south (i.e. in the opposite direction of where you eventually want to be heading!) to get to the intersection with Munden's Road. This isn't a proper road (in so far as it is unsuitable for vehicles), but the beginning of the path that eventually leads all the way to Munden's Point.
Getting to the very top of Munden's Point or clambering all the way down Munden's Battery to the shore requires a bit more effort and mobility, but other than that it's a fairly easy walk.
Freely accessible at all times (preferably during daylight hours, naturally). If you want to thoroughly explore the insides of the bunkers etc., take a torch/flashlight.
Time required: the hike there and back alone doesn't take much more than an hour if you're halfway fit. Exploring the batteries and abandoned buildings can take anything between a few minutes to another hour or more, depending on how deep you want to go.
If you have the time and stamina you could carry on beyond Munden's on the trail that will take you to Rupert's Bay
and from there you could do the hike to Bank's Battery
– but it's an altogether more demanding route (often on loose, gravelly ground, so it can be a bit precarious). Bank's also consists of an upper part and a lower part, in this case right along the shoreline (like at Sandy Bay or Lemon Valley). The cannons of Bank's Battery were salvaged many years ago (you can find one or two of them outside the St Helena Museum
's outer wall) and parts of the fortifications have collapsed due to sea erosion in 2010.
Geographically closer to Munden's but hard to access from there, are the well-preserved guns of Sampson's and Saddle Battery
– see under forts and cannons
Combinations with non-dark destinations: the hike to Munden's as such isn't anything too dark in itself and the views over Jamestown, the seafront and the Bay to be had en route are surely worth it in their own right.
- 01 - approach path
- 02 - looking down to lower Mundens
- 03 - sign high above the bay
- 04 - climbing to the top
- 05 - look-out at the top
- 06 - former gun emplacement
- 07 - hatch
- 08 - Mundens Battery
- 09 - Lower Mundens fortifications and look-out
- 10 - house in which the Bahraini nationalists were incarcerated
- 11 - invitation sign to enter
- 12 - inside
- 13 - view through barbed wire towards Ruperts
- 14 - house of the exiled Bahraini Three
- 15 - looks like cotton
- 16 - heavy metal
- 17 - inside Mundens Battery
- 18 - passage leading down
- 19 - going down
- 20 - look-out at Lower Mundens
- 21 - looking out over James Bay
- 22 - at the old greeting
- 23 - heavy-duty fortifications
- 24 - looking in
- 25 - urbexing at Mundens
- 26 - weird graffiti
- 27 - Mundens seen from across Ruperts Bay