And so the island’s infrastructure, where not directly fed from outside interests, tends to decay. Ascension’s history is lying all over the place. The bric a brac of ruins is the legacy of brief periods when the island was useful. The first major investment was the building of barracks on the island. The imprisonment of Napoleon on St Helena was one of the biggest times where the British felt it necessary to have defensive infrastructure on the island. Napoleon was such a personality, and although a hate figure in the UK, was still so much revered by the French and its territories that there was a fear that some group or other would mount a rescue mission. Ascension Island provided a location to defend the island from approaches from the north, albeit being 500 miles to the north west and a speck of land in an ocean of water. Georgetown grew out of this and the layout of the town is much more like a barracks than a civilian settlement. Two Boats grew out of the need to house workers at the transmitter stations in the 1950s, with Cable and Wireless joining in later. The air bases at the other end of the island were to billet workers for the newly constructed air field. Over time the numbers of people have oscillated, with a huge influx when Britain went to war with the Argentineans in the Falklands. But all businesses oscillate in their fortunes, and also in the efficiencies modern technology brings. Most of the installations on Ascension now need far fewer people to keep them maintained than in the past, and contractors can be brought in temporarily to fix things or improve them. The Government itself suffers the most. It has to provide operational and technical services to keep the lights on, the houses maintained (not easy when they were built in an era of asbestos, have suffered rat and termite infestations, and the general wear of salty winds is gradually denuding the walls and roofs away), provide social and educational services… all with a tiny tax base, small help from outside and little opportunity to raise other revenue.
So things decline. The barrack structures built in the Napoleonic era are the most grand on Ascension. The centrepiece of Georgetown is the Exiles Club. It was the original marine barracks but served as a club at one time. It is taller than most in town and, adorned with a imposing clock tower, is the town’s defining landmark. But it has been more or less in disuse for fifty years and is rotting away. Parade grounds around the Exiles are still empty of any other buildings which allows you to get a full view from almost every angle, but it is so faded; what would be a Grade 1 listed building bustling with cafes, performance spaces and boutiques in any other town in the UK, here it is a majestic but sad representation of Ascension.