The People of Gibraltar
2015 - Governor's Parade - El Balali

Roger Elliott and John Spilsbury - Miguel Riera and Patrick Riera
Santos and Dr Hennen - General O'Hara and Sir Charles Holloway
The Earl of Chatham, the Rev Stewart Patterson and B.H.T Frere 
James Gabriel Montresor 


Governor's Parade from the Artillery Barracks - Garrison Library right in front with Library Ramp - known colloquially as "el Balali"- on its left - The next street leading north is Governor's Street - The two ladies in red are wearing the traditional red coats commonly worn by local women at the time   (1834 - H.A. Turner ) ( See LINK

In the 1950s young people - and that was me and my friends - went to the cinema at least three times a week - if not more often. This meant frequent trips to the Theatre Royal (see LINK) and periodic walks across Governor's Parade to get to it. For many years after my family had returned from our evacuation to Madeira we lived in 256 Main Street. (See LINK) To get to the Theatre Royal meant a short walk up Library Street and then across the square as the Theatre was on the north side of the Parade.


Library Street from Main Street looking towards the Garrison Library and Governor's Parade ( 1924 - Unknown )

Later when I moved south to Alameda House which was considerably further away from Governor's Parade than 256 Main Street my visits to it actually increased exponentially. The reason was that by now I was receiving a secondary education at the Sacred Heart School and my way home invariably took me through Library Ramp where I and my friend raced our dinky-toy cars down its deep side gutters one car to each side.  

Not that any of us even know that it was called Library Ramp. To us it was and always would be "el Balali" - an obtuse local Llanito reference (see LINK) to the existence of a nearby Garrison fives court in the 18th century - a ball alley. The bottom of the Ramp gave out to Governor's Parade and once again it meant crossing the square at least a couple of times every day. There were no canteens or packed lunches at the school then - we all went home for such things.


Library Ramp well before my time - looking down towards the R.A. Barracks in Governor's Parade ( From an old Italian print )

Given our constant visits one would have expected us to have become quite knowledgeable about the square but nothing could be further from the truth.  We could identify the Garrison Library as well as an area just below the Ballali where the aguadores filled their wooden water barrels, but as well-brought up Catholics we seem to have hardly noticed Saint Andrew's Church - Gibraltar's main Presbyterian place of worship - which stood on it northern side.


The municipal fountain in Governor's Parade surrounded by aguadores filling up their barrels - our family house in Main Street was supplied by these men  (Early 19th century )

But we were probably not alone in our ignorance. It might have been interesting to know the history of Governor's Square - but the social history of our home town was never taught at school. Quite frankly I doubt whether our teachers knew much about it - hardly any of them were Gibraltarians - and I am almost certain that most of their pupils would not have been all that interested.

Given its geography, Gibraltar is not exactly blessed with large town squares. In fact apart from John Mackintosh Square (see LINK), Cornwall's Parade and Casements I can't think of too many other ones that existed then or now. Of the three, I have found that Governor's Parade is the most elusive to research, the least mentioned in our literature, and in many ways perhaps the most interesting.

So how far back can we go? Well not too far. I have no idea what the square was known as pre 1704 but the persistence of the English name "Governor's Parade" suggests that this might have been la Plaza del Gobernador as this is probably where the Spanish Governors had their residence. 

As regards post-1704 I am not entirely sure where exactly the two first non-Spanish Governors took up their residence but it was certainly as early as 1711 that the third one - Roger Elliott (see LINK) - decided to make the Convent of St Francis his personal residence. In other words if the British ever used a building in Governor's Parade as their residence it would have been for a very short while indeed - which leaves us with the Spanish alternative for the origin of the name of the square.

Offering more grist to the mill, in 1753 the square was known by a completely different name of French Parade which according to local historian Tito Benady referred to a "magnificent" nearby garden owned by a Frenchman. That the square was still being called this in the late 18th century is confirmed by John Spilsbury's in his Journal of the Siege of Gibraltar 1779-1783 (see LINK):
Forts Barbara and Phillip tried several shots at our waggons (sic) going to the Devil's Tower (see LINK) for stone; one came to the French Parade . . . to the great surprise of everybody who did not think they could throw shot so far. 
The Theatre Royal was apparently built on top of these gardens although there are other records which suggest that it was actually built over a barley field nearby - or perhaps even a mill.

A quick look at the plan ordered by James Gabriel Montresor (see LINK) who was the Chief Engineer of Gibraltar at the time reveals that the square was quite different to what it would look like from the late 19th century onwards. The nearby Governor's Gardens lying to the east of what would become Town Range - the street that continues southward from Governor's Street which enters the square from the north - offer another possible reason for the square's subsequent name


A plan of the City of Gibraltar   ( 1753 - James Gabriel Montresor - detail)

It is known that a certain Miguel Riera and his son Patrick, who was born in Gibraltar in 1731, owned a grocery shop in City Mill Lane. The produce came from a plot of land which in those days formed part of what is today the Library Gardens. It is hard to make whether this might have been the "inhabitants garden" or one of the others shown on Montresor's plan. Whichever one it happened to be it was known locally at the time as la Huerta Riera.

The name of the square as Governor's Parade seems to have stuck for a while until it was given the alternative one of Gunner's Parade. I have found it impossible So far to determine when this happened but the reason for the new name was the appearance of a Royal Artillery Barracks and a nearby R.A. Officers' Mess. The barracks is first mentioned by General O'Hara in his Standing Orders of 1802 (see LINK):
The Troops quartered in the  . . . . Artillery Barracks near the Governor's Parade . . . are to draw their Water at the Public Fountain in the town, and nowhere else.
In other words despite the appearance of the RA barracks the square seems to have retained its official name of Governor's Parade - at least in O'Hara's view. 

The Garrison Library building (see LINK) was constructed on the east side of the square during the very early 1800s. It was - and still is - a relatively large and imposing building by 19th century Gibraltar standards and it comes as no surprise that local historians J.T and D.M. Ellicott have suggested that at least for a while the Parade became known as Library Square - although I have never been able to find any direct source that might confirm this. Nor does the name appear as an address on any 19th century census.

In 1804 yellow fever made its unwelcome appearance in Gibraltar killing about 6000 people, 5000 of them civilians. (See LINK) Medical evidence suggested that the first person to contract the disease was a shopkeeper called Santos who lived in Boyd's House - a building on the north eastern corner of Governor's Parade.


Contemporary plan of Governor's Parade showing an area where the yellow fever epidemic is supoosed to have started  (1815 - Sir James Fellowes )   (See LINK

It is clear from the contemporary plan shown above that even as late as the beginning of the 19th century, the Parade - despite the presence of the new Garrison Library building - was considerably less pleasant a place  than it would become later that same century. 

This is how Dr J. Hennen - Medical Superintendent to the Garrison at Gibraltar (see LINK) described it in his Sketches of a Plan for Memoirs on Medical Topography which was published in 1830:
When we examine the neighbourhood more closely, we find that the Library Gardens, Boyd's Buildings, and the Governor's Parade are built on a part of the ground through which the main stream would naturally flow, if it were unobstructed by buildings. 
Even as it is, the torrent, though directed into numerous other channels, still discharges a large volume of water through the neighbourhood in winter  . . . .The Gunners' Barracks consist of a house of two stories, built of stone; it is occupied by the Royal Artillery, and is celebrated in the annals of Gibraltar epidemics, as a spot where fever raged in 1804 . . . Before the sewers were constructed, the whole neighbourhood was in a most deplorable state, and even now, without the greatest attention on the part of the police, it would degenerate into a public nuisance. . . .
Despite all these criticisms, in 1810 there was another major change to the appearance of the square. Several years later the Peninsular War began to concentrated people's minds. Britain was an ally of Spain, and as the war progressed the risk of a French attack on Gibraltar seemed a distinct possibility. In 1810 the Spanish and British authorities agreed that it would be a good idea to destroy the fortification that had been built along the isthmus in the early 18th century. 

They were in effect, the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar and were known as the Spanish Lines. The forts, Santa Barbara and San Felipe were duly dismantled - under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Charles Holloway the commander of the RE in Gibraltar - and the stone were carted off to Governor's Parade where they were used to construct a large house to the north of and somewhat to the east of the Garrison Library.


Stones from the dismantled Spanish Lines were used in 1810 to build the house that appears behind the horseman in the middle of this photograph of Governor's Square   ( Old postcard )

The 1814 census only records Governor's Parade as a known address and the Earl of Chatham's Standing orders published in 1825 also mentions the RA barracks but refuses to change the name of the square accordingly:
During the summer months, the Guards are to mount from their District Parades. . . . and for the northern duties, on the Governor's Parade.
By 1820, the square would have been recognisable to time travellers from the late 19th and 20th centuries. Looking north it would certainly have been recognisable to me. Motor traffic would have been replaced by foot traffic - soldiers from the nearby RA Barracks, local men, women and children, the odd vendor, and plenty of water sellers - aquadores - with donkeys carrying small, distinctive wooden water barrels. 

The fountain was still there albeit in a slightly different place and the layout of the buildings would have been much as I remember them - the Garrison Library to the east, and the still to be built Theatre Royal replaced by a rather similarly shaped building to the north. One slight difference, however, was that the square seems to have acquired a new local name - Plaza de los Cañoneros - which is just an alternative to the more common Plaza de los Artilleros. The name did not catch on.


Plaza de los Cañoneros  ( 1820 - Henry Sandham ) ( See LINK)

During 1853 the appearance of the southern end of the square was altered radically  - the foundation stone of the Presbyterian Church of Saint Andrews was laid and the building was completed the following year. It was constructed with stone brought in from Malta.


The square looking south before the construction of Church of Saint Andrews   (1830s - William Mein Smith )  (See LINK)


Early 20th century view of the Presbyterian Church of Saint Andrews ( Unknown )

By 1864 both names - Gunner's Parade and Governor's Parade - began to appear side by side in both the literature and as census addresses. The impression one gets is that the name of the square was now a matter of personal choice.

In 1884 an article on Gibraltar's street nomenclature appeared in a magazine called Notes and Queries. It was written by the Rev R. Stewart Patterson who was the Chaplain to H.M. Forces in Gibraltar (See LINK) . In it he reminds readers that whatever name the British decided to give to the square, at least some of the locals still persisted in giving it a Spanish one - Plaza del (de la) Artillería - a direct translation of Gunner's Parade.

By the beginning of the 20th century it still a matter of choice what one called the parade. In 1908 for example B.H.T Frere who was also the Librarian to the Garrison Library edited John Spilsbury's previously mentioned book on the Great Siege. In a footnote he hedged his bet when explaining the location of what Spilsbury called the "French Parade" by identifying it as either Governor's or Gunner's Parade.


Sir Bartle Frere - also Chief Justice of Gibraltar from 1914 to 1922

In 1910 a bust of Queen Victoria was erected as a memorial in front of the Garrison Library facing Main Street. Patriotically, the day chosen for its unveiling was Empire Day. It was made by an Italian sculptor called Lazzarini. 



According to the Gibraltar Directory "1910 - Empire Day celebrated by the unveiling of Queen Victoria’s Memorial at Gunners’ Parade" - Note parasols on the terrace of the Garrison Library front garden, a place where the likes of me - or of the majority of those non-British born lookers-on in the square - would never have been allowed to set foot on ( Photo by Freyone )


Paying homage to their Queen perhaps?  ( Early 20th century )

Later - when the age of the motorcar began in earnest - the bust was moved to the northern side of the square to allow more room for parking. I well remember that every time I passed it on my way to see some film or other at the theatre Royal I inwardly acknowledged it with the phrase ‘Viva la Reina Victoria que tanto gusto nos dio’  - I am sure I wasn't the only one. The phrase dates back to the days when Disraeli was Prime Minister and is part of a local Jewish doggerel that goes like this:

Que viva yo
Que viva yo
Que vivan todos los judíos
Que viva la Reina Victoria
Que tanto gusto nos dio.


Queen Victoria shoved to one aside - and all for the sake of some extra parking - the view is from the exit steps of the Theatre Royal (1950s )

From the moment it was first built in 1847 and right through to the middle of the 20th century the Theatre Royal underwent a whole series of facade and internal changes - some of them improvements others less so. But by the end of the century both time and television - among other things - had caught up with the old building. 

The theatre closed down and the place became a derelict eyesore. In the early 21st century the local authorities pulled the place down and replaced it with a rather attractive park. 



Site of the old Theatre Royal - all that was left was an old brick wall

The final nail in the coffin of Governor's Parade - the park was a pleasant enough space - but it changed the character of Governor's Parade - aka Gunner's Parade aka whatever else the locals called it - forever. The square that I remember from my youth no longer exists other than in my mind and in those who also might remember it. I think they call it nostalgia and it has a pinkish hue.