The People of Gibraltar
1950 - Exchange Library of Gibraltar - El “Gordo”


 In 1950 when I was 12 years old the newly created Gibraltar Legislative Council took up residence in a building known as the Exchange and Commercial Library - a curious mouthful of a name for a smallish building with an odd history. 

In fact the authorities could have used it as a prison and I would have been none the wiser. To me it would remain a more or less half way house in the center of town - a place which I would pass almost daily when I took part in that throwback of the lingering Spanish small town tradition of walking up and down Main Street watching the rest of the world go by on the other side of the street.

The building has two facades. The pavement in front of the one giving on to Main Street was enlivened by a few “kioscos” selling postcards, cigarettes and newspapers as well as a few pavement Spanish flower sellers - not that any of these were of any interest to a teenager like me - other than cigarettes of course. It was fronted by several of the very few trees that could be found anywhere on the northern section of Main Street. 


Kiosks and Spanish flower sellers


Locals who were more enlightened than me catching up with the news


Looking north from the Exchange towards a busy Main Street

The western facade of the Exchange gave on to John Mackintosh Square. It still does as far as I can make out although the square had yet to get its new and to me rather incongruous name of the Piazza. It was anything but a piazza in the 1950s or indeed early 1960s. Perhaps the name is more appropriate nowadays. 


A view of the western facade from John Mackintosh Square probably taken a decade or so after I had left Gibraltar -  By then it had probably been given the name of the Pizza

I remember it as a nondescript parking place with two massive WWII bunkers on either side of the Exchange which I think were refurbished as public toilets - of which the less said about the better.


A meeting held in July 1940 demanding that the authorities allow family members to disembark from troop ships which had brought them back from Morocco after the fall of France at the start of WWII - I was 2 years old and on one of those ships. More to the point, note the two bunkers that appear on either side of the Exchange 

Personally I mostly associate this side of the Exchange - which was probably designed as the main facade when it was first built - as the place where the Gibraltar Government Lottery draw was held every Sunday.




The Sunday draw

I don’t think I ever played myself but my family did buy a ticket with a particular number every week. It was called “el Fijo”. The rather heavy joke that kept cropping up concerning el fijo was that if you had one you would never be able to leave the Rock as the number was sure to turn up the very next week after you did so Other than getting our money back if the last number of the first prize coincided with the last one of our number we never won a penny on it. Not so my brother who together with another three friends managed to land “el gordo” - the first prize.



Hopeful locals at the draw

Sadly I left my home town without ever realising the relationship between the Exchange and Commercial Library and Gibraltar’s political history.

If you feel that you would like to know more than I ever did about the Exchange, please check the following links:

1817 - Exchange Library of Gibraltar - The Response
1817 - Exchange Library of Gibraltar - The Foundation Stone 
1818 - Exchange Library of Gibraltar - The Opening Ceremony