The People of Gibraltar
1714 - Best Hotel in Gibraltar-(1830s-1840s) The Jolly Hosteler 



A fanciful Rock     (1830s - John Wilson Carmichael)  (See LINK)

The 1834 census shows the Griffiths family with a No 1 Commercial Square address - which one would have imagined indicated that they were now lodging in their own Hotel. In fact this was not so. They actually resided in a house on the upper eastern reaches of the town not all that far from the Moorish Castle. (See LINK


The Moorish Castle    ( 1833 - David Roberts)  (See LINK)


Griffiths family - (1834 Census)

The address was Willis’ Road - not exactly one of the most affluent addresses in town. A quick glance through the lists of residents living in the Willis’ Road district reveals that hardly anybody living up there had a British sounding surname. During the cholera epidemic of 1834 - and quite a few subsequent ones up to 1865 and beyond - some of the worst affected areas were the upper eastern section of the town. Perhaps that might have had something to do with the lack of home-grown immigrants but it was certainly not the kind of place I would have thought the Griffiths would have wanted to live in particularly as I would imagine that the family would have been reasonably well off by the 1830s. 


Section of a French plan of the town showing Upper and Lower Willis’ Road - Chemin de Willis  (1830 - Piaget et Lailavoix)   (See LINK)

The census identified William Griffiths III as a Protestant inn-keeper. He was 41 years old. His wife Penelope was still with him but possibly not for all that much longer. About 4 years later he is known to have married a woman named Jane with whom he had another daughter who was born around 1839. Her name was Jane Victoria. 

Not more than a year later - George Henry Borrow, a well known English author who wrote several popular travelogues based on his own personal experiences abroad visited the Rock during the month of August 1839 and chose to lodge at the Griffiths’ Hotel.

In his book The Bible in Spain published in 1841, Borrow wrote a lengthy description of both the hotel and of William who was now personally managing the place. It was enough to immortalise both the tavern and its owner in a manner in which no other similar establishment on the Rock would ever achieve. 
On still I hurried until I arrived at a well known hostelry, close by a kind of square, in which stands the little exchange of Gibraltar. Into this I ran and demanded lodgings, receiving a cheerful welcome from the genius of the place who stood behind the bar . . . . 
All the lower rooms were filled with men of the rock, burley men in general with swarthy complexions and English features, with white hats, white jean jerkins, and white jean pantaloons. They were smoking pipes and cigars, and drinking porter, wine and various other fluids, and conversing in the rock Spanish, or rock English, as the fit took them.
Borrow’s comment about the men of the rock is odd to say the least. He seems to be describing Gibraltarians in General - or at least those he believed were the true inhabitants of the place. But it seem to me that people with  swarthy complexions and English features implies a mixture of foreign and English - or more likely British parents -something that was by no means the norm in Gibraltar in the early 19th century where the majority of the population were of Mediterranean stock - Swarthy all right but hardly English. British immigrants on the other hand tended to marry within their own race and class - the kind of people who who I suspect would have been rather upset if one described their children as swarthy.
There was a prodigious quantity of porter consumed in my presence during the short hour that I sat on the bench of that hostelry of the Rock. The passage before the bar was frequently filled with officers who lounged in for a refreshment which the sultry heat of the weather rendered necessary, or at least inviting; while not a few came galloping up to the door on small Barbary horses , which are to be found in great abundance in Gibraltar. 

The Parade and the Exchange building (see LINK) with soldiers in front of the Main Guard House on the right - Further up a group of men in front of the entrance of the three storied Royal Arms    ( Capt J. M. Carter )  (See LINK)
All seemed to be on the best terms with the host, with which they occasionally discussed the merits of particular steeds, and whose jokes they invariably received with unbounded approbation. There was much in the demeanour and appearance of these young men, for the greater part was quite young, which was highly interesting and agreeable. . . .
What follows is a lengthy panegyric which begins with the phrase: “There was much in the demeanour and appearance of these young men” and ends with: “They were such as their country might be proud of, gallant boys they looked, with courage on their brows, beauty and health on their cheeks, and intelligence in their hazel eyes.” - after some thought I decided to leave the passage out.
Who is he who now stops before the door without entering, and addresses a question to my host, who advances with a respectful salute? He is no common man or his appearance belies him strangely. He is no common man or his appearance belies him strangely . . . He was almost gigantically tall. 
“Is that man a General?”  said I . . . to a personage who sat by my side. . . . 
“That gentleman,” he whispered . . . “is, Sir, the Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar.
The "Lieutenant" Governor was probably Governor Alexander Woodford - the title of Lieutenant Governor had recently been done away with. Woodford was a particularly tough looking individual who - if his portraits are anything to go by - must have enjoyed the odd bit of banter with the local untermenschen.  


Lieutenant General Alexander Woodford
Perhaps it would have been impossible to have chosen a situation more adapted for studying at my ease Gibraltar and its inhabitants, than that which I found myself occupying about ten o’clock on the following morning. Seated on a small bench just opposite the bar . . .  
Close beside me stood my excellent friend Griffiths, the jolly hostler . . . . Let those who know him not figure to themselves a man of about fifty, at least six foot in height, and weighing some eighteen stone, an exceedingly florid countenance and good features, eyes full of quickness and shrewdness , but at the same time beaming with good nature.
“Griffiths, the jolly hostler” was of course William III. He was actually only about 46 rather than 50 at the time.
He wears white pantaloons, white frock, and a white hat, and is indeed, all white with the exception of his polished Wellingtons and rubicund face. He carries a whip beneath his arm, which adds wonderfully to the knowingness of his appearance, which is rather more that of a gentleman who keeps an inn on the Newmarket road, 'purely for the love of travellers, and the money which they carry about them', than of a native of the Rock.
Nevertheless he will tell you himself that he is a 'rock lizard'; (see LINK) and you will scarcely doubt it when, besides his English, which is broad and vernacular, you hear him speak Spanish ay, and Genoese too when necessary, and it is no child's play to speak the later, which I myself could never master. 
He is a good judge of horse-flesh, and occasionally sells 'a bit of blood' or a Barbary steed, to a young hand, though he has no objection to doing business with an old one; for there is not a thin, crouching, livid faced, lynx-eyed Jew of Fez capable of outwitting him in a bargain, or cheating him out of one single pound of the fifty thousand sterling which he possesses; and yet ever bear in mind that he is a good-natured fellow to those who are disposed to behave honourably to him, and know likewise that he will lend you money, if you are a gentleman, and are in need of it; but depend upon it, if he refuse you, there is something not altogether right about you, for Griffiths knows his world, and is not to be made a fool of.

1839 Griffiths’ Hotel bill made out to Mr Barroco - A sort of pseudonym Borrow used while travelling in Spain    (With thanks to Richard Garcia)


On the 17th of September 1839, just one month after Borrow left his inn, William Griffiths III made out his Will.  I am not sure why he decided to do so at this particular moment in time. Perhaps the death of his wife Penelope and his new marriage to Jane might have had something to do with it.  
His second marriage may have invalidated a previous will - it such a Will existed - leaving his entire estate to his new wife. As such he might have been keen to protect the interests of his sons, Charles William and William Robert who were 19 and 16 years old respectively as well as that of John who would have been 21 if he had been still alive which I suspect was not the case.


A section of the Will of William Griffiths III     (1839)

The Will also provided for his sister Maria, who had looked after his two sons since Penelope’s death, and included the right for her to live with them at the family house in Willis' Road after his death. He also provided her with a lump sum of $100 and $288 per annum for the rest of her life.  His wife Jane got the same as Maria - which I would guess did not go down too well. It was something that was made worse by the fact that he didn’t seem to trust anybody in the family to look after his hotel - in essence his most valuable asset - after he had died. Instead he placed the hotel in the hands of two executors - William Glover and John Duffield - both of them local merchants. 

No doubt if he had dropped dead the day after signing he would have done so as a relatively well-off man. Perhaps one of the reasons for his success - and the longevity of the Griffiths’ Hotel and its predecessor the King’s Arms - was the lack of competition. As regards hotels in the middle of town, in 1839 Griffiths’ was the one and only in Gibraltar’s main square.  

According to a plaque that was once on display in the old City Hall - a large building which still stands on the western side of the square - in 1833 the owner of the building Aaron Cardozo (see LINK) rented the place out to a group of army officers who used it as the premises of the Gibraltar Garrison Club - a billiard room, cards, men only and drinks all round affair. When the lease came to an end in 1839 it became the Club House Hotel run by a Mrs Crosbie - and a direct competitor to Griffiths’.



Potted history of Aaron Cardozo’s House 

It suggests that at least some of the military personnel that formally used the Garrison Club may have switched their allegiance to the Griffiths’ when Borrow was visiting in order to get their daily quota of pub food and drink. These were the “officers who lounged in for a refreshment” as he somewhat more elegantly put it, adding a certain extra dose of class to the place.

In 1844 an anonymous author who identified himself as an “Old Inhabitant” wrote what must have been one of the first traveller’s handbooks ever written specifically about Gibraltar. Some have suggested that the anonymous author was James Bell, a Gibraltarian of British extraction who had helpfully translated Ignacio López de Ayala’s Historia de Gibraltar into English.



The travelogue is perhaps one of the first to mention the Club-House Hotel - which together with the Griffiths’ he considered the best in town. 
follows the confusion of a disembarkation, while tickets are offered (a recent practice) from the owners of houses called hotels, earnestly entreating you to become their guest; and our traveller, having in recollection the commodious inns at Southampton or at Falmouth, now encounters the beginning of his discomforts; for, being assured there are only two where he would like to quarter himself, the Club-house and Griffiths’, he finds, on reaching them, they are both full.
The old inhabitant then - perhaps inadvertently - contradicts himself by including an illustration reminiscent of the one in Major Hort’s late 1830s book which confusingly identifies the hotel as the King’s Head. 


The King’s Head       (1844 - from Old Inhabitants Handbook)

An East India company employee, James Barber, also mentioned the two hotels in the 1850 edition of his Overland Guide-Book - A Complete Vade-Mecum for the Overland Traveller to India Via Egypt but fails to say whether either were any good at alla
The Club-house and Griffith's Hotel offer temporary accommodations, and to one or the other the traveller may betake himself.

The Griffiths’ Hotel previously known as the King’s Arms     (c1840s - William Lacy - from The Rock by Major Richard Hort)

William Griffiths III died on the 16th February 1845. He was 52. He must have left the world with a much heavier heart  than the day in which he drew up his will 6 years previously - his daughter Jane Victoria had died a few months before he did. She was just 6 years old. According to the Gibraltar Chronicle he was buried in the Sandpits cemetery. I can only presume that the Will he had drawn up in 1839 was still valid and was eventually put into effect.

There were no obituaries in the local press but some of his personal effects were advertised for sale including such items as a London built Tilbury, a Phaeton in excellent condition, a good tempered Spanish mare, and English bay horse, warranted sound. Not exactly the kind of possessions one associates with a poverty stricken colonial. One curious detail is that interested parties were asked to apply for any further information not to Griffiths’ Hotel but to the King’s Arms. I suspect that despite the large “Griffiths’ Hotel” sign on the main facade William III never officially dropped the original name.


(1845 - Gibraltar Chronicle)


Phaeton, top - and a Tilbury

I am not sure who took over after Griffiths III had died but the hotel seems to have still been putting up lodgers for at least a few years after his death. Yet another visitor to the Rock, Henry William Bartlett in his Gleanings Pictorial and Antiquarian on the Overland Route had this to say about the Rocks lodgings in 1851:
. . . .  not only are its habitations confusedly huddled together, but for the most part exceedingly ill-built and unsuitable to the climate. The rent of these uncomfortable habitations is also enormously dear; with one or two exceptions (the Club House and Griffiths’ the hotels are scarcely tolerable) and hardly a single decent lodging is to be obtained in the place.
Griffiths’s Hotel also warranted a final mention in Richard Ford’s 1853 edition of his celebrated Handbook for Travellers in Spain (see LINK):
The traveller who lands by the steamer . . . .  will be tormented by cads and touters, who clamorouly canvass him to put up at their respective inns. Club-house Hotel is good and reasonable; rooms cool, large, and airy; very prudent travellers may agree about prices beforehand: “Griffiths’ Hotel,” table d’hôte”, at 2s. 6d. . . . . At “Griffith’s” is one Messias, a Jew (called Rafael in Spain), who is a capital guide both here and through-out Andalucia,

The Club House Hotel on the west side of Commercial Square      (1860s)

Unfortunately Richard Ford’s assessment as regards hotels in Gibraltar is more or less a repeat of that which appeared on the 1845 edition of the same guide - a good example of the difficulty of keeping any tourist guide information up to date. Sadly the Griffiths’ Hotel, its name and its landlord was already fading away into the past.


With special thanks and acknowledgements to Alex Panayotti - Much of what I have written is based on his meticulous research. Thank you Alex.

For more on this topic please click on any of the following links:

1714 - Gibraltar’s Best Hotel - (1710s-1780s) The Webbers 
1714 - Gibraltar’s Best Hotel - (1760s-1830s) The Griffiths
1714 - Gibraltar’s Best Hotel - (1860s-1910s) The Lequiches