The People of Gibraltar
1816 - The Holy Trinity – The Imposter's Church

Albert Gache, John Pitt and George Don - David Johnston and John Duguid 
Alexander Farquhar and Robert Pilkington – Henry Sandham and William Houston
Dr Edward Burrow and George Tomlinson - Robert Wilson

Once upon a time a long, long time ago I lived in 256 Main Street in an old and semi-derelict house. A very few yards to the south of my front door there was an old square which had once been known as Columbine’s Parade. (See LINK

The little that I remember about it is that most of it was used as a taxi rank and that on its south west corner at 266 Main Street there was an optician called Albert Gache which my family often frequented. The Hotel Bristol – one of the better ones at the time - was just round the corner.

266 Main Street – Gache and Co

But I suspect that to most other Gibraltarians the most important building in the square was the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. As a conventionally brought up lad from a rather less than religious Catholic family and educated by the notorious Christian Brothers I hardly gave this monument to local Protestantism a seconds thought – even less go inside to have a look. I probably thought I would be instantly excommunicated by the Church if I ever did such a thing. It didn’t help, of course that its East looking facade was about uninviting as it was possible to be.

The east facade of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the early 19th century – the square was apparently then used as a gharry rank

It was only as an adult that I have given the place a second thought but I have to admit that a considerable time spent in researching its history has produced very little in return. There must be an official history somewhere – but I cannot find it.

Wikipedia - that huge font of often suspect information known to every lazy researcher for at least the last fifteen years – gives the reader the usual well known dates, names and facts as well as the following:
John Pitt, Earl of Chatham (see LINK) who had arrived as Governor of Gibraltar in 1820, persuaded the British Government to sell a derelict building and use the money to build a church on the land.
The statement is unreferenced, does not appear on the Cathedral’s official website and from an extended search through the literature I have only been able to uncover the following to support the involvement of John Pitt as the man originally responsible for the construction of Gibraltar’s Protestant Cathedral.  According to James Anton (see LINK) in his Retrospect of a Military Life:
During the time Lord Chatham commanded in the garrison, he perceived the want of church accommodation, or it was pointed out to him, and this new church was proposed and founded. 
In my opinion General George Don (see LINK) is a far more likely candidate for a multitude of reasons. For a start Pitt may have been governor from 1820 to 1835, but he didn’t arrive in Gibraltar until 1821.  Work on the church began in 1825 by which time Pitt had left for England and Don taken over as Acting Governor.

John Pitt Earl of Chatham on the left and General George Don

There is also evidence to suggest that local merchants sought official support for the construction of an Anglican Church long before Pitt made his appearance on the Rock. Among those who formed part of a committee set up in 1816 to advise the Government were David Johnston, John Duguid and Alexander Farquhar, all of them British born Protestants and as well as founder proprietors of the Exchange and Commercial Library (See LINK). Duguid was actually its first Chairman.  Subscriptions were duly raised and hopefully sent to the relevant authorities. 

At least one reason why any proposal to build a second Protestant church  must have proved popular with the military establishment – including General Don – is that they felt that the King’s Chapel which was the only other Protestant place of worship of reasonable size at the time was too small. 

The King’s Chapel   ( Early 1830s – Henry Sandham )  (See LINK)

My own perhaps rather cynical opinion is that the powers that be wanted others – not just the locals but also Navy visitors - to do their praying elsewhere. King’s Chapel forms part of the Convent and therefore the Governor’s residence. The military hierarchy may have been somewhat uncomfortable with these other ranks swarming all over the place on Sundays.

The style of the church both inside and out has been described as Moorish revival but there are not too many references as regards the person responsible for the overall design. What is known is that Gibraltar’s Chief Royal Engineer of the day – Colonel Robert Pilkington - was in charge of the work and it would not surprise me at all if no architect as such was ever employed and that perhaps Pilkington himself was the main culprit – so to speak.  This theory, however, is contradicted in Henry Knight’s Diocese of Gibraltar which was published in 1917
The chapel built . . . by the government, the dock surveyor being the architect . . .
In 1879 the Gibraltar Directory editor (see LINK) described the finished church as:
. . . a plain stone building, but commodious with pleasing Arabesque ornaments in the interior -  the door and windows are of the Moorish horse-shoe shape.
All of which is hard to understand. Its eastern wall was undoubtedly drab but the main facade and other sections were by no means plain.  Large Moorish horse-shoe shaped doors and windows were decidedly over the top by Gibraltarian architectural standards. In fact not even the authentically Moorish Castle (see LINK) had anything remotely like it. The best adjective I can find to describe it is “garish”. 

“The Imposter’s Church . . . ” - Secretary's Lane looking north with the Holy Trinity Church behind the tree at the end of the road.  The tower on top of the cathedral no longer exists as such today   ( Early 1830s – Henry Sandham )  

Henry Sandham – the artist responsible for the above sketch – was an officer of the Royal Engineers stationed in Gibraltar. He was also a friend of Colonel Pilkington. The odd “imposter’s church” title may be a reference to the eccentric Moorish design of the Holy Trinity Church. It has also been suggested that Sandham, an excellent draughtsman, may have had a hand in helping his friend with the design. 

The main facade of the Holy Trinity   ( Unknown )

The church - it had yet to become a cathedral – was finished in 1832 by which time Sir William Houston had taken over as Acting Governor - and was immediately put to use as a hospital. In fact it was almost certainly used as such well before it was completed. Looking after Garrison personnel affected by the yellow fever epidemic of 1828 (see LINK) must have taken precedence over their religious requirements. Pilkington by now a Major-General left Gibraltar in 1830 leaving the overall control of the project to yet another unknown person. 

Whoever he was he certainly didn’t get much support from General Don. To quote James Anton yet again:
. . . owing to the indifference of the lieutenant-governor, Sir George Don, to the undertaking, it was permitted to remain for several years in an unfinished state. A large sum had been expended on its erection, and it was likely to fall to decay before it was completed . . . 
. . . It was suffered, however, to remain more than five years after being roofed, before doors or windows were made for it. The rains of several winters poured in floods on its roof; the gutters were choked up, either by accident or design, so that the water lay in a pond on the flat roof until the walls absorbed the whole to their foundation: if this had been unforeseen and by accident, during the first rainy season after its being roofed, it ought to have been guarded against afterwards; if it had been done intentionally, it may be attributed to the Spanish workmen  . . . 
Described rather dismissively as the Garrison Church in Standing Orders and as the Protestant Church in the Gibraltar Chronicle (see LINK) and in popular postcards, it was consecrated in 1838 by the Archdeacon and Civil Chaplain Dr. Burrow in the presence of the Dowager Queen Adelaide widow of William IV.

The Dowager Queen Adelaide   ( 1831 -  Sir William Beechey   )

Statue of General Eliott in the Alameda Gardens     ( Dr. Edward John Borrow )

By 1842, however, things were beginning to look up. An ambitious Bishopric was proposed to the Foreign Office with the result that the Church of the Holy Trinity would became a Cathedral and its Bishop would exercise his authority well beyond the confines of the Rock of Gibraltar. One side-effect of all this was that the erstwhile town of Gibraltar would now be considered a city – a strange anachronism. Gibraltar already had a much older Cathedral – the Catholic one of St Mary the Crowned.

Facade and tower of the Catholic Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned in the late 19th century - very little different to what it looked like in the 1840s   ( Postcard )

Shortly after and still in 1842, Dr. George Tomlinson was appointed the first Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar and arrived soon after aboard HMS Warspite and in the company of the new Governor, General Sir Robert Wilson, something that would have us believe that Tomlinson was held in high esteem by the authorities. 

Sir Robert Wilson.

( 1844 - Old Inhabitant's Handbook  )   (See LINK

Yet reading between the lines it would appear that he didn’t have much fun during his first few years in charge. For a start he had no official residence. Not an insurmountable problem but he soon realised that the military authorities had little or no enthusiasm for an institution that was not really under garrison control. According to Henry Knight:
The church, Moorish in style and spacious, had no ecclesiastical pretensions, and little to uplift a worshipper. All the Bishop's attempts to improve it were resisted for some years, and he was even obliged to be responsible himself for debt incurred in making the interior more convenient.  . . . On Sunday evening the Church prayers were read in Spanish.

Inside the Holy Trinity Cathedral   ( Late 19th century – Captain Buckle's Album )   (See LINK

All of which might explain why Tomlinson divided his ecclesiastical time between Malta which was part of his dioceses and Gibraltar spending more time in the former than in the later. Tomlinson was in fact a rather unusual figure. During his undergraduate days at Cambridge he founded the Conversazione Society. Membership was secret. During its first meeting in 1820 Tomlinson read the first paper. Its title followed Blackstone’s Formulation:
It is better that ten guilty men should escape than that one innocent person should suffer

The society prospered and its member became known as the Apostles. During the 20th centuries very well known Cambridge men such as the notorious Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt were all members.

Meanwhile the Cathedral’s oddly arabesque design continued to give offense. This is how a thoroughly peeved Richard Roberts (see LINK) who visited Gibraltar in 1859 describes it.
We sought in vain for a church open for afternoon service. We tried the Cathedral . . . What a THING to dignify with that august title, suggestive of so much grandeur, solemnity, and reverential awe! Surely there can hardly be in Bath, Brighton, or Cheltenham, no, nor yet in London itself, a proprietary chapel even, that would not blush to see the building, where the first English Bishop of Gibraltar is supposed to have set up his Episcopal throne! 
No wonder the bishop does not live there! And as if it were not anomaly enough to designate such a tabernacle by the same name as the glorious fanes of Canterbury, and York, Salisbury, and Ely, the builder (architect I cannot call him), has crowned his work with an apex of absurdity, by selecting of all others the Moorish style - the style of the arch-enemies of the Cross - to be the exponent of his ideas on the subject of Christian worship, as if England could supply no examples of what a church ought to be! 

The Apex of Absurdity  ( Mid 19th century )
After beholding such temples to the Most High, as the Cathedrals of Burgos, Toledo, and

Seville, it makes one, as an Englishman, absolutely ashamed to stand by the shabby, mean, dwarf-sized edifice, erected by our countrymen beneath the shadow of that rock, where millions have been spent ungrudgingly upon batteries and fortifications.  
Although enjoying the privilege of a purer faith than any professed throughout the Peninsula, yet here in the eye of Spaniard, Moor, and Jew, we content ourselves with a building, which none of those religionists (did they possess our national wealth) would ever presume to dedicate to God, as the best he could offer, as we may well believe from what we actually know of their various places of worship! 
As time passed, one Anglican Bishop following the other and the original antipathy towards its odd choice of design waned significantly into total indifference. Today it is just another church, just another of Gibraltar’s few surviving heritage buildings. But as yet and as far as I know we have not been able to pin-point exactly who was the architect responsible for designing it.