The People of Gibraltar
1915 - El Bulevá Hebreo - El Bulevá de Las Palmeras

Smith- Dorrien and the Duck of Connaught - Aaron Cardozo and Pablo Larios
Charles Monro and Herbert Miles - Francis Columbine and George of Cambridge
Duke of Kent and Alphonsine 

When my family returned to Gibraltar in 1945 after having been evacuated to Madeira (see LINK) for the duration of WW II it took me a while - a young eight year old - to adjust to my new environment. I had heard a lot about the Rock from my family but it was all very novel to me. 

The Rock as it may have appeared to me all those years ago as the bus brought us finally back home from Lisbon

Among the many childhood delights that I discovered was that Gibraltar had not one but two boulevards both of them relatively near to each other, one of them almost next door to our home in 256 Main Street. (See LINK) Neither of them actually qualified as Boulevards. According to the OED "a boulevard is a wide street in a town or city, typically one lined with trees”. Neither of them were “wide streets” and one of them could hardly have been described as lined with trees. The British opted for the word “promenade” which eventually proved much too cumbersome for Gibraltarian every day use. 

The one to the north had come into existence in 1921 when the Governor of the day General Horace Smith-Dorrien - for reasons of which I am not entirely sure of - ordered that the height of a section of the old defensive Line Wall be lowered to street level and that a promenade be created there forthwith. The place chosen happened to be more or less in the middle of town and just behind an imposing building - imposing that is by Gibraltar standards - which for long had been known as Connaught House. 

Connaught House before and after the boulevard had been built - In the 1880s photo at the top four people on the right can be seen looking seaward over the original defensive Line Wall - In the bottom early 20th century one the white roadside balustrade of the promenade can be seen to the left of the car

With typical arrogance the British authorities had chosen to ignore the fact that the house had been built in 1815 by Aaron Cardozo (see LINK) - a wealthy local Jewish businessman - that it had been sold in 1875 to Pablo Larios, (see LINK) an even more well off Spaniard with strong local connections as well as being a long time Master of the Calpe Hunt (see LINK) - perhaps the next best thing to being God Almighty in British Gibraltar during the late 19th and early 20th century. 

Shortly after the change of ownership, the Duke of Connaught - one of Queen Victoria’s sons - joined the Garrison General Staff and the Larios family put the place at his disposal - presumably rent free. The Duke arrived in October 1875 and left less than six months later. Yet despite his very short stay at the house - and the fact that the Larios returned to it after he had left - the place acquired the long- lasting and brown-nose name of Connaught House. 

In 1920 it was sold to the Colonial Government and was rather ignominiously downgraded to a Parcel Post Office - which is what it was when just across the road a series of steps were also created more or less in the middle of the brand new promenade joining it to the Reclamation Road which ran just below it. 

In 1923 the promenade and its steps were graced by the addition of a WW I memorial - a statue of two soldier, one of them holding aloft a victory wreath. It had been commissioned in 1922 from the sculpture José Piquet Catoli. Local wags suggested that Piquet, who was Spanish, had used a bullfighter as a model for the pose adopted by one of the soldiers. 

General Horace Smith-Dorrien had by now been replaced by Charles Monro who unveiled the WW I Memorial in the presence of army and navy representatives and several top-hatted civilian worthies - Note the crowds watching from the top patio of Connaught House - too many to suppose that all of them were members of the Parcel Post department     ( Unknown ) 

The promenade was originally known as the Esplanade - another unfortunate choice as there were several other places in Gibraltar that were or had been known by that name. Later it was often referred to as the Line Wall Promenade or Boulevard - also unhelpful as the other one towards the south had also been part of the same Line Wall and had already been in existence for six years. 

The Esplanade and Line Wall Boulevard - but it was never called the Line Wael Promenade - It’s a typo - The editor was a member of the Sacarello family who were related to ours

Some say that the palm trees that line the center of the boulevard were planted in the 1930’s - but I suspect the planting occurred rather earlier than that. In fact it may have been planned that way from the very start. Whatever the case it soon allowed the locals to come up with a more suitable name - “El bulevá de las palmeras” - a name that stuck and generally took over from all other previous versions becoming yet another addition to the slowly increasing vocabulary of the local patois or Llanito. (See LINK)

The oldest photograph I can find of the “Bulevá”. It show a small triangular section with two of its palm trees and a west facing balustrade - The view is towards the harbour with King’s Bastion on the left - here already converted into a power station - The small dry dock No. 4 is on the right - The garden below the boulevard would soon become part of  Naval football ground No 1

As far as I can remember I very rarely played in the Buleva de las Palmeras - and neither did any of my friends. We often passed by it or used the steps in front of the WW I memorial to get to Reclamation Road. School football was played in the Naval Ground No 2, whereas cricket, on the other hand was the preserve of Naval Ground No 1 which was just south of No 2 and was overlooked by the Bulevá. It was also possible to get to the Naval Trust Cinema via the Reclamation Road - and going to the Naval Trust was usually a three times a week event in those days. 

Spectators on the Bulevá watching fleet football matches played on the Naval Ground No 1  (1937 ) 

Curiously it was the other older Boulevard that my friends and I enjoyed most and visited more often.  Unlike the Bulevá de las Palmeras the Line Wall had not been lowered which meant that the drop on to what had once been the sea was very impressive. In the 1950’s this gave on to what we all called “el Enohpy”  - the NOP or Naval Officers Pavilion - but was in fact yet another sports ground similar to the one found in front of the other boulevard. 

The reason that this section of the Wall had not been lowered was that the area had simply been handed over lock stock and barrel to the local authorities - in the shape of the Sanitary Commission - by General Sir Herbert Miles the Governor at the time. They probably didn’t have at their disposable the kind of cash required for such a project - readily available to a Governor but not to the local authorities. 

For some reason we always played our school hockey on this ground. In those days there was no way one could get from the boulevard to the NOP ground. Later a rickety and rather dangerous looking stairway was built leading down to it.

Playing hockey on the NOP ground before the Boulevard had been handed over in 1915 to the hoi polloi  (1911)

The name given to the Boulevard - Mile’s Promenade - appears on a photograph in the 1945 Gibraltar Directory - although the photo itself was probably taken long before 1945. Its official name however, was Sir Herbert Miles Promenade - a name that most modern locals would have difficulty associating with the place. 

Sir Herbert Miles Promenade ( 1945 Gibraltar Directory )

By the 1950s it had become known by almost all the locals as either "La Muralla" - a consequence of the sheer drop from the Line Wall on its western side - or "El Bulevá Hebreo" because of the Nefutsot Yehuda or Flemish Synagogue on the opposite side of the northern end of the Bulevá at No 65 Line Wall Road.

The Flemish Synagogue with its impressive palm tree ( 20th century postcard )

Most of the southern end of the Bulevá Hebreo faced the Hotel Bristol on the other side of Line Wall Road.  

The Bristol Hotel - The lady with the pram was almost certainly taking her children to the Bulevá - The seats facing the NOP and the sea were very comfortable   ( Early 20th century )

A good view of almost the entire Bulevá Hebreo on the occasion of the funeral of a colonel murdered by one of his lieutenants - not an everyday occurrence in Gibraltar, but that is another story - Note the lack of a balustrade and the dangerous drop  (1927 )

Further south was Cathedral Square once upon a time an open space known as Columbine Street. It had been so named in honour of an interim 1739 Governor of Gibraltar known as Francis Columbine,  (see LINK) a man who hardly did a thing while he was in charge of the Fortress to warrant having anything named after him. By 1828 the Protestant Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was completed (see LINK) occupying most of the Columbine Street area. The bit that was left over - in essence a more or less semi-circular street connecting Main Street with Line Wall Road - was illogically named Cathedral Square thus relegating old Columbine into oblivion.

Photo of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity taken from the Bulevá Hebreo   ( Early 20th century )

Another view of the Cathedral from the Bulevá taken from a different angle  ( Early 20th century )

On the southern branch of Cathedral Square and overlooked by the Boulevard was a largish complex which was originally known as Line Wall House. The original building probably dated from the mid 18th century but was destroyed during the Great Siege. (See LINK) Rebuilt, it was in use as the head-quarters of the Commanding Officer of the 5th Fusiliers and as an Officers’ Mess in 1833 - when it then burned to the ground. Not a lucky place.

By 1838 it was rebuilt for the second time and the brand-new quarters were put at the disposal of Prince George of Cambridge who had recently arrived on the Rock. A colonel in the British army at the age of 19 he was sent over to take up what was supposed to be an important position at Staff Head Quarters. In actual fact he spent most of his time patronising ‘the Sports of Calpe'. Foxhunting - a contemporary officer once wrote - was something “he always found time to do in spite of being arduously engaged in learning the details of his profession.”

Prince George

Plaque outside the building originally known as Line Wall House

Over the years the place was used by the military as the quarters of the G.O.C Infantry and up to 1930 as Headquarters of the Royal Artillery. According to Gordon Fergusson writing in 1970 (see LINK) it had also been known as Artillery House and many years later as Fortress Headquarters. 

On the right, the section of the Wall that would eventually become Mile’s Promenade - The house in the middle of the picture - probably then used as the RA Headquarters is named by the photographer as “The Brigadier’s House”   ( 1866 - Charles Lygon Sommer Cocks )  (See LINK)

The place eventually became part of the Government Secretariat. Today it is rather appropriately used as the headquarters of the Gibraltar Tourist Board. It has had its name changed yet again and is now known as the Duke of Kent’s House after perhaps its most famous tenant. 

A second plaque outside the building originally known as Line Wall House - Para que no digan - as they once said in Gibraltar

A view of Line Wall House while it was still being used as Fortress Headquarters taken from the Bulevá  ( 1950’s )

The Duke (see LINK) - Queen Victoria’s eventual father - was famously and disastrously appointed Governor in 1802. For various reasons he decided to take up residence at Line Wall House. The Covent had been badly damaged during the Great Siege and was a notoriously chilly and uncomfortable place at the time. His mistress Alphonsine, Baronesse de Fortisson also joined him at Line Wall House for the duration. 

Kent and Alphonsine

The mostly hidden building with the tower has been tentatively identified as the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity - If correct then the house in the foreground might possibly be part of the old Duke of Kent’s House - the artist gives it yet another name - Casa du Plat     ( Henry Sandham ) ( See LINK)

A curious story connected to the Duke of Kent’s House is that it is haunted. Apparently people who walk through the corridors of the house are often pushed violently by an invisible force. The most commonly offered explanation is that the pusher is the ghost of a soldier who worked for the Duke in 1802 - but fails to explain the reason for the soldier’s bad pushing habits.

But neither ghosts nor Governors nor the constantly changing names for buildings, squares formed any part of my memories of Gibraltar’s two boulevards in the early 1950s. Playing conventional games such as “Hide-and-seek” and “Catch” were the order of the day in the Bulevá Hebreo, and the use of the politically incorrect “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe” - usually preceded by a downward movement of the hand and the word “plong” - were constantly and innocently used to find out who was going to be the next person who was going to be “it”. 

“The past”, as L.P. Hartley once wrote, “is a foreign country: they do things differently there . . . . . “ Not for me it isn't  but it certainly will be to younger generations of Gibratarians.