The People of Gibraltar
 1714 - Gibraltar’s Best Hotel-(1860s-1910s) The Lequiches

The Rock looking south in the 1860s        (Frederick Richard Lee)  (See LINK)

During the mid 1860s yellow fever (see LINK) may have seemed like a thing of the past . . . then came cholera. The first of several epidemics occurred during this decade bringing with it not just death well over 400 in 1865 - but also the disruptive inconveniences of stringent quarantine regulations and cordon sanitaire inconveniences at the frontier - not to mention its effect on tourism and the hotel trade.

According to yet another guide - the 1865 edition of Harper’s Handbook for Travellers (see LINK) - the Griffiths’ no longer seems to have been in business. The hotel had been given back its original name of the King’s Arms and in the process may have lost much of whatever charm it had ever had.

The principal hotels, the Club-House, King’s Arms and Spanish Hotel - all poor

But not everybody agreed. A couple of years later in 1867 another American tourist - Lewis Este Mills (see LINK) - arrived on the Rock and found the Hotel well up to scratch.
We found a very comfortable sitting- room, with two most remarkable pieces of furniture - a piano and a fire-place - at the King's Arms Hotel, and a bed-room, which, though of the plainest, was most comfortable; and, of course, at an English hotel, plenty of water, and the invigorating blessing of Baths, whom a Cambridge student is said to have once pronounced the greatest benefactor of mankind.
Cholera or no cholera all was not doom and gloom. Import and export figures for the kind of goods needed for the contraband trade (see LINK) may have been declining during the 1860s but the now long established advent of the steamship and continuing improvements in the coal bunkering business more than made up for the loss. It certainly helped a growing number of local businessmen become multi-millionaires. (see LINK) As a result of their wealth many of them and their families became part of a new local “aristocracy”. Some of these people are still with us at the time of writing.

The steamer P&O Himalaya on its way to Gibraltar to load up with coal  (1853 - T.G.Dutto)

Details as to the fate of the King’s Arms during this period are hard to come by but it seems that the Griffiths family had sold off the property and were no longer involved with its management. The most likely person to have bought it was a local called Edward Salacroup. The surname, probably of French origin, was a relatively common one in the 1860s with quite a few Salacroups appearing on the 1868 census. Edward, however, did not appear on any resident lists until 1871 where he was described as a 43 year old “Hotel Keeper” living in No 1 Commercial Square with his two sons, Edward and Michael.

The Salacroup family (1871 Census)

I would guess that Edward took over the King’s Arms in 1868 and immediately set about improving it. An announcement in a December edition of the Gibraltar Chronicle (see LINK) advised possible customers that it would be closed for a while for some serious refurbishing.

(1868 - From the Gibraltar Chronicle)

Main Street - The King's Arms Hotel on the left - The eastern facade of the Exchange and Commercial Library (see LINK) lies unseen fronted by trees        (Late 19th century - Detail - J.H.Mann)    (See LINK)

I don’t know the exact date of the photographs shown above but they might very well date back to 1866 when J.H.Mann started his photography business in Gibraltar. Of the two building on the left, the taller one with the brighter wall is definitely the King’s Arms Hotel - as confirmed by the characteristic Royal Coat of Arms sign sticking out into Main Street from the second floor.  Where the refurbishments had already been completed or not I find impossible to tell. Curiously the hotel had no entrance from its Main Street side.

Ten years later and despite all the “repairs, painting and refurbishment” Edward Salacroup must have decided it was time to give up on the King’s Arms and take up the management of a new hotel not all that far down the road from his old one.  According to a May 1878 edition of the Gibraltar Chronicle:
Imperial Hotel opens near the Post Office, 34 persons with billiard room etc . . . . under the management of Mr Edward Salacroup of the Kings Arms
He and his wife Magdalena - who he probably married in the 1850s - now moved to N0. 9 Waterport Street together with their son Michael.

Salacroup family (1878 Census)

A year later Major George James Gilbard the librarian of the Garrison Library (see LINK) produced a local directory and guide book for general consumption (see LINK). It includes a number of advertisements which presumably paid for its publication. The first three were for the Royal Hotel, the King’s Arms and the Imperial Hotel - in that order. 

(1879 - Gilbard)

The only proprietor mentioned is Edward Salacroup which leads me to suspect that during the time in which Gilbard was compiling his guide the three hotels may have all had one owner - Edward Salacroup . It was a state of affairs which didn’t  last too long as the March 1879 edition of the Chronicle advised its readers that a certain William Lequich who had apparently once been the manager of the Royal Hotel which he had “conducted since its opening” - had now become its sole proprietor . At that time the Lequich family were living in 22 Church Street an address which must have been quite close to the hotel giving him little excuse for ever being late for work.

William Lequich - No Protestants here. The family were all Roman Catholics   (1878 Census)

Also included in Gilbard’s guide was a directory of inhabitants in which both Edward and William appear . According to a September edition of the Chronicle:
Great improvement in the ‘Royal Hotel’ premises by taking in the upper part of the next house - Now able to make beds for 40 visitors
A couple of years later yet another census and the Lequich family - all of them now three years older - had moved from 22 Church Street to 9 Horse Barracks Lane which was probably just as close to the Royal as their old address in Church Street. 

Lequich Family  (1881 Census)

The Salacroups on the other hand had now moved back to No.1 Commercial Square together with a cousin, a niece and a Mrs Francisca Bonell who I suspect was Magdalena’s mother - all of them looked after by at least four servants. One annoying discrepancy is Edward’s age which is given as 40 whereas if the previous resident lists are to be believed he should have been 57 years old.

Salacroup Family  (1881 Census)

A year later the 1882 edition of Richard Ford’ Handbook gives an interesting little aside which indirectly highlights the importance of horses in those days - today we insist on car rental and hotel parking facilities - then it was a question of  access to horses nearby stables.
Hunters and Saddle Horses: At Andorno’s, opposite the Spanish Pavilion, and at Franco's, whose stables are in the street behind the King's Arms . . . 
. . . as well as a new list of available Hotels of which the Imperial has either disappeared from the scene or was not worth including. Whether his minimal directions for finding the Royal Hotel and the King’s Arms is another matter as both of them could be described as in “Main Street, opposite the Exchange”.

(1882 - Richard Ford)

Major Gilbard followed up his 1879 “Directory” with another one which was published posthumously by his wife in 1888. The guide included a potted history of Gibraltar, a guide and several advertisements one of which was for a Royal Hotel.  Both the King’s Arms and the Imperial were absent. The only other Gibraltar hotels advertised was the Calpe Hotel owned by Joseph Holliday and Co. 

Yet another advert identifies W. Lequich & Co. as soda water manufacturers. William had obviously more than one fish to fry - or to use yet another cliché - he was hedging his bets. In 1880 his Royal Hotel seems to have been doing well indeed but one never knows

 (1888 - Gilbard Directory)

The new Royal Hotel must have soon become a well-know feature of Main Street as at least one shop-owner thought it might be a good idea to advertise the fact that his property was next door to the Hotel.

Main Street - Next to the Royal Hotel 

In 1885 an anonymous member of the crew of an 18 ton cutter called the “Chiripa” called at Gibraltar harbour and went out of his way to record the following earth shattering news about an attempt by some of his friends to get themselves a meal at the “Hotel Royal”. He must have picked up the name  “Hotel Real” - as against Royal Hotel -  from the locals. 
We had intended to lunch at the "Hotel Royal," but were somewhat surprised when we were informed that the hotel was shut for the afternoon, as the proprietress had been married that morning, but that it would be open for table- d'hôte as usual. 
It is hard to tell who this female proprietor might have been. The most likely person to have married and held her reception at the hotel would have been Isabel Lequich who was William’s eldest daughter.

Isabella was about twenty-two years old when she married Felix J. Piccone. The reception must have been held at her father’s hotel - thereby ensuring that the members of the crew of the Chiripa were forced to miss lunch at the Royal. Felix Piccone was a good catch. By the 1890s he had become the owner of another Gibraltar hotel - The Bristol.

By 1891, Isabella had given birth to two William D. Piccone and Isabel F Piccone. Together with her husband Felix they all lived together in No.1 Commercial Square. The rest of the building seems to have been given over to 5 lodgers - a Moroccan courier, A French banker, a Spanish lawyer, an Englishman and a seamstress too few to suggest that the place was still functioning as the Royal Arms Hotel.

The Piccone family (1891 Census)

Bradshaw’s 1894 edition also identifies the Royal Hotel as being close to the Commercial Square. The guide recommended the local flea-market held there periodically as worth a visit. It was possibly around this time that Commercial had acquired the vaguely unpleasant colloquial name of the "Jew's market" - which presumably presupposed that most of the stalls were run by Jewish locals - something which incidentally was unlikely to have been the case.

The flea-market at Commercial Square (Early 20th century)

In 1891 the Lequich family then moved yet again - this time to 18 Waterport Street - which may have been the address of the Royal Hotel. 20 year old William L. junior - as seen on the census - was now assisting his father in the running of the Hotel. 

Lequich Family   (1891 Census)

At the time - and for quite a few decades ppreviously - there were three sections to Main Street. They were referred to as - Waterport, Church Street and Southport Street - Waterport being the northern and longest section. It included the entire eastern section of Commercial Square and beyond.  The local authorities were extremely casual as regards street names. In the case of Gibraltar’s principal street one would have thought they would have been more careful - but they weren’t.  

In 1899 Lutgardo López Zaragoza (see LINK) - a resident of the neighbouring Spanish town of La Línea - published a detailed guide of his home town and the surrounding Campo area which included Gibraltar. In many ways it rivalled Major Gilbard’s 1879 attempt. His guide included the “Hotel Real” but neither the old King’s Arms nor Salacroup’s Imperial.

For “Pirrone” read Piccone  (1899  - Lutgardo López Zaragoza)

The fact that the list is not headed by the Royal suggests that it was already taking a serious hit from the newly opened Bristol which advertised all sorts of new-fangled amenities which I am certain were not available at the Royal - as was made clear in Henry O’Shea’s Guide to Spain of the same date (see LINK) which described the Royal Hotel as:
Opposite the Exchange, old-established, dear, not very good

All mod cons at the Bristol Hotel

In 1901 Felix, Elizabeth and their son William Domingo moved into or at any rate gave their address as that of the Bristol Hotel - 15 Cathedral Square. 

(1901 Census)

Cathedral Square - The Bristol Hotel on the left    (from an old postcard)

By 1811 the Lequich family had moved from 18 Waterport Street to 9 Cornwall’s Lane and William junior had taken over management from his father. He was 29 years old and apparently now lived on his own in the Hotel. It was an arrangement that would not last too long as the King’s Arms days as an hotel were numbered.

William Lequich family ((1901 Census)

William Lequich Junior  (1901 Census)

William Lequich senior must have died at some time between 1901 and 1911 as he no longer appears on the 1911 census.

William Lequich Junior and family  (1911 Census)

Of the Hotel Royal there is no mention. William Lequich junior had presumably given up on his hotel. Whether William’s mineral water venture had prospered or not I have no idea but by 1914 the census identifies him more generally as involved in “commerce”.  He and what appears to have been his entire family had now moved to No. 4 George’s Lane.  

(1914 Census)

George’s Lane 

Main Street - George’s Lane on the right, Cathedral Square on the left - The house I was born in, which no longer exists, was 256 Main Street the three story building just after the house with the fancy balcony

By the time Karl Baedeker produced his 1913 guide to Spain and Portugal, the saga of the King’s Arms aka Griffiths’ Hotel and its reincarnation elsewhere as the Royal Hotel was well and truly over. The Hotel Bristol “Cathedral Square, quietly and pleasantly situated” had taken over - at least for several decades to come - as “Gibraltar’s best hotel.  

The gardens of the Bristol Hotel    (Unknown date)

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: