The People of Gibraltar
1867 - The Relle and Wills Families - Gibraltar - Introduction

The Rock from the road to Spain - War-time Nissen huts on the left   (1946)

The title shown above might entitle anybody to believe that this will be an essay on two interconnected Gibraltar families. On the whole they would be right but in reality the real reason why I bothered to write it at all is because of a house I visited frequently when I was quite young. It has long since been demolished but at the time you would have found it in a southern area of Gibraltar quite far away from my own home in Main Street. I knew it as Schomberg Cottage.

My one and only photograph of Schomberg Cottage   (Undated - See photograph below)

The Rock of Gibraltar has always been acknowledged by visitors as a geographically spectacular place but very few have ever been able to find anything particularly romantic about it. Even less so during the late 1940s - a very visible Moorish Castle that looked like a huge abandoned cube of concrete, endlessly massive fortifications carelessly built over by ugly utility buildings - all of it literally surrounding the entire western sides and beyond - and a town consisting mainly of a couple of narrow main roads with uninspired architecture and even narrower alleys, steps  and “ramps” undoubtedly interesting yet signally un-twee.

Even the small fishing village on its eastern shores of the place usually failed to ignite any sort of romantic response as the view was dominated by remarkably steep and oppressive cliffs which tended to block out the sun far too early in the afternoon the whole almost entirely covered with acres of ugly man-made water catchments.

Water Catchments being serviced - A section of Catalan Bay Village lies barely visible on the middle-right hand side of the photograph   (1953 - Ralph Crane)

When the detritus of WW II became part of the overall scenery any thoughts associating Gibraltar with either the appealingly white-washed walls of Andalusia or England’s green and pleasant land very quickly disappeared. To put it bluntly, just after the war, and perhaps for many years after Gibraltar was both ugly and claustrophobic.

Perhaps that is why Schomberg Cottage made such a lasting impression on me. The Cottage was the home of one of my aunts - my mother’s cousin and her best friend. She visited often and I tagged along. I must have been around 8 years old - a very impressionable age - when I first visited and continued to do so during my teens. I remember the building itself as a both rambling and exciting. Inside the natives were friendly.

One of the very few plans in which Schomberg Cottage is identified by name - the main road above and to its west is South Barracks. (Possibly late 1960s - Detail)

My aunt was always warm and welcoming, my uncle a keen amateur conjurer of the “now you see it now you don’t variety”, always willing to drop everything and amuse. His mother, a woman with a peculiar German name but Gibraltar born, was renowned for producing the “best” scones on the Rock, many of which she always managed to have warm and ready for us every time we visited. I still don’t know how she managed - those were the days when just about everything was severely rationed including most of the ingredients needed for making scones.

My cousin Maurice was about my age and good company. He was known affectionately as Baby Maurice to distinguish him from his father - a knick-name I am sure he detested but which pursued him until middle-age. I also remember his sister Ruth - a bit older than me - being classified by my family as an ardent “animal lover”, a term which in those far off days was considered as describing some sort of eccentricity. It can hardly have made much of a difference to me one way or the other, but the fact that she actually owned and looked after several chickens and collected their eggs periodically - eggs which we often eat in some form of the other when we visited . . . .  well that certainly went way beyond harmless eccentricity and into the realms of the sensationally unusual.

Once outside the house it was a different story. The design of the cottage was such that you never knew what to find when you turned one of its many corners - a patio here, another wall there, a wash-house hidden away in the corner . . . or so it seemed to me. The garden was a mixture of the conventional and the wild - although any kind of conventional garden would have been anything but to somebody accustomed to living in the northern part of town where such gardens were the preserve of the Governor and his acolytes.

But it was the wild garden to the east of the Cottage that was truly memorable. To scramble about in the undergrowth - alone or with others - with booby traps waiting to fall into and man-eating tigers ready to pounce - was heaven. To know that one wrong turn and you would be lost forever - that if such things as natives happened to appear out of nowhere these would be anything but friendly - felt indescribably exciting. Although I would never have put it that way, the only thing that made it at all bearable was the warm and comfortable knowledge that the whole thing involved a general and willing suspension of disbelief.

The girls are mostly the daughters of the Devincienzi family. They were neighbours - Their connection with the story is indirect - Top left, Sheila Devincenzi married my brother. Dulcie Devincenzie sitting on the left, married (Baby) Maurice - And the house that appears behind them is Schomberg Cottage

My impressions and memories were undoubtedly coloured by the fact that at that age I was addicted to the reading of the many books written by Enid Blyton. Although I probably never thought of it in that way Schomberg Cottage was the kind of place that her young heroes and heroines would have lived in. It might not have had an obligatory thatched roof but it was certainly consistent with what a youngster like me would have stereotypically thought of an English home.

I am the one with the binoculars  - Could that be the Moorish Castle?  (1940s - Illustration by Eileen Soper)

What follows is in essence an attempt to trace the connection between Schomberg Cottage and the two families mentioned in the title. As I need to go quite far back I have divided it into two parts for easier reading.

With acknowledgements to Alex Panyotti for his all the time-consuming research and support without which I would not have been able to write this article. Thanks again Alex.

1867 - The Relle and Wills Families - Gibraltar - Part 1
1867 - The Relle and Wills Families - Gibraltar - Part 2