The People of Gibraltar
1867 - The Relle and Wills Families - Gibraltar - Part 2

The North Front   (1880s - Johan Peter Egger

The census for 1881 shows that both the Woods and the Relle families had moved from the North Front Camp to a property on 14 South Barracks Road - from the most northern section of Gibraltar to one of the more southerly. Moritz, of course, wasn’t among them. He had died in 1879.

(1881 Census)

The move to 14 South Barracks Road probably took place in 1878. That year the lease on a large chunk of land between South Barracks to the west and Europa Main Road to the east with several premises on it was bought by a certain Jerome Saccone, a wealthy, local wine and spirit merchant.

Jerome Saccone and family    (Unknown date - Taken in Tangier)

South Barracks Road takes its name from the largest building complex in the area. It was built in the early 18th century and was originally known as the Soldiers’ Barracks. A rather attractive rectangular building fronted by two officers’ pavilions it probably remained unaltered right up to 1878 - and beyond - by which time it had changed its name to South Barracks.

Aerial view of South Barracks and its two Pavilions - Jerome Saccone’s leased ground property would probably have occupied part of the area behind and to the left of the Barracks

Almost before he had time to finish signing his cheque for the £3000 that the overall property had cost him, in 1878 Saccone rented one of the houses on it for $39 p.a. to Emily - Moritz Relle’s wife. In other words the house identified in the census - perhaps incorrectly - as 14 South Barracks Road. The date is hard to understand as Moritz was still alive at the time. It seems odd that it was not him but his wife Emily who had been involved in the deal.

Emily Relle’s rented house is probably the unidentified property with a largish garden that appears on the bottom right hand corner of this plan   (1868 - Detail - RE Plan produced by Henry James)

The 1868 plan shown above is also awkward to interpret. The house which I have identified as No. 14 South Barracks Road seems to have been pencilled in after the map was produced. The building is much larger than would seem necessary for a single dwelling house and so far I have been unable to find out if the building was shared by other families. The person who seems most likely to have been responsible for building it would be a Mr Weir - the man who had sold it Saccone in 1878.

Whatever its history, this was delightful residence with an attractively wild garden and magnificent views of the Bay. The building came to be known as Schomberg Cottage and there are numerous suggestions as to how it acquired this name. 

One is that it that the name was a corruption of Schönberg celebrating the name of a German town connected to the Relle family. I doubt whether this is the correct answer as there are no German towns with that name anywhere near where Moritz lived as a young man. Another theory proposed by local historian Richard Garcia:
Schönberg was the residence of the German Consul, prior to the closure of the Consulate. It is German for 'the beautiful mountain'.
By “German consul” Garcia probably meant Fernando Schott, but there is absolutely no record that I can find in which Schomberg Cottage appears as his residence nor indeed that he or his family ever had anything at all to do with it.

Fernando Schott   (1887)

Another perhaps more likely and certainly much more appealing suggestion is that it was a name suggested by either Moritz himself before he died or by his wife Emily. Schönberg - the beautiful mountain - acknowledges Moritz’s German origins and praises his chosen home town. That the name was later corrupted to Schomberg by the locals is hardly surprising given their well-known penchant for simplifying words as much as possible. 

In fact dropping the dieresis and changing its “n” to an “m” would normally have ensured that the name would have become known as yet another example of the kind of corrupted words that form part of the local patois known as Llanito. Unfortunately it’s a theory that fails to take into account that hardly anybody on the Rock would have known what the proper German word meant.

In 1891 the Relles were all still living there other than for Mary Wood. Her husband John had since died and she had decided to move to nearby 27 Witham’s Road.

(1891 Census)

A decade later at least some of the Relles were once again spending money renting removal carts - if such things existed at the time. The widowed Mary Woods - nee McDonald - together with her daughter Emily Relle senior and granddaughter Mary moved into No. 9 Europa Main Road. I can’t identify this property with any precision but it was certainly on the eastern boundary of the estate and perhaps close to the property where the rest of the family were still living.

(1901 Census)

The turn of the century was a time of change for the family. Jerome Saccone died and the executors of his will, Messrs Porral and Patron sold the lease of the property on which the Shomberg Cottage had been built to the Crown for £6750. No change in so far as the amount that Emily had to pay as rent - it remained at $30 p.a. The extension of the expiry date to 1946 would eventually prove more than useful when WWII intervened nearly half a century later.

The Crown, keen on looking after their newly acquired property, insisted on carrying out periodic and no doubt nerve-wracking and expensive inspections in 1908, 1912, 1918, 1922, 1925, 1927 and 1930. The Relle’s must have managed to keep the place in very good nick over all these years as on each occasion the property passed the inspection.

By now John and Herman were 28 and 24 years old respectively. Both were employed by the ubiquitous Eastern Telegraph Company. John had been with them since he was 18 and I am sure that Herman probably followed suit at a similar age. 

The importance of Gibraltar in the activities of this company - subsequently known as the Cable and Wireless - is surprising. The company that laid the first submarine telegraph cable in 1869 was actually called the Falmouth, Gibraltar and Malta Telegraph Company. A year later the company was coordinating its international business from its offices on the Rock. The H.O.  building was called The Mount and its address was in South Barracks Road, minutes away from No. 14. The fact that by 1901 they no longer lived with their mother at No 14 suggests that this convenience was short-lived.

The Offices of the Eastern Telegraph Company with address removed by censor - The soldier is walking south along South Barracks Road  (Postcard)

Just opposite the offices shown on the postcard above, were the ETC officers’ quarters, a relatively imposing building known as the Mount - not to be confused with another official building also known as the Mount - or Mount Pleasant. The photo looks north

More or less contemporary plan showing the location of the ETC offices and staff quarters on South Barracks Road - No 14 lies well to the left of the road and is not shown

As a curious coincidence my father Pepe Chipulina would shortly also join the Eastern Telegraph as an operator. He was 16 years old at the time.

My father Pepe Chipulina in the 1920s

It was also around this period that a young man of about 18 years of age arrived in Gibraltar. He was yet another Eastern Telegraph employee. He was single and remained so at least during his first few years on the Rock. His name was Dudley Frayne Wills

Dudley’ lodgings were in No. 3 Scud Hill again quite close to his place of work and - perhaps more importantly to no 14, which he must surely have visited more than once possibly via friendship with Herman the younger of the two brothers.

Dualey F. Wills should read Dudley F(rayne) Wills (1901 Census)

Whatever the case he must have eventually met their sister Mary Relle not all that long after he had arrived and married her in 1902. Apparently the Eastern Telegraph required its staff to ask for their permission before they dared to marry anybody - Dudley either forgot or told them where to stuff their consent and earned himself a black mark on his service record.

Dudley’s service record   - his unauthorised marriage angrily noted with a double underlined “without”

By 1914, the Wills family together with their two sons Maurice and Edwin were now living with the Relle’s at Schomberg Cottage. Dudley’s two children appear on the appropriate census with their names - and surnames - incorrectly spelt. 


The Wills family living at No 14 - D.O. Wills should be D.F. Wills - Morries is Maurice and Edwins is Edwin - the “Rose” is more difficult to interpret (1914 census)

There is some evidence that Maurice was born in Alexandria, Egypt but I am not quite sure when. Presumably his father had been sent there by his Eastern Telegraph employers. It was another family coincidence. My Mother Evelyn Letts was born in Alexandria a few years previously - her father George Letts had also been sent there by the Eastern Telegraph.

Taken during an outing in Spain with Dudley and Mary Wills on the right - The unknown lady on the left may well be Emily Relle

Meanwhile Mary’s sister had married William Ruggier who was born in Malta and worked in Gibraltar as a draughtsman. They had moved to No 7 Rodger’s Road - again not too far from Schomberg Cottage. Emily’s husband was the son of William Joseph Ruggier who had worked as a civil engineer for the Admiralty in Gibraltar during the 1880s and 1890s. William Joseph had been a member of the Calpe Rowing Club during its early years. According to the rowing club’s official history, in 1907:
. . . the Club would make a payment of £45 to A.W. Ruggier, a Club member, for a wooden house that he had purchased earlier from Topham, Jones & Railton. The house was subsequently dismantled where it had stood, that is, at Devil's Tower Road, and re-erected at Devil's Tongue where it was further modified to serve as clubhouse. During these works, complaints were lodged with the Garrison Adjutant to the effect that certain members of the Club had been seen irreverently, "running about in a state of nudity to the annoyance of ladies and children passing their way.
I wonder if A.W. Ruggier had ever been one of those running around naked “to the annoyance of ladies and children”.

The Duke of Connaught laying the foundation stone of the new boathouse    (1908)

Records are few and far between from around 1914 onwards to 1932 apart from the photograph below which strongly suggests that the Relles and Wills’ families were still closely in touch with a majority of them still living in Schomberg Cottage.

The Relle and Wills families posing at Schomberg Cottage (Late 1920s)
Top row from Left - Dudley Wills and his wife Mary Rose (Emily Relle’s daughter), Emily (Woods) Relle herself, her other daughter Emily Rose (Relle) and her husband William Ruggier
From the left front row - The Wills’ children Edwin and Maurice Wills, followed by the Ruggier’s children, Muriel and Hector Ruggier 

During the very early 1930s Dudley’s son Maurice married my aunt Mercedes Letts. She and my mother were often mistaken for sisters - which they were not. The following might help explain the reason for the confusion. My grandmother Maria Luisa Gomez - a small woman with a disproportionately large personality - met and married George Letts, an English engineer who worked for the Eastern Telegraph Company. Maria Luisa’s sister Mercedes - who was just as small and with an equally rasping personality, married George’s brother - Joseph Letts. An attraction of opposites I would guess as both George and Joseph were very laid back individuals.

George Letts and Maria Luisa Gomez - Joe Letts and Mercedes Gomez   (1898 - Cavilla and Bruzon)

Maria Luisa went on to give birth to my mother - Evelyn Letts - whereas Mercedes’ contribution to the human race was her daughter Mercedes - known to her family and those who preferred English as Babs, and to everybody else as Mercedita. My mother and her double cousin not only looked very alike but also got on like the proverbial house on fire. The end result was that everybody thought they were sisters.

Mercedes Wills and my mother Evelyn Chipulina   (1931)

In 1932, workmen carrying out alterations to Schomberg Cottage took a break to brew their tea and set the house on fire. No serious damage was caused but it might have been an omen. Emily Relle Woods died that very year. Her offspring John, Herman and Emily inherit the lease on Schomberg and possibly because none of them were living in the Cottage at the time promptly sold a ¾ share of it to Maurice Wills for £300.

Taken in the Alameda Gardens just before Evelyn Relle died
Adults from the left are Mercedita Wills, her mother Mercedes Gomez and Mary Wills
My sister Maruja is standing on the left and Mercedita’s son Maurice sitting on Mary’s knee     (1931)

The start of WWII and subsequent evacuation of the civilian population of Gibraltar during the late 1930s and early 1940s means that there is very little I can add as to what happened to the various families other than my own. Nor can I find any records as regards Schomberg Cottage during this period.

In 1945, the war was practically over and the Wills family returned to Gibraltar and immediately set about persuading the Colonial Authorities to allow them to go back to their pre-war home. Their request was granted but only on condition that they made sure that certain necessary repairs to the Cottage were completed before 1947 - something which they duly accepted and complied with. They were extremely lucky. The lease expired on June 1946 so theoretically they could have been evicted there and then. Instead the place was rented out to them on a monthly basis. 

I am not sure whether any other families were ever housed in Schomberg Cottage once the Wills had left the place either because they had died or married and moved away. The truth is that I didn’t really care. I was now a spotty teenager with far more important things to do than look forward to eating scones or watching an animal lover collecting eggs laid by  her chickens. In the 1960s, shortly after I had left the Rock for good, Schomberg Cottage was demolished to make way for a new block of flats.

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