Appendix II in Colonel E.R. Kenyon’s posthumous 1938 edition of Gibraltar under Moor, Spaniard and Briton gives an obsessively detailed account of how, where and when the officers of the Royal Engineers messed in Gibraltar. To quote a footnote by the editor of the edition at the end of the Appendix:
The late Author was originally an officer of the Royal Engineers and evidently wrote this Appendix, since its subject was of especial interest to his Corps.I am not sure about that. I think he wrote it because it was of importance to him.
An impromptu little supper at an unknown officer’s mess in Gibraltar (Probably early 20th century )
Despite being a rather esoteric topic to most Gibraltarians – however interested they might be in the history of their home town – I have quoted it in full below on the grounds that it demonstrates the importance attached to such matters by the officer class in Gibraltar from the 18th right through to the 20th century.
The block of buildings on the west side of Cornwall Parade became the Masonic Institute in 1925, having previously been occupied by the Royal Engineers as their Officers’ Mess and Quarters for about fifty-six years and having been in military occupation at least since 1736. In a plan of that date in the R.E. Office it is shown as quarters for one lieut.-colonel, one captain, and one subaltern.
Royal Engineers Officers’ Mess in Cornwall’s Parade ( Late 19th century )
In the plan of 1753 it is shown as ‘Officers’ Quarters and Garden.’ Tradition says that it stands on the site of an ancient chapel, but this does not appear to be the case ; the origin of the story being that there was a chapel at the south end of the Parade.Which comment is correct - the old Spanish church of San Juan de Letrán (see LINK) stood on the western side of what was then known as the Plazuela de San Juan de Letran.
Adapted from a detail of James Montressor’s 1753 map (See LINK)
Plaza de las Verduras aka the Greenmarket Street or Cornwall’s Parade – the building on the right had not yet been converted int the R.E. Officers’ Mess – The building at the far end of the Plaza was once the site of the Church of San Juan de Letrán ( 1820 – Henry Sandham ) (See LINK)
It was in 1868 or 1869 that the Mess was established in this building, for there is an entry in the Minutes under date 19th May 1869, recording that the Gas Company was requested to lay on gas ‘to the new Mess House in Greenmarket Street ’- the old name of Cornwall Parade.
The R.E. Mess at Gibraltar was the oldest in the Corps, so it may be of interest to record a few facts as to its dwelling-places on the Rock. Records at the Headquarter Mess at Chatham show that a joint R.A. and R.E. Mess was formed at Gibraltar in the eighteenth century (date unknown) and that at the beginning of the nineteenth century the R.E. formed a Mess of their own.
Apparently this was on 16th April 1816, for there is a note in the Minute Book (preceding a record that on 18th October 1847 a letter was read from the Master-General of the Ordnance authorizing the re-establishment of the Engineer Mess), ‘R.E. Mess established 16th April 1816.’The birthday and the habitation of the original joint Mess are not recorded, but it certainly existed in 1791 and was probably formed in that year and located in a block of buildings of which a part is now used as an Army Schoolmistress’s quarter which faces King’s Bastion Retrenchment (the married quarters which form the east side of King’s Bastion). The remainder of the buildings now form Crown Properties 469 and 470. (At the back of the Hebrew School)
The building on the right, east of King’s Bastion and still probably used as married quarters in the 20th century may perhaps be the one referred to by Kenyon as the Army Schoolmistress’s quarter
At the Masonic Institute is preserved a stone which lay for many years in the Chief Engineer’s garden inscribed ‘ Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers Mess Room, 1791, No. 28 ’; and in a MS. Notebook in the R.E. Office, dated 1789, and containing a numbered list of ‘officers’ barracks ’ there is an undated pencil note against No. 28 (which in the original list is shown as occupied by Lieut. Young, R.A.) ‘part of it now built for a mess-room for the Royal Artillery and Engineers.’
Against No. 27 is a similar note ‘taken in to enlarge 28.’ These two buildings 27 and 28 occupy the site of the Army Schoolmistress’s quarter above referred to and the Crown Properties 469 and 470, of which the former was Crown property in 1823 when the register was commenced while 470 was then Ordnance property, being an artillery surgeon’s quarter in 1830 and a field officer’s quarter in 1893 when it was transferred to the Colonial Government.
Both 469 and 470 are now leased to the Hebrew Committee who have a school and stores there. (The neighbouring synagogue on the Line Wall was built in 1799. (Gibraltar Directory under date 3rd March 1799) An older one was burnt during the siege in 1781)
The synagogue in front of the Line Wall was built in the Dutch style and was generally known as the Esnoga Flamenca. A brand new synagogue it was indeed built in 1799. The older one that was destroyed in 1781 during the Great Siege was the Shar Hashamayim – gate of heaven – and its original entrance was in Serfaty’s Passage – a considerable distance from the Esnoga Flamenca.
The Esnoga Flamenca facing the Line Wall – the entrance was in Bomb House Lane ( 1830 - Frederick Leeds Edridge ) (See LINK)
In an undated plan (scale fifty feet to the inch) in the R.E. Office No. 470 is shown as ‘Old Artillery Mess House and Quarters,’ and 469 includes two blocks which appear to have been accessories to it. In 1839-40 the separate R.E. Mess was closed on account of the paucity of members; and the R.E. officers became honorary members of the R.A. Mess.
In October 1847 the R.E. Mess re-opened as already mentioned under the authority of the Master-General of the Ordnance, but from May 1854 it was again closed until June 1855 (obviously on account of the Crimean War). Entries in the Mess Minute Book show that at that time its home was in College Lane, probably in the building now used as a Warrant Officer’s Quarter, in which it certainly was in 1864, at which date the original Mess was occupied as quarters for an infantry Commanding Officer and other officers.
It was again closed from October 1867 to April 1868, during which time the officers lived as honorary members of the R.A. Mess while a proposal which they had made to abolish the separate R.E. Mess was under consideration. This proposal having been disapproved by H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge, the Mess was re-opened in April 1868 - no doubt in the Cornwall Parade building, since the Minutes previously quoted show that it was there in May 1869.
The Duke of Cambridge looking exactly like somebody who would disapprove of anything that smacked of change – He was stationed in Gibraltar in 1838/1839 – a posting that obviously made little difference to his ingrained conservative opinions.
In September 1872 it was moved thence into ‘Spanish Pavilion,’ from which it reverted about February 1873 ‘to the former Mess in the Greenmarket ’ on account of the arrival of another regiment which rendered it necessary to give up the Pavilion, which was an Infantry Mess.
The Spanish Pavilion – a converted Spanish Barracks –on the east side of Main Street still standing in the 1960s - but no longer
From November 1877 to November 1878 the Mess was once more closed, probably for improvements, as a sum of £1,200 was spent about this time on structural alterations. As stated at the beginning of this Appendix, it was last closed in 1925.