The People of Gibraltar
1940 - The  Devil's Tower - Selling Wood to the British

Luis Bravo de Laguna and Giliberto de Bedoya - Anton Van den Wyngaerde
Cristóbal de Rojas and Alonso Hernández del Portillo - Luis Bravo de Acuña
Colonel Congreve and Thomas James - General Castaños and General Dalrymple
Colonel William Willoughby Cole Verner and Dorothy Garrod
General Mason-Macfarlane and Dorothy Ellicott - Tito Benady

The Devil's Tower, also once known as la Torre del Diablo or la Torre de los Diablos - la Torre de los Angeles - el Angel de la Guardia - la Atalaya del Mar de Levante - la Torre de San Pedro  . . . was an old but as yet undated watchtower which formed part of the north-east defences of Gibraltar. It was built on a rocky outcrop near the base of the North Front and close to the eastern shore with its own nearby jetty. The fact that the tower on what was perhaps the only rocky area on an otherwise relatively flat and sandy part of the isthmus, has often been used to prop up the theory that Gibraltar was once an island.

It is an unlikely one although even as late as the winter of 1855, the 19th century Spanish historian Francisco María Montero (see LINK) personally remembered that it was necessary to use boats to cross the isthmus after heavy rains had converted it into a lagoon.  

Dating the tower and tracing the chronology of its many names is equally difficult. One of the earliest sightings is perhaps found on a plan - as shown below - which is possibly one of the oldest extant of the Rock. (See LINK)  It has been argued that the style of writing and the vocabulary used on the plan date it as a mid 16th century work - an analysis which is strengthened by some of its captions which imply that it represents the Rock as it was just after the 'Turkish' raid in 1540. (See LINK

Partial plan of the Rock which is touted as one of the oldest known of Gibraltar   ( Unknown )

Although it is not labelled, the most likely candidate for the crenellated tower would be La Torre del Diablo. Elsewhere and according to local historian Tito Benady in his article - Ingenieros Militares en Gibraltar en los Siglos XVI y XVII: 
Esta era una de las torres almenaras diseñadas por Luis Bravo de Laguna y construidas por el Licenciado Giliberto de Bedoya en la década de 1580.
In this particular case I suspect that Benady might be mistaken as the tower definitely appears in Anton Van den Wyngaerde's (see LINK) well known plan of Gibraltar which is reliably dated 1567. The Flemish draughtsman labels it as La Fozze del Diablo- and elsewhere as la Torre de los Angeles.

Part of a plan of Gibraltar showing the Devil's Tower identified as La Fozza del Diablo   ( 1567 -  Anton Van den Wyngaerde ) 

Map of Gibraltar and its entire bay by the Spanish Engineer Cristóbal de Rojas (see LINK) identifies the tower as Torre de los Diablos - It is dated 1608

The 17th century Gibraltarian historian Alonso Hernández del Portillo (see LINK) rather surprisingly does not mention the tower at all in his Historia. His contemporary, the engineer Luis Bravo de Acuña (see LINK) names it La Torre de los Diablos. De Acuña considered the tower and its jetty particularly vulnerable to enemy attack but I cannot find any literature on whether any improvements were ever carried out either to the tower or to its jetty.

Elsewhere he calls it El Angel de la Guardia, a name that gives us a hint as to why the tower was built in the first place. Throughout its early history perhaps the most important and oldest lookout tower on Gibraltar was El Hacho which was situated on the upper reaches of the Rock. It became known to the British as Signal Hill. 

Artist's impression of el Hacho on the top of the Rock with more than a passing resemblance to the Devil's Tower   (Unknown - P. Guirriaran )

Unfortunately the Rock is very exposed to east winds laden with moisture gathered from the Mediterranean and a frequent cloud formation known locally as the "levante" often made it useless as lookout post. The alternative was to set up one closer to sea level. The Devil's Tower was one obvious solution. Others were also constructed elsewhere in places such as in windmill Hill.

One of the last plans produced of pre-British Gibraltar does not include la Torre del Diablo
( 1685 - Edmund Drummer )

The name Atalaya del Mar de Levante is mentioned by the Spanish historian Ángel Sáez Rodriguez who does not give any other reference. In any case the name is simply a description - the tower is indeed an Atalaya - a watchtower - and it does stand close to el Mar de Levante  - the eastern seaboard. The return to what appears to have been its original 16th century name of Torre del Diablo appears to coincide with the 1704 takeover of the Rock by Anglo-Dutch forces.

Soon enough the tower - whatever name it happened to be known as - became a bone of contention between Britain and the Spain. The Treaty of Utrecht (see LINK) which was signed in 1713 was unclear as to whether any part of the isthmus had been conceded to the British along with the rest of the town. 

In 1714, Colonel Congreve the Governor of Gibraltar at the time (see LINK) interpreted the wording of the Treaty in such a way that it included the Tower as part of the deal. He pressed his luck and promptly installed a gun inside the tower. It was, he argued soothingly - to be used for signalling purposes only. It was the beginning of a lengthy and contentious diplomatic argument over who exactly owns the isthmus that has persisted to this day. 

An "exact" map produced shortly after the capture of the Rock does not mention the Tower  ( 1704 - Colonel D'Harcourt )

The British abandoned possession of the tower during the 13th Siege and it then became part of the Spanish defensive system.  In 1727 yet another Spanish engineer Antonio Montaigut de la Perille made a detailed plan of both the tower - which he clearly labels La Torre del Diablo- and its nearby neighbour - La Torre del Molino - offering suggestions as to how they might be repaired. The repairs were presumably never actually carried out - in fact by the end of what later became known as the Gunner's War, the Tower lost its conical roof. It was a loss that it would never recover.

Plan of la Torre del Diablo and its nearby neighbour, La Torre del Molino  ( 1727 - Antonio Montaigut de la Perille )

During this short lived siege the tower formed part of a vanguard of Spanish trenches that criss-crossed the isthmus in front of the Rock. It was also used to hang deserters, who were caught trying to cross over to the British. 

Plan of Gibraltar during the 13 Siege which does show the Devil's Tower  ( 1727 - Nicolas de Fer )

By 1739 with peace restored the British began to press their luck and established a guard in front of the Devil's Tower. The Government in Madrid was duly advised. The answer was a bland acknowledgement - the King had been duly informed. The British authorities understandably took full advantage of such a laissez faire attitude and gradually began to exploit the isthmus to their advantage. Trees were planted and small farms with norias or water wells began to dot the area. It didn't take long before huts and fences began to appear in order to house and protect the people who were administering the place.

The History of the Herculean Straits by Thomas James published in 1771 (see LINK) but most probably describing the Gibraltar of the 1750s - interestingly mentions the Devil's Tower no less than nine times.
We then passed . . . the Devil's Tower, by the Spaniards called the tower of St Peter . . . . . . against the garrison from the Devil's Tower (now known as St Pedro 
All of which suggests that the Torre de San Pedro was new one concocted by the Spaniards during the 13th Siege. It was a name that did not catch on. 

The Devil's Tower, the track to its jetty and the British Advance Guard Room - the one on the west side of the isthmus would later be known as Forbe's battery  (  1743 - John Hardesty - Detail  )

In 1771 the tower was back in the news again - albeit indirectly - when the military commander of the Campo area Marqués de Zayas made his bosses in Madrid aware that the British were building a battery close to the Devil's Tower in order to protect Catalan Bay.  The Spanish Government duly protested on two grounds - neither the Tower nor Catalan Bay were part of the Utrecht agreement.  The British ignored the protest and continued to encroach wherever possible. This relatively trivial event is interesting in that it was the first time that Catalan Bay was named as such in official documents. The term used was Bahia de los Catalanes. (See LINK) It does however appear as such in an older mid 19th century map as shown below.

Caletilla de los Catalans - Caletilla del Hacho is Sandy Bay  ( 1743 - John Hardesty - Detail )

The Great siege began in 1779 and put paid to any further encroachment. The Tower was back in Spanish hands. When the Siege ended, however, it was retaken by the British in one of those farcical events that seem to have been part and parcel of the diplomatic engagements between Britain and Spain in the 18th century. 

Apparently the construction of the Spanish trenches on the isthmus required enormous quantities of timber. If nothing else, the destruction of the Spanish defences during the Sortie of 1781 (See LINK) would have required fresh deliveries to repair the damage caused by the British bombardiers. 

However, the minds of the Franco-Spanish military commanders were by now fully focussed on their plans to bring the siege to a close by taking Gibraltar from the sea by using floating batteries. The outcome of this fiasco is dealt with elsewhere (see LINK) but one indirect consequence of all this was that much of the wood was never used. 

When the Siege finally petered out the Spaniards left their trenches and returned to the Spanish Lines. They also - unbelievably - left their unused timber on the Isthmus and sold it to the British. These in turn immediately took over the Devil's Tower under the pretext that they needed it to protect the wood. It has been in British hands ever since. As regards the name of the tower, from then on it would always be referred to as La Torre del Diablo or by its direct English translation - The Devil's Tower. 

One of the very many maps published during or shortly after the Great Siege of Gibraltar   ( 1782 - Louis Denis - P. A. Basset - Detail )

In 1796 Britain and Spain were at war once again but with hardly any effect on the relationship between Gibraltar and the Spanish hinterland although there were a number of enthusiastic military men stationed in San Roque who thought it might be yet be possible to try to retake Gibraltar with the help of their French allies. On an exploratory sortie into the neutral ground they surprised and arrested five British soldiers who happened to be guarding the Devil's Towers

When their commander General Castaños heard of this he immediately ordered them to be released and returned to the British authorities. It was an indication of the very cordial relationship that existed between the Spanish commander and General Dalrymple (see LINK) his opposite number on the Rock. It was relationship that would serve both of them well during the Peninsular War 

General Castaños and his friend General Dalrymple

In 1911 the tower was in the local news once again. A cave was discovered on the Rockface near the tower by Colonel William Willoughby Cole Verner. (See LINK) It was rather unimaginatively called the Devil's Tower Cave. 

Six years late, the Gibraltar directory came up with its own very unconvincing theory as why the old building was known as the Devil's Tower. It was derived - they suggested - from an obscure Italian term for dividing which had corrupted into Diavolo and from there to Diablo. It was a theory that had never been proposed before and has been ignored ever since.

In 1928 the cave became international news when Dorothy Garrod discovered a second Neanderthal skull, this time of a four year old child.

The tower was finally demolished in 1940 during World War II as ordered by the Governor of Gibraltar, General Sir Noel Mason-Macfarlane. I have never been able to read the official version of General Mason-Macfarlane's reasons for committing what appears to be an act of architectural vandalism on what was probably one of the oldest non-Moorish buildings on the Rock.  Over the years, at least three suggestions have been proposed - that it was in the line of fire of one of Gibraltar's many guns, that it was a danger to the new airstrip that was in the process of being built or that it could be used as a prominent bearing point for enemy gunners. Little wonder then that he was nicknamed Demolition Mac by the British and as Ruina by the locals. 

General Mason-Mac perhaps pointing out the offending object to a visiting Noel Coward  (1940 )

It is in many ways ironic to realise that one of the reasons why the Tower had survived for well over half a millennium before Mason-Mac decided to do away with it is that it was positioned in a place which was never really in any direct line of fire against the town - unlike many other towers and windmills on the Isthmus that failed to make it to the 20th century.

A plaque put up in 1970 on the initiative of the Gibraltarian historian, Dorothy Ellicott suggested that it might have been constructed by the Moors in the 11th century. There is unfortunately precious little evidence that this might be true - but it was still old enough to hope that it would have been spared its unnecessary end. On the other hand the Devil's Tower did managed one final if ignominious farewell - the concrete slab that marked the spot where it had once stood disappeared for good.