Known as “lo Humfri” by all Llanitos who sailed in her – and there were and still are many who did and do. It was also know by quite a few other names by officials who kept changing their minds. As somebody who spent most of his youth living in a flat in “lo Humfri” this topic has considerable poignancy for me.
The history of what was originally known as the Alameda Housing Estate begins with the repatriation of all those Gibraltarians who were so unceremoniously chucked out of their homes because of military demands brought about by WWII – an event that was euphemistically known to the authorities – and eventually by everybody else - as “the Evacuation”. And I should know as I was an “evacuee”.
When the war finished families began to return in dribs and drabs and a settlement board that had been set up in 1943 soon realised that housing everybody was going to be a massive problem.
A picture worth a thousand words – these returning evacuees were just happy to be back home – but for some there would be housing troubles ahead
In March 1945 an area in the south below the Alameda Gardens called Governor’s Meadow was identified as a suitable site for building a series of large housing blocks. It was an area in which – according to many a local ignoramus - Gibraltar’s one and only cow was allowed to graze. They were quite wrong of course. There were several cows in Gibraltar at the time – in fact the Governor’s meadows itself was known locally as “la Vacas” – in plural.
The above letter to the Sunday Pictorial was written by a local gentleman. I think it more than confirms the large number of cows roaming Gibraltar before the estate was built ( With thanks to the gentleman’s son - Mau Rik - for allowing me to use this letter )
But to return to the main story - in 1945 the contractors who were eventually chosen to carry out the work – Humphreys Ltd - produced an impressive model of what the finished project would look like. Unfortunately the finished article never did look anything like it. The model included thirteen blocks of flats - three in Maida Vale, two near Sandpits another couple on the upper section of the Alameda Gardens and six along Red Sands Road of which only the last lot were ever built.
Model view of all thirteen proposed blocks
Aerial view of the project
A view of the entire project looking south – note the City Fire Brigade Station which eventually ended up in front of the second block of flats rather than the first
Work began in 1946. The Governor’s Meadow area was cleared and – no mean feat – the old Victoria Battery which had once held a 100 ton gun was removed. Various proposals were made as regards what to name the six blocks, of which those eventually discarded included “Eliott”, “Boyd”, and “Lamotte” - all of them well known military men who took part in the Great siege. Another suggestion was that the entire estate should be known – rather inappropriately in my view - as “Sortie Mansions”.
In the end it was the Governor rather than the locals who had the last say. He only took some of the suggestions into account. In 1949 he opted for Kingsway, Alameda, Victoria, Picton, Red Sands, Ross, and Governor’s Meadow. Not too bad, other than for Picton. One would have to be a keen follower of the history of the Great Siege to know who he was.
Picton House 1948
Kingsway and Alameda House 1948
Looking North 1948
The southern end – looking south
By the middle of 1950 the entire project had been completed and families were allocated flats according to whatever obscure criteria are normally used by government bureaucrats. Not that I can complain too much. One of the chosen lucky ones was my own family.
Brand new block and as yet unoccupied – Photo probably taken in 1950
A kitchen in one of the flats
On the 27th of April 1951, a lighter loading ammunition from a naval armament supply ship, the Bedenham, caught fire at Gun Wharf and blew up. Thirteen people lost their lives and the effects of the explosion were felt throughout Gibraltar and for many miles around causing quite a bit of structural damage to quite a few buildings – including my family home in 256 Main Street. So much so that it was declared unsafe and we were allocated one of the flats in the Alameda estate.
In July 1951 we moved out of 256 and into No 45 in Alameda House the second from the north of the six housing blocks. The rent was six pounds a month. Alameda House was different to the other blocks – it was M shaped and it surrounded an enormous eucalyptus – which I would hazard as being the largest tree on the Rock both then and now.
The eucalyptus tree at Alameda House
The design ensured that Alameda House lacked a central patio de vecinos, a feature that was common to almost all the other flats. The most distinctive feature of No 45 was a veranda with a pleasant view of the Middle Hill section of the Rock. Straight ahead lay the entrance to the Alameda Gardens although the whole was somewhat spoilt by a rather dingy car park on the east side of Red Sands Road with numerous Nissen huts.
Nissen huts on the north side of the Car Park in front of the Alameda Housing Estate – the two blocks from left are Kingsway and Alameda House the white building to the right was the Queen’s Cinema
Not everybody who returned from the evacuation were as lucky as we were and for far too long large areas on either side of the estate were covered in so called “temporary accommodation” while the authorities tried their best to find them a better and more permanent place to live in – at least I hope they did but the truth is they took a hell of a long time to come up with a solution.
Nissen hut community on the west side of the estate. It was known as La Batería on the grounds that it occupied an area that had once been the site of Jumper’s Bastion – who said Gibraltarians don’t know their history!
The southern end of Red Sands Road looking North ( 1950s )
Another less welcome feature was the fact that the water used for bathing and washing was piped in from the sea. Apart from the discomfort of having to wash in salt water it also meant that the water heaters, which were not designed for the job, corroded and leaked in no time at all. There were also two dingy and not very safe looking lifts and the rubbish was disposed of via unhygienic shoots, strategically situated at both ends of each floor.
Bird’s eye views of the Alameda Housing Estate and surrounding area taken in 1971
The old postcard shown above confirms local misgivings as to how one should spell “Humphreys” – should it be “Humphrys”, “Humphry’s”, “Humphries”, “Humphrie’s” . . . .or Humphyrey’s ? No wonder we opted for “los Humfri”! The estate, as far as I know is still there. More than 60 years on, I remember it well.
With acknowledgements to T.J. Finlayson and Manolo Galliano – Gibraltar Heritage Journals - 2011 and 2012