Garrison Library, Governor's Parade, Gibraltar. Architect: Captain Fyers (afterwards Major-General) of the Royal Engineers. 1800-1804, with a new wing which was added in 1867. The building is of white stone, in Regency style, and set amid pleasant grounds which had once been grazing land for the governor's horses and cattle. It stands on a slope above Main Street, and makes a pleasant oasis after the bustle of town.
Left to right: (a) Partial view of the rear elevation. (b) Spiral external staircase. (c) Courtyard at the back.
The idea for such a library had originated with Captain (afterwards Colonel) John Drinkwater, who had regretted the lack of such a facility during the great Siege of Gibraltar (of which he wrote the contemporary account). Others, notably the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor of the time, chipped in at the beginning, and, as the number of books in its original Main Street premises increased, Pitt the Younger agreed that the government would foot the cost for the new building.
A larger area of garden is accessed from the courtyard.
Fyers himself not only pushed for such a facility, but became its first librarian. The library, was soon well stocked. When Disraeli visited in 1830, he was pleased to report that both the Garrison Library and the Merchants' Library (built later, in 1817-18, for the civilian population) had copies of his novel, Vivian Grey (see O'Kell 36; it is interesting that he should have visited both). By 1920 the Garrison Library could be described in the US Navy's Guide to the Ports of the World as "the finest institution of its kind in any of the Englsh possessions" (18). According to the same source, by then it contained nearly 40,000 volumes.
The Garrison Library now holds a splendid collection of books about Gibraltar. When visited in 2018, it was hosting a very informative exhibition, "Armistice: Transition to Peace," commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War, and featuring some of its famous illustrators in Punch and other illustrated magazines. The arrival of peace was evidently a much more fraught process than we tend to assume.
Large ground floor library room. (b) Smaller reading room with display cabinets. (c) Grand staircase to first floor rooms.
The library was always much more than a repository for military books. Young officers, often on their posting abroad, could make use of its facilities for further military preparation, but also for companionship, recreation and relaxation. It clearly served the function of a club-away-from-home, helping to explain why another library was needed in town for those engaged in trade, business and so forth.
Text and photographs by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.
Chipulina, Neville. "1817 - Exchange Library of Gibraltar — The Response." The People of Gibraltar. Web. 25 January 2019.
_____. "The Garrison Library — A Gentleman's Club." The People of Gibraltar. Web. 25 January 2019.
"Garrison Library." Gibraltar Info. Web. 25 January 2019.
"Gibraltar Garrison Library and Gardens." Gibraltar Heritage Trust. Web. 25 January 2019.
O'Kell, Robert P. Disraeli and the Romance of Politics. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2013.
U.S. Navy: Ports of the World. Washington: US Government, 1920. Internet Archive. Contributed by the University of California Libraries. Web. 25 January 2019.
Created 24 January 2019