Font size






18th Century barrack complexes

Ref: HLBP1/029

South Barracks was inaugurated into its present school facilities on the 19th May 1992 by the then Minister for Education, the Hon J L Moss. It houses two schools - St Joseph’s First, located on the south block and St Joseph’s Middle on the north block. The two schools share the same reception area in the centre of the building.

South Barracks was built between 1730 and 1735 and for a time was referred to in Garrison Orders as New Barracks; it later became known as the Grand Barracks. The original barracks consisted of a long block running north to south with two Officers pavilions forming a large quadrangle. The space between these three buildings was used as the barracks parade square. The barrack complex was originally capable of accommodating 1200 officers and men but over time, as more space was allocated to each individual soldier, the number was gradually reduced to a maximum of two infantry companies by the 20th Century.

An exact plan of the fortifications of Gibraltar, 1723.

The original plans for the Grand Barracks was drawn by James Gabriel Montressor, a former bombardier in the Royal Artillery who had been granted a commission as an engineer in 1831. In 1747, he succeeded William Skinner as Chief Engineer of Gibraltar. Montressor had been present during the brief siege of Gibraltar in 1727 and had been one of the original signatories in the foundation of the first Masonic Lodge, known as the Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem No. 51, which had been founded in 1726 or 1727. In 1752, Montressor by now a Colonel was appointed Provincial Grand Master for Gibraltar remaining in post until he finally left the Rock in 1754.1

During his time as engineer, Montressor drew up a significant number of plans and designs leading to the construction of some of the finest military buildings in Gibraltar, which are still extant today - including the Naval Hospital, Town Range Barracks, the Main Guard and the Landport façades and tunnel. He also drew up a number of maps of Gibraltar, the coast of Spain and Barbary as well as the impressively detailed Survey of the Town of Gibraltar, showing Government property, which was completed in 1753.

Plan of the Ithsmus, City, Fortifications &Ca, of Gibraltar by James Gabriel Montresor, 1751.

As was the custom at the time, construction of military works would be drawn out by military engineers, but actual construction would be undertaken by civilians contracted for that purpose. The main military contractor in Gibraltar during the 1720’s was John Ward. Ward, like Montressor, was also a founder member of the Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem No. 51, the first military Lodge outside the British Isles.2

Ward himself had previously served in the military, having been commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy on the 8th Dec 1695, and it is said that he served under Admiral Sir George Rooke and Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, taking part in the Anglo-Dutch capture of Gibraltar in 1704.3

In the mid-1720’s, John Ward’s connections with the Rock appears to have served him well for he returned to Gibraltar as a Master Mason to be engaged in various military building works, which according to Tito Benady, may have included Town Range Barracks and the Naval Hospital.4

Ward’s only son, John Ward, born in 1726 is described as ‘an infant, under guardianship,’ which suggests that John Ward Senior died probably around the time that South Barracks was being constructed.5

John Ward’s wife, Elizabeth, remained in Gibraltar with her son. Bland’s Court of Enquiry of 1749, shows that she was residing in a small building ‘enclosed with a wall, at the South end of the Garrison Victualing Office,’ which had been purchased by her late husband.6

John Ward Junior, meanwhile, would rise to become not only Garrison Paymaster in Gibraltar, but running a privateer vessel during the Seven Years war would establish the Ward dynasty as one of the leading merchant families on the Rock.7

The South Barrcaks, James Gabriel Montresor, 1751.

The area selected for the construction of the new barracks was two distinct ridges overlooking the New Mole Fort and separated by three natural gullies to the North, South and West. The northern ridge was known as Mount Sanul according a General Plan of the Town and Peninsula of Gibraltar dated 1725. Before construction, the ridges were levelled, forming an inverted U around the centre gully. The main building consisted of two main blocks stretching for 490 feet (150m) from North to South. A number of outbuildings, now demolished, were located behind the main barracks consisting of kitchens and ablutions. In front of the barracks, at each corner of the parade ground were the two Pavilions for the accommodation of the Officers. These two buildings remain in use as residential apartments.

Officer Pavilion, James Gabriel Montresor, 1751.

The entire barrack complex was flanked between Picardo’s Vineyard and the Navy Hospital to the South and a public house situated in the area of what is now St. Joseph’s Church and Francis Buildings. To the West directly in front of the barracks stood the New Mole Fort and the Rosia Batteries.  Also at some distance, in the front of the barracks, two Grand Magazines, (one magazines remains within The Anchorage properties) were subsequently built in the 1750’s, in which the supplies from England were usually deposited, before being distributed to the other magazines. All these key points were to be covered by the reinforcements arriving from the 1,000 strong force located at South Barracks.

A General Plan of Gibraltar, James Gabriel Montresor, 1742.

In 1770, William Green proposed placing field artillery as a retired battery in support of the New Mole Fort but nothing came of it. However, in 1781, it is reported that there were two 4-pounder guns stationed on the parade ground but these were used as alarm guns during the siege, rather than as supporting artillery.

Quentin Hughes and Athanassios Migos describe the barrack design as showing all the hallmarks of being designed by military engineers rather than civilian architects; a strong rusticated base and strange block mouldings are used instead of a classical cornice.8

However, the barracks was designed using the same blueprint, which a few years later was used in the construction of the Town Range Barracks which local historian Tito Benady describes them ‘as probably the most magnificent buildings of the British period in Gibraltar.9

Town Range Barracks built in 1740.

Grand or New Barracks was ideally located in the south primarily to provide reinforcements to the New Mole Fort and the Rosia Batteries as well as providing healthier accommodation to the troops, away from the squalid conditions found in casemated accommodation along the North Front and direct line of fire of the Spanish guns along the isthmus.


The rotation of the troops defending the city during the bombardment of the town in April 1781 is carefully recorded by Drinkwater:10

The troops in town, in the afternoon began to encamp at the southward, and to be regularly distributed amongst the casemates in town. The following was the arrangement. To the Hanoverians was allotted the bomb-proofs under the Grand battery, occupied by the picquets, which in consequence removed to Land-port gateway, and Prince of Hess’s casemates. The 12th, 39th, and 56th regiments, were ordered to possess Montague’s casemates with the Galley-house, and Water-port gateway: those who could not be accommodated in these quarters, encamped above the South barracks, and Navy hospital on the declivity of the hill: the 72d regiment totally withdrew into the King’s bastion, and the 58th and 73d regiments remained in the South barracks: the artillery and engineers were disposed on the same plan.

Museo Naval de Madrid - South Barracks, 1782.

Three months later the troops were rotated again:11

The troops in garrison changed quarters on the 21st: the 39th and Hardenberg's regiments relieved the 72d, and other detachments in King's and Montague's bastions, Waterport-casemate, and Picquet-yard. The 58th, 72d, and 73d regiments encamped; the 12th regiment remained on their ground; and the 56th, Reden's, and La Motte's, occupied the South barracks, and other quarters.

Despite the distance from the main Spanish batteries over 3.5 km away, the barracks was not immune to shell fire, nor from being harassed by mortar fire from the swarm of gunboats that approached the area of Rosia under cover of night. Both Drinkwater and Spilsbury recall how one shell fired from the Mill Battery in the isthmus, landed in the middle yard of South Barracks. Drinkwater adds that a splinter of this shell flew to the Naval Hospital.12

In September, Drinkwater again reported that:13

The evening of the 7th, the Captain at Willis's again endeavoured to set fire to the weeds, &c. in the gardens, which from their height afforded great cover to the Enemy's advanced sentries; and in executing these orders a brisk cannonade was returned by the Enemy, which continued till day-break… In the course of this firing, several shot from the Lines ranged as far as the South barracks and New mole….

Spilsbury also notes several shots landing in the South Barracks:

6th [July]. Wind the same. P.M. A shot came from Fort Phillip to the middle yard South Barracks, and buried itself 5 feet in the ground.14

19th, [Nov] Wind the same. The Dons throw long rangers now, from the Mill Battery, all about the South Barracks.15

Drinkwater summarized the reasons for such long-ranged shells as follows:16

In the forenoon of the 16th, a long-ranged shell, from the St. Carlos’s battery, burst in the air over Hardy town, and a splinter of it flew into the sea, beyond Buena-Vista, a distance of more than three miles. Another shell fell, in the course of the morning, at the foot of a wine-house, south of the barracks; and several burst high in the air over south shed. We attributed these uncommon long ranges to the force of the wind, which, blowing in the same direction in which the shells were thrown, undoubtedly increased their velocity.

Despite the damage inflicted on such a large and obvious target, the artificers continued to repair the barracks and on the 27th April 1782, Spilsbury records in his diary that a clock was put up at South Barracks.17

General view of the siege and bombardment of Gibraltar, 1782.

However, it was not until 1812 that a plan for completing the South Barracks was drawn by R Woodward, Clerk of Works. The plans primarily centred on ablutions for the barracks to be built at the rear of the barracks, which also included extra stores, a magazine and a canteen. Of these, only the magazine is extant today.

Further proposals to build a Guard House and two drainage tanks to the West of the Parade Ground as well as building a boundary wall to the North and South to enclose the parade ground was never erected. The plans did not include any changes to the physical aspect of the exterior facades, except for the addition of a pitched roof for the barracks and pavilions. A watercolour of the barracks and pavilions from the Navy Hospital by George Lothian Hall dated to 1844, shows that the original design remained the same.

Plan of the South Barracks, 1812.

South Barracks, Gibraltar (1844) by George Lothian Hall.

Early photographs of the South Barracks taken in the 1860’s and early 1870’s again shows the barracks without the distinctive arches and verandas. The adoption of such features followed on the report made in the Barrack and Hospital Improvement Commission of 1857, which found the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of British barracks and hospitals accounted for an excessive death rate from zymotic diseases such as fevers, cholera, diarrhoea and consumption. These were attributed to the effects of crowding, poor ventilation, bad water, bad drainage, bad cooking arrangements, badly chosen sites, and the absence of the means of cleanliness. The report found that the annual death rate amongst the troops occupying them was 17.5 per 1,000 compared to 9.5 per 1,000 amongst the English male population.

The report recommended simpler and healthy principles for the construction of future barracks and hospitals, for ensuring better drainage, efficient ventilation, more cubic space for both sick and well, and greater facilities for administration and discipline, have been laid down. By 1861, these recommendations had been extended to the Mediterranean Stations and implemented as part of the wider Army sanitary administration and its reform under the late Lord Herbert (1862).

South Barracks 1860's.

South Barracks and South Pavillion 1860's.

The reduction of troops accommodated at the South Barracks naturally necessitated the construction of new Quarters for Sergeants and married men. The Barrack Warden’s Quarters was situated directly in front of the Barracks, between the two pavilions. A number of Married Quarters were built to the North and South of the main barracks, including the Scud Hill Married Quarters built in 1872 and completed by 1874.

George Washington Wilson South Barracks.

George Washington Wilson South Barracks from the East.

The well-being of the soldiers and their families South Barrack Chapel and infant school (Central Hall), a racquet court (old Squash Club) and the Recreation Rooms. The South Barracks Chapel was constructed by the Royal Engineers in 1861 making it contemporary with the nearby St. Joseph’s Church. A photograph by Benjamin Browning dated 1861 shows the completed exterior of St. Joseph’s Church with the South Barracks Chapel in the background minus the roof, which reveals that the chapel was still under construction at the time. The Officers’ Racquet Court was probably constructed between 1867 and 1873. The Gibraltar 1865 Rock model shows the completed chapel but not the racquet court which would be built a few years later. Both buildings bear similarities in building construction – irregular limestone stonework supported by recessed plain red brick reveals over an unusual lightweight roof structure conforming to an 1858 Royal Engineer template. The 1888 Gibraltar Directory describes the facilities at the South Barracks Officers’ Racquet Court as ‘commodious and fitted with every convenience’.

St Josephs from Sand Pits showing the construction of the South Barrack Chapel in the background.

Gibraltar Rock model dated 1865.

South Barracks Officers’ Racquet Court - detail.

South Barracks Chapel - detail.

Central Hall exterior - detail.

Meanwhile, the Recreation Rooms built towards the rear of the barrack complex dates to 1895. It is composed of amber stock brick, largely in stretcher bond, with alternate English Cross or Dutch Bond for the front entrance façade. The round-arched heads windows and main arches are dressed with red brickwork and red brickwork is similarly used to define each level for the three-storey structure. Directly behind the building stood the stables and a ball court, which was until recently, used as parking facilities for GBC vehicles and staff. The rifle range to the left of the Recreation rooms is now used by the Europa FC and Gibraltar Darts Association, whilst to the left stands an old armoury made entirely of limestone blocks probably dating to the 1840’s is now abandoned and in quite a derelict state.

Within the interior complex, other periphery buildings still in use today include the old Sergeants Mess built in 1904, which today houses the South District Senior Citizens social Club and located on the south side of the interior courtyard, and the old canteen located on the north side, today used as the school’s music room.

Recreation Rooms, 1895

Contemporary photographs of the South Barracks taken in 1902 show the façade extension that incorporates the iconic arches and verandas of today. The extension was probably built at the same time as the other construction works that started in 1895 and possibly completed by 1900. Two photographs by J. J. Sterico, dated to 1902, are amongst the earliest images to show the arches and verandas extension on the main building.

J.J. Sterico - Regiment on parade, South Barracks, 1902.

J.J. Sterrico - Wrongly named 'old Spanish Barracks', 1902.

South Barracks sergeants Mess design plan, 1904.

In December 1872, the Director of Artillery and Stores reported that a 9-inch RML gun was to be mounted at South Barracks but that work had not started. This proposal was never implemented. The exact site, as intended, is not known but it is most likely to have been to the west of South Barracks Chapel, which was used as a gun position in World War II, and known as Low's (qv). In World War II, the parade ground was a roving gun position for one 25 pounder and the south end of the roof of the main block was the position for a twin AALMG emplacement. Two Nissen huts on the northern side of the main hall was used after the war by the 3rd Sea Scout Troop. The huts have since been demolished.

Other WWII features, however, remain extant, such as the concrete pillbox opposite the northern corner of the barracks. It covered the junction between North Pavilion Road, Rodger’s Road and South Barracks Road to the East and Scud Hill to the North. This defensive structure was erected as part of the Rock’s defences in response to Operation Felix, the German plan to attack Gibraltar, which in the end never materialized.

WWII Pill Box, South Barracks.

However, it is recorded that on the 24th September 1940, over forty French Potez and Glen Martin aircraft raided the Rock in revenge for the attempted Allied landing at Dakar. Between 1255 and 1530 hours, thirty bombs fell on the Dockyard area and to the south. There was damage to naval store buildings, the Dutch Shell Store, the South Generating Station, Married Quarters in Naval Hospital Road, Europa Barrack Block, King George V Hospital and St Jago's Barracks. One bomb actually landed in the centre of South Barracks Parade Ground and two at the top of Scud Hill.

Searchlights on the Rock of Gibraltar, 1942.

After WWII, the MoD implemented the Military Town Planning Scheme, moving many service members out of the city and into the southern parts of the Rock to make way for housing and services for the returning Gibraltarian evacuees. South Barracks and Lathbury Barracks now became the main infantry barracks for the resident battalions, although other units were also billeted at South Barracks from time to time. For example, in 1963 there were three Royal Engineer units based in South Barracks in Gibraltar: 1st Fortress Squadron, responsible for Power stations maintenance (Calpe Hole PS & Windmill Hill PS), HQ Squadron and 32 Engineer Squadron (Tunnelers).

By 1990, South Barracks had achieved the distinction of being oldest British Army Barracks in mainland Europe with around 260 years continuous service. It was handed over to the Gibraltar Government a year later.

South Barracks circa 1990.

South Barracks circa 1990.

South Barracks complex, circa 1930's.

South Barracks, 1910.

South Barracks, 1910.

South Barracks and South Pavillion, 1860's.

New Mole (South) Barracks and church, circa 1870's.

18th Century barrack complexes Image