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Central Hall, including Refectory

Ref: HLBP1/027

Originally, a military chapel, the Central Hall has been used as a concert hall and event venue for the last 50 years. It has recently undergone major refurbishment to modernise the Hall, which includes the restoration of the original stained glass windows rediscovered after wooden panelling was removed from the East-facing wall.

The South Barracks Chapel, as the building was formally known was built during the early 1860’s. It was constructed by the Royal Engineers 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 inadvertently proves that the chapel was still under construction at the time. The area chosen for the construction of the chapel was a levelled terrace directly to the West of the Officer’s North Pavilion.

St Josephs from Sand Pits by Benjamin Bowling, 1861.

1861 - South Chapel Church Benjamin Bowling detail.

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). This site later became part of the refectory building and exterior courtyard of the present GPA premises.

The refectory itself was originally built as an infant school, probably one of the regimental schools, which provided free education to army children. Older children would have attended the Anglican school at Brympton in the South District. Local children also attended these schools until the establishment of St. Joseph’s Infant School to cater for the Catholic education of children in the South District.

Ordnance Survey map, 1865 - South Barracks.

During WWII, the chapel building was used temporarily as a store by the RASC. Two Nissen huts built on the northern side of the main hall was later used as a Sunday school as well as by the 3rd Sea Scout Troop. The huts have since been demolished.

On the 27th April 1951, the RFA Bedenham, a naval armament carrier of the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary exploded while docked in Gibraltar, killing 13 people and causing a great deal of damage to the town. The explosion also shattered all windows of the Chapel, including the stained glass windows on the East wall. The damage may have proved the death knell of the South Barracks Chapel for 6 months later it ceased its religious activities.

Military wedding, South Barrack Church, 1926.

South Barrack Church parade circa 1930's.

Rev. D. Glanfield C.F, the last Chaplain of South Barrack Church published the South Barrack Magazine for his small congregation. The last leaflet dated 1st November 1951, provides a few titbits of information gathered over the church’s last 70 years, with the Reverend expressing regret that there were very few surviving records even as the church became redundant. The church ceased activities two weeks later.

South Barrack Magazine cover page.

South Barrack Magazine p.1.

South Barrack Magazine p.2.

South Barrack Magazine p.3.

South Barrack Church Sunday School certificate.

By the mid 1950’s, as Spanish pressure on the Rock intensified, the hall became a regular feature of local entertainment. Dances, weddings and concerts were all held there particularly during the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. A number of exterior and interior additions, all but destroyed the character of this historical building. This included the kitchen, cloakrooms and WC’s built on the West wing and the annexation of the old Infant School with the East wing of the building. Within the hall itself, the original façade was plastered over, the roof lowered and the stained glass window boarded up. Since the 1950’s, the hall has lost much of its former splendour.

Tarik Dance Orchestra Central Hall 1956

Old Tyme and Modern Sequence Dance Club before restoration of the Central Hall.

In 2018, the Central Hall was included in the schedule of the Heritage and Antiquities Act and in 2020, Gibraltar Cultural Services, on behalf of the Ministry for Culture, began an extensive refurbishment programme, which has respected the original form, revealing the elegant celling, with its original iron supports, and exposing areas of the original stonework in the inner walls.

state of the exterior stained glass facade.

Interior stained glass window covered up.

Refurbishment and restoration works Central Hall, 2020.

Refurbishment and restoration works Central Hall, 2020.

In August 2020, the Gibraltar Cultural Service launched a stained glass window competition with the support of the Ministry for Heritage and the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. The winner of the competition is Sean Ballester with a piece titled ‘The Dance’. The winning design honours the past and the present capturing the essence of this historical venue. It celebrates moments of connection, joy, laughter and love and represents many of the elements, which the Central Hall embodies.

The trio of stained glass windows once completed will be predominant feature at the Hall and will be permanently displayed at the eastern end.

Fully restored and refurbished Central Hall interior.

Glass stained design submitted by Mr. sean Ballester.

Central Hall, including Refectory Image