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Dockyard Clock tower

Ref: HLFP3/009

The original Dockyard Clock Tower stood on a rocky outcrop which formed the foundations of a medieval tower known as la Torre del Tuerto which formed part of the defences of the New Mole. This tower protected the approaches to the New Mole along the Colorada (Red Sands). During the Anglo-Dutch assault on the Rock in 1704 the tower, which the Spaniards had mined before retreating, was completely destroyed causing huge deaths and casualties. John Drinkwater in his History of the Siege of Gibraltar described the action:

By daybreak on the 23rd [Julian Calendar], the ships appointed to cannonade the town, under admirals Byng and Vanderdussen, with those that were destined to batter the new mole, commanded by captains Hicks and Jumper, were at their several stations. The admiral made the signal to begin the cannonade, which was performed with great vivacity and effect, so that the enemy, in five or six hours, were driven from their guns, especially from the new mole head.

The admiral, considering that by gaining that fortification the town might sooner be reduced, ordered captain Whitaker, with the armed boats, to possess himself of it; but captains Hicks and Jumper, who lay next the mole, pushed ashore with their pinnaces, before the rest came up; whereupon the Spaniards sprung a mine, which blew up the fortifications, killed 2 lieutenants and 40 men, and wounded 60. The assailants nevertheless kept possession of the work, and being joined by captain Whitaker, advanced and took a small redoubt half-way between the mole and the town.

Taking of Gibraltar in 17041, la Torre del Tuerto can be seen at the end of the New Mole.

The British subsequently built a triangular shaped redoubt where the Torre Del Tuerto once stood and built a tower at its eastern apex. This tower appears in William Skinner’s View of the South Front of the Mountain of Gibraltar drawn by William Test in 1740. This heavily fortified tower probably served as a staircase controlling the access from the rocky outcrop above to the naval yard directly below.

1740- William Test - William Skinner - Ruins of Tuerto. The British tower can be seen at the extreme right of the picture.

By the end of the 18th Century the yard was being significantly expanded and a number of stores and workshops were built – one of which appears to have been attached to the lower section of the tower on its east wing. This same building, probably a naval store or workshop, also housed a small cupula crowned with what appears to be a weather-vane on its west wing. Both the tower and small cupula is clearly shown in an 1808 sketch by John Carr.

A lithograph of the Line Wall by the Maltese artist Filippo Benucci dating to around 1826 show the west tower much as it was in 1808 – however the cupula on its east wing is now a much larger and taller structure. In this print the original cupula has been enlarged and extended to include a new block housing four dark-faced clocks and a belfry and cupula capped by a crown and weather vane. What is not clear is whether this belry and cupula was commissioned by the British or part of an already existing cupula and crown which at some point the military had removed from one of the commandeered Spanish chapels or shrines and later used to crown the new clock tower at the naval yard.

This idea might not be too far-fetched for it is known that a few decades earlier, just before the start of the Great Siege, Governor Eliott had ordered the removal of all prominent towers, including the belfry at the Convent chapel, to deny the Spanish gunners any potential reference points with which to direct their fire. The event was recorded by Drinkwater who wrote that ‘…the towers of the most conspicuous buildings were taken down’, whilst Miriam Green’s (wife of Colonel William Green) own diary entry for the 19th September 1779 specifically recorded that ‘In the course of the last week – about Friday - the cupola of the White Convent was taken down, also the arch and upper part of the Governor's Church’. In the course of the siege, the convent and chapel suffered extensive damage and in the subsequent reparation works which took decades to complete the original belfry was never restored.

1808 John Carr Gib south of town showing tower (left) and weather vane (right) of the building below the guns.

1828 - F. Benucci - View of Dockyards from New Alameda Gardens. The clock, cupula and what appears to be a cross can be seen emerging from the building block.

By the 1850’s most of the buildings had been demolished and new stores and workshops erected in their place. The original tower leading to the redoubt was preserved and in actually increased in height with the addition of an extra storey on top of which the two sections of the east tower containing the clock mechanisms, cupula and weather-vane was now added. A Francis Firth photograph dating from the 1860’s clearly shows the more modern new clock tower, with its original cupula and clock faces built above the darker foundations of the original tower. All this work would have been carried out by the convict establishment responsible for much of the works on the dockyard during this period.

This new clock tower structure was almost identical in design to the two contemporary dockyard clock towers at HM Dockyard in Bermuda with the exception the Bermuda clock towers were adorned with a much more elongated crown.

One of the two clock towers at HM Dockyard Bermuda. It is almost identical in design to the Gibraltar Clock Tower.

1850 - Francis Frith - View Mole and Clock Tower.

1890s - G Washington Wilson - New Mole. The old Clock Tower is still in its original position.

Clock tower with Dry Docks being constructed in the background.

In 1871, Captain Augustus Phillimore made the proposal that a new naval dockyard should be constructed in Gibraltar. Phillimore's scheme lay dormant in the Admiralty for 22 years before it was put to Parliament in 1895. The work included the lengthening of the South Mole and construction of three large dry docks which required the demolition of the rocky outcrop and original clock tower to accommodate the dockyard extension.

A new Clock Tower was erected immediately to the south-west of the old tower. The original cupola and dark faced clocks from the old tower were once again removed and placed on the new 1897 tower but within a few years that the older dark faced clock was replaced by the present white one. The entrance to the tower, accessed from the present Gibdock site, displays a headstone showing the date of completion - 1897, and the initials V.R [Victoria Regina].

Construction of the docks, the clock tower is yet to be moved.

1897 Graphic showing demolition of the old clocktower and erection of new one.

Clock Tower demolition 1897.

Postcard showing new Dockyard Tower by Cumberland area.

Cumberland Road - Tower Buildings and Dockyard Clock Tower.

During the construction of Bay View Terraces in 2006 one of the engineers on site noticed a crack in the stone of the crown of the Clock Tower. Upon further investigation it was realized that the stone had a considerable crack which made it unsafe. As a result, the top stone finial with its weather vane was removed and placed in storage.

In 2014, the Gibraltar Heritage Trust consulted Minister for Heritage Steven Linares for a way to restore the tower to its original condition. Following discussions, the Trust obtained a quote from a private contractor to carry out the restoration work which was to be paid for by the Government but managed by the Trust. This joint restoration project resulted in the weather vane being refurbished and the top stone finial being finally securely fixed to the tower. The Clock Tower is therefore once again complete.

New Dockyard tower 1898. Note the original black clockface is still in place.

Clock Tower - headstone.

Tower Building and Cumberland Buildings circa 1970's.

Dockyard weather vane restoration 2014.

Dockyard Clock tower Image