Membership of the library increased dramatically as increasing numbers of Naval Officers became subscribers coinciding with Gibraltar’s emerging strategic importance as Britain’s main naval base of operations in the Western Mediterranean. One subscriber and early supporter of the scheme being Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl of St. Vincent, who as a naval officer had been present at the relief of Gibraltar in 1781.
Books continued to be purchased and such was the success of the library scheme that by early 1799 it became clear by the ever-growing number of subscribers that a move to larger premises was becoming a practical necessity. Representations were made for the erection of a purpose-built edifice to house the ever-growing library collection. Cost for erecting such a purpose-built library was estimated at around £1,200 of which over £500 was raised. In February that same year, the newly appointed Governor, General Charles O’Hara, already a keen supporter of the scheme, took the liberty to write to HRH Prince Frederick, Duke of York, Commander in Chief of the British Army, to assist in the matter. The Duke of York in turn approached the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, who readily approved the idea, and more importantly, committed the British Government to the execution of the whole construction. By May 1799, the Duke informed O’Hara of the Government’s decision and further ordered that the entire amount of £562 12s, which had been ‘so handsomely and so liberally subscribed in aid of the purpose, may be returned to the subscribers’.2
Conveniently, a vacant site overlooking Gunner’s Parade (now Governor’s Parade) was identified for the erection of the new library. According to the Spanish historian, Ignacio López de Ayala, writing in 1782, this site had once formed a garden belonging to the Spanish Governor. The open space in front of which ‘yielded sufficient grass to supply, throughout the year, his own horses and the cattle employed in the public works’.3 Later, part of the garden area was leased and became known as Huerta Riera [Riera’s Orchard] after the market gardeners, Miguel Riera and his son Patricio who were working this piece of land in the mid-18th century. The Riera’s were an agricultural family who grew fruit and vegetables from various orchards, one above Gunner’s parade and another near Landport, the produce of which was then sold from their shop in Whirlgig Lane (now City Mill Lane). Montresor’s 1753 map shows an area described as an Inhabitant’s Garden, above French Parade (as it was known before being called Gunner’s Parade) which would suggest this was indeed the site of Huerta Riera described later by Ayala. Patrick Riera also owned property at Irish Town as shown in the 1777 population census but neither he, nor the rest of his family, returned to the Rock after the Great Siege. More than twenty years later, and with no claim to the land, it was this vacant plot, and a much larger plot known as the ‘Governor’s Garden’ which was to be gifted by the Government to the trustees of the new library.