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Ragged Staff Gates

Ref: HLFP3/031

The origin of the name Ragged Staff is unclear; one theory is that it is the symbol for Morvidus who was a legendary Earl of Warwick. He fought and killed a giant using an uprooted tree, hence the symbol of a ragged staff. Another credible alternative being the fact that the Emperor Charles V included the Ragged Staffs of Burgundy as part of his Coat of Arms and that this symbol was placed near the Ragged Staff area before being removed by the British post-1704. Two crossed ragged staffs were also the battle flag emblem of the Spanish army in the 17th and 18th centuries and this too could have been depicted somewhere near the gates giving rise to the name.

Bear and Ragged Staff ancient heraldic motif used by the Earls of Warwick.

Coat of Arms of the Emperor Charles V. The crossed ragged staffs can be seen behind the double-headed eagle.

Spanish battle flag captured during the Grand Assault in September 1782. It was presented to Naval lieutenant James Robert Mosse for his actions during the Battle of the Floating Batteries in 1782. Lt. Mosse would later be killed commanding HMS Monarch during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

There is evidence that a previous medieval sea-gate, known as the Puerta de Algeciras, had been built close to the present Ragged Staff Gates cut into the old Moorish defensive wall defences built by Abu l Hasan in 1333. Its name probably comes from the fact that it was directly facing the Spanish town of the same name just across the Bay.

In the early 17th century Portillo described it as follows: ‘Following the line wall and next to el baluarte del Rosario there was an elegant Moorish gate called la Puerta de Algeciras where one could also find a key symbol similar to that found in la Puerta ded Granada which was of similar construction’.

The gate is also mentioned in 1469 in a decree issued by Enrique IV of Castile in which he concedes Gibraltar to the Duke of Medina Sidonia, Enrique de Guzman. It reinforces the suggestion that the gate may have been of Moorish origin. This gate was probably destroyed in the 16th century during the construction of Charles V's Wall. In its place, a defensive ditch was dug and turned into a dry moat with a wooden palisade built at the base facing the sea, exactly where the present Ragged Staff Gates now stands. Following the British capture of Gibraltar in 1704, the southern sections of the Line Wall were extended and reinforced with the wooden palisade replaced by a stone wall flanked by South Bastion to the right and Ragged Staff Flank to the left. The first Ragged Staff Gate was cut through this new defensive wall in 1736. The new gate led to Ordnance Wharf which projected in front of what is now the Dockyard's North Gate. The gates were defended at all times by soldiers who operated from a guardroom located in an enclosure directly below Ragged Staff Flank.

1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña map of the Southern defenses.

In 1755, according to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas James, in his History of the Herculean Straits, ‘the Ragged Staff is a wharf built by the contractor of the Victualling office in one thousand seven hundred and thirty-six, to land provisions near the magazine: this wharf is carried into the bay three hundred and fifty feet in length, with a return to break off the south-west winds; upon this return is a store-house. The communication of this quay to the line wall within the covert way of South port is by a flight of thirty-one stone steps, at the landing of which is a draw-bridge, thrown over every morning and raised every night…. From the covert way South port to this work there are two flanks, upon one a crane is built to land stores from the ragged staff, the other has an embrasure, this wall is likewise continued to the new mole fort, and two flanks of two guns each front the eight-gun battery.’

1747 - Unknown - Annotated Showing Puerta de Mar Ragged Staff.

1779 - William Test - detail from a 1740 sketch by William Skinner.

In his Report of 1841, Sir John Jones was highly critical of the state of the Ragged Staff Gates stating:

The portion of the sea line proposed to be covered by the projected work is strikingly defective being low, ill flanked and partly without rampart or parapet. At this ill conditioned spot most foreigners and strangers disembark, and its extremely unmilitary appearance, as well as apparently defenceless state, strikes everyone with astonishment, and has given rise to much of the reproach cast on the neglected state of the defences. The sea front of the projected couvreport (on the line now occupied by Ragged Staff Gates) is a prolongation of the right face of the South bastion, and draws its defence from the same flank within the Town. The left face is in the ordinary position of a flank (now to be recognised as Ragged Staff Flank) and besides the object of forming a close defence to the southern sea wall it serves as a powerful flanking battery to scour over the Bay even beyond the Hew Mole. The pier forming the landing place called Ragged Staff Wharf, is highly objectionable but as it has been established nearly a century I am unwilling to propose its removal, but have endeavoured to lessen the facility it offers for surprising the place, by insulating the Pier and preserving the existing escarpe wall as a second defence within the entrance, so that all who pass through the Gate shall find themselves in a ditch surrounded by high walls with only one point of ascent, and that being merely a detached spiral ladder or stairs. I consider this couvreport, both for the sake of appearance and from its real value, to claim very early precedence in the labours of reform.

WO78 715 - 1826 Plan for the re-alignment of the Line Wall. Ragged Staff Gates and Flank (detail).

The work was obviously considered important for the finance was authorized in 1841/1842 and the work was actually completed in August 1844. This included the re-alignment of the Line Wall from South Bastion to Ragged Staff Flank first proposed under the 1826 Plan. With this extension the first gate for pedestrian passage was cut through on left side of the main gates in 1843 during these works, the second pedestrian gate would be cut later in 1921. Access to this gate from the Ragged Staff Wharf was via a pontoon which lead to a drawbridge. Once inside the couvreport civilian access was via a spiral staircase up to Ragged Staff Guard House. The nearby Ragged Staff Guard house could be seen by approaching ships. In the 1840’s, after the new alterations had been made, it was said to be a full-time job for the subaltern who had to inspect all the goods that went through the gates. This Guard House was built on the site of an earlier Spanish Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary [Nuestra Señora del Rosario]. This building is now the premises for the Piccadilly Restaurant. A second gate, defended by a moat, existed on the extreme right of the old Line Wall led to the military arsenal below the Southport Ditch.

Maps showing War Department and Admiralty Properties 1861-63, Ragged Staff (WO 78 4448)

Ragged Staff original wall.

Ragged Staff Pedestrian Gate 1921.

Ragged Staff pedestrian Gate 1843.

Original spiral staircase entrance later replaced with stone steps.

Ragged Staff Guard House.

During WWI a maxim machine gun was erected above the gates on a concrete mount which can still be seen today.

After the reclamation of the Queensway the area behind the Ragged Staff Gates was no longer required for defence purposes and a condensing and pumping station was built adjacent the South Bastion by the Sanitary Commission. A large gate for vehicular traffic was cut during the expansion of the Naval Dockyard at the end of the 19th Century or early 20th Century and is shown in the OS maps dating to 1908. The Ragged Staff Gate appears to have been remodelled later in the 1930’s to accommodate traffic flowing in both directions and converted into two gates instead. Evidence of this remodelling can be seen on both sides of the present gates.

Gibraltar OS Map revised to 1931.

Gibraltar OS Map revised to 1937.

Ragged Staff Gates westbound. The stone work has been extensively remoddelled from the original Portland limestone.

Ragged Staff Gates eastbound.

The 1936 Defence Scheme provided for AASL No. 10 to be located at Ragged Staff. In 1938 it was renumbered Q3 and was manned from August 1939. The Sound Locator was positioned on the top of South Bastion. It was a 90 cm AASL at first but later it was replaced by a 150 cm light for which a new emplacement had been built by the 31st July 1942. On the 29th November 1944 this light was ordered to be unmanned except for operations and air co-operation. It was removed in September 1945.

At the entrance of the Ragged Staff Tunnel a 2-pounder anti-tank gun was deployed here to in 1942 to engage armoured vehicles approaching Ragged Staff Gate or craft approaching Gun or Tower Wharf and to protect the entrance to the tunnel itself.

Maxim machine gun Mount Ragged Staff Gate (Defence of Gibraltar).

Condensing and Pumping Station Ragged Staff.

WWII Sound Locator emplacement on roof of Ragged Staff Pumping Station (Defence of Gibraltar).

Ragged Staff Gates Image