Round The Rock by railway

in Features

It could have been done around 1905 if you had “connections”.

Those who worked in the Dockyard remember the railway that ran from Ordnance Wharf down to the South Mole, connecting the Ragged Staff Magazine to the wharves and serving almost all the buildings in the complex. Before Queensway was a public road, the railway ran along the side of the road to the North Mole and out along it to the various jetties. It also went south from the Dockyard, climbed up a ramp and tunnelled under the south entrance, then through a cutting, past the “100 ton Gun” and into the Victualling Yard. It branched off through a tunnel to the Cold Meat Store in North Gorge and to an electric lift at the bottom of the cliff to serve the Naval Hospital. It also ran through the Rock using the Admiralty, or East-West, Tunnel reach the Oil Tanks on the east side.

When the Dockyard area was extended in the 1894 to 1907 period it was built on reclaimed land outside the Line Wall, all the way from Waterport to the South Mole. Both the North and South Moles were extended and the Detached Mole built at this time. The materials used to reclaim these areas, for the various buildings and to make the concrete blocks for the Moles came from quarries on the east side of the Rock. Sir Herbert Miles Road was originally the route of the railway that ran from the Oil Tanks to the Devil’s Tower. At the Devil’s Tower was a block making yard that had a railway across the isthmus to, a jetty on the west side. Here the concrete blocks were loaded onto barges to be taken out to the Detached Mole. Those for the North mole went across Bayside on a timber viaduct to the Devil’s Tongue and out to be placed in the North Mole and it’s Jetties.

The huge yellow machines seen working on new roads and construction projects these days didn’t exist when the Dockyard was extended.. Men used picks, shovels and dynamite to dig holes and little trains hauled by steam engines moved soil and rock away to fill areas to be reclaimed, temporary tracks being moved as needed. Horses were too slow to move over 120, 000 blocks from the Devil’s Tower yard out to the Moles and wharves, as most of the blocks weighed four tons. They would have had difficulties moving the 8, 300 in the 20 to 40 ton weight range used in the Detached Mole.

So, until after the Second World War, trains could puff along from the North Mole, through the Dockyard to the Victualling Yard, hauling coal, stores, food and munitions for the Navy. Extension of two of the dry docks just before WWII needed stone to make concrete, so the railway was extended through two new tunnels into the existing Europa Quarry in Camp Bay.

The railway was two parts in the early 1900’s. The permanent Admiralty Railway ran from the Rosia area through the Dockyard, branching off to the Oil Tanks via the East-West Tunnel, then along the reclaimed land outside the Line Wall and out onto the North Mole. The temporary lines started at the Waterport end of the North Mole, crossed Bayside by a timber viaduct and ran eastwards along Devil’s Tower Road to the block making yard by the Devil’s Tower. It turned south through Puente Basura Quarry, on the east end of the North Face, after the Catalan Bay Quarry, behind the village. It continued southward to the sand pit dug in the east side slopes and then to Monkey’s Alameda Quarry where it joined the line through the East-West Tunnel.

The railway never ran any passenger trains, not even for workmen. It did have three or four “Inspection Carriages” to take the high and mighty on tours of the works. These were unlikely to have been the usual opulent victorian railway coaches, probably little better than roofed four wheeled trucks with seats, befitting a works railway whose track was only one metre gauge. The permanent Admiralty Railway would give a reasonable ride, the temporary track much more “rock and roll”. When the Moles were complete the block yard was demolished and the quarries closed, then all connecting temporary tracks were removed.

So, Yes, you could have gone round the Rock by train, even pulled by a locomotive named “Rosia” or “Calpe”. Most of the 17 engines just had numbers but four were named, the other two called “Catalan” and “Gibraltar”. It was only possible for a couple of years but you would have had to have the right friends – and some stamina to endure the trip at the 7mph maximum speed.

What is “Heritage”? 

An opportunity to preserve a relic
of Gibraltar’s industrial past

I had seen a photo of `the one remaining wagon of the Dockyard railway’ in a magazine article published in UK about four

years ago. Much to my surprise it still survives in the same place in Caramel Laird’s yard, and I was lucky enough join Dave Eveson when he went to have a look at it last month.

John Murphy had taken Dr. Darren Fa, of the Gibraltar Museum to see this Box Van some time ago. They both felt it was a unique relic of Gibraltar’s industrial past. It may not be what is normally taken to be “heritage” but represents something that many in Gibraltar saw during their work in the dockyard and with which visiting ships crews’ could have been familiar. The Museum probably cannot finance the restoration as there are many demands on its available funds.

What exactly is it? A metre gauge goods truck. It is a smaller version of the closed trucks that were seen on UK railways until recently. It is, in effect, a robust softwood timber shed, with a curved roof and a sliding door to each side, on a steel chassis that runs on four flanged wheels. The timber body is 13′ – 6″ long by 6′ – 6″ wide and 6′ – 6″ maximum height. On its chassis the van stands

9′ – 3″ high from rail level. It has a simple lever operated hand brake acting on one wheel. It is likely to be over 65 years old and details suggest it is not one of those supplied before the First World War. It worked on the Dockyard system up to the 1968 closure.

Despite looking scruffy due to peeling paint, rusting ironwork, missing one door and having lost

most of the tarred canvas roof waterproofing it has lasted very well. As the van will be a static exhibit there is no need to overhaul the wheels and their bearings or to refurbish the body to accept the needs and stresses of operational use. The chassis seems to have only moderate surface rust to be cleaned off before painting. The missing door is a simple framed piece of carpentry that only needs to be fixed in the `closed’ position. There is some repair and replacement needed to the framing but the floor and side boarding appear sound, only needing preparation and painting. The roof boarding seems sound only requiring a waterproof covering.

As far as can be ascertained the work needed to prepare this van to be a static exhibit is therefore mostly cosmetic.

This practical aspect of the preparation presupposes the present owners will donate this wagon to The Gibraltar Heritage Society for preservation. There is a need to approach the owners with a viable scheme to convince them to part with it. Much exploratory work is in hand, such as the search for a suitable site, resourcing materials, skills and a location to carry out the renovation. Then there is moving a three tonne mass of 25 cu in volume, mounting it on a plinth and ensuring its care in the future.

Heritage Society members, particularly John Murphy and Dave Eveson, have worked towards

the acquisition, restoration and siting of this historic artefact. It would be sad if, surplus to the owners present needs, this one remaining goods van was just broken up to get it out of the way.

What is needed now is confirmation from the Gibraltar Heritage Society that a Preservation Plan can be prepared. This will give authority to those negotiating to make this van a static exhibit.. Should the project prove to be a viable and appropriate task for the Heritage Society, it would be good to see an item from Gibraltar’s industrial past displayed to remind us of just how extensive and important that past once was.

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