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Drinkwater had suffered the boredom of having nothing
to read during his service on the Rock during the Great Siege.
Subscriptions were raised, 500 books were donated by officers of the Garrison,
and rooms were rented (later described as “old and inconvenient.
”), probably in or near Convent Place.
By 1799 it was clear that new premises were needed, and subscriptions were raised, but these were returned when Prince Frederick, the Commander-in-Chief (the Grand Old Duke of York) had a chat with the Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger, who agreed that the Crown would foot the bill. The Committee agreed to erect a bust of Pitt, but this somehow never materialised, and an empty niche remains in the front wall of the building.
The building, designed by Col. Fyers, the Chief Engineer and for many years Librarian, was opened in 1804.
For many years admission was restricted to officers only, who used it not only as a library, but held balls in it, and a billiards room and racquet court were also on the premises, giving rise to the local name for Library Ramp – Ball Alley (el Balali).
For many years (from 1801) the Library Committee published Gibraltar’s first and most important newspaper, the Gibraltar Chronicle, which had its first “scoop” when it reported the death of Nelson and the victory at Trafalgar, long before the news reached England. It was sold in 1992 to a Trust made up of its Heads of Departments.
In recent years the Library with its unequalled collection of books has been available to anyone who is interested in researching the history of Gibraltar or any other subjects. Numerous books and theses have been published based on work done using the facilities of the Library, which provides a unique resource for researchers. It is open five days a week, from 9 am to 5 pm.
Several Collector’s Markets are held each year, in the very pleasant environment of the Library gardens when weather permits, or otherwise in the atmospheric reading room.
Further reading: The Gibraltar Garrison Library, a 200th Anniversary Commemorative Booklet. Gibraltar, 2004.