Ferrol - Urban History
'A Tale of Two Cities'. The Memory of Ferrol, between the Navy and the Working class.
Beginning Chapters: 1 2 3 4 Bib >

Chapter 1

A city charged throughout history with segregation and violence (II)

The city underwent periods of prosperity and decline, depending on whether the political and economic circumstances of the day were favourable for the Navy and shipbuilding industry. The expansion during the second half of the 18th century coincided with the reactivation of the colonial trade and a new naval policy during the reigns of Fernando VI and Carlos III. The shipyards, where up to twelve warships could be built at any one time, employed more than 5,000 workers. The population grew from 455 'vecinos'7 registered in the 1746 census to 1,208 'vecinos' in 1751, and by the end of the century numbered approximately 4,100. This last figure represents a total of around 20,000 or 25,000 inhabitants. Ferrol by 1800 was the most important city in Galicia.8

During his time as Secretary of Finance, War, Navy and the Indies, the Marquis of Ensenada worked out a geo-strategic vision, a defensive naval policy and the budgetary funds for the creation of Ferrol. Naval reforms at that time gave priority to warships that could combine speed with heavy artillery. Not only were shipyards of Ferrol refitted for building this kind of vessel; its dockyards were also remodelled to fit them out and repair them.9 Installations that included specific buildings were needed to facilitate the technical and labour organization. Navy officers were sent in 1749-50 to spy on the English, French and Baltic dockyards.10

The most urgent task was to start work on the first vessels. For this reason separate shipyards were built in advance in 1749-53, and located in Esteiro to the east. Next to the Shipyards, the Dockyards were built in 1752-70. These consisted of a large dock protected by a breakwater armed with a battery of cannons. The 'Park Dockyard' acted as a storehouse for the supplies of arms and equipment and the facilities where masts and spars were assembled. Maintenance and repair work was carried out in the 'Dock Dockyard', particularly the delicate operation of careening ship hull. The careening docks were emptied using pumps, an exhausting -practically lethal- task. That is why a 'Presidio' was built in the 'Dock Dockyard', with a gaol which could house 1,000 convicts.11 Moreover, the authorities resorted massively to forced labour during the early stages of building: hundreds of gypsies and vagabonds, and thousands of unskilled Galician labourers, who attempted to escape en masse.12

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