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 (IV)

As the old town of Ferrol Viejo was very small and couldn't house the new inhabitants, it was necessary to build a new city that also was divided into two neighbourhoods. In 1750s Esteiro was built for the 'maestranza', at the foot of the Shipyards. Opposite the Dockyards, the new neighbourhood called La Magdalena was to house the Navy officers.

Due to the decision to build the shipyards in advance, the workers had to be accommodated in nearby areas: first, in barracks, later in wooden huts, and finally in stone houses. The military engineers created a grid design for Esteiro. It was more than a century before work on the city installations - the paving and the sewer system- got underway. The engineers designed a rectangular square between the neighbourhood and the Shipyard, called 'Esteiro Square'. The Navy Quartermaster offices, the military church, a hospital and a barracks were built there. The 'Battalions Barracks,' a magnificent building, was situated on a vantage point, overlooking the bay, the Dockyards, the Shipyard, and the town. The 4,000 soldiers housed in that building carried out manoeuvres in front of the barracks: they displayed their military prowess and were a warning to the 'maestranza'. The 'Navy Hospital' depended on military jurisdiction. It was also funded by the collecting of 'splinters' -surplus pieces of wood- to the detriment of the workers' income. Whereas Navy officers and their families were cared for in this hospital, the 'maestranza' could only be looked after in the event of a labour accident, whilst their families were not entitled to this hospital care. They would have to go to the 'Charity Hospital', situated to the north of La Magdalena.18

A sharp division was established between the 'maestranza' and seamen, and the Navy officers, particularly the 'General Corps' - the elite in command of a troop or a vessel -. Bourbon reforms ended the standard practice of promoting seamen to officers. The latter would be required to show proof of purity of blood and noble origin as a prerequisite to join the new Royal Naval Academy. Besides, in this region, where two languages coexisted unequally - Galician, spoken by most of the population, and Spanish, the prestige language spoken by the city educated elite - the alien Navy officers would speak Spanish, the 'maestranza' Galician. This linguistic segregation lies in the names of both neighbourhoods: Esteiro is a Galician word meaning 'Tideland', whereas La Magdalena - in Spanish - means 'Mary Magdalene'. The Napoleonic Wars had a democratising effect on the social origin of the Army officers, but the consequences were different in the Navy, where an inner recruitment was reinforced by the rotation of officers between the headquarters in Ferrol, Cadiz and Cartagena.

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