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 2

Looking for alternatives to social segregation and dependency on the Navy (II)

As new subversive political ideas spread among the working class, the move towards the outskirts reduced the chances of revolt in a city whose coercive plan was proving to be increasingly ineffective. In the 1880s Ferrol was a pioneer city in the Galician labour movement. A few years earlier in 1872, a republican insurrection had taken place in Ferrol. Non-commissioned Navy officers led about 200 marines, 1,500 seamen and 200 workers of the 'maestranza' and quartered for a week in the Dockyards, which were filled with arms and, as we have seen, designed to be impregnable by land and sea. As the insurrection failed, the Navy authorities proceeded partly to disarm the Dockyards, filling up the moat which surrounded them, and moving part of the troops and arms to new barracks that were to be built outside the city walls.41

During the Restoration (1875-1923), relations between the native bourgeoisie and the Navy authorities were somewhat ambiguous. During the first two decades the Ferrol town council built public monuments, developing a nationalist rhetoric linked to the Navy, which was seen as a defender of the city, the country and the colonial Empire. As early as 1869 a statue of Jorge Juan, the Navy officer who had planned the original Ferrol was placed next to 'Capitanía Palace'. In 1881 in the 'Alameda' King Alfonso XII unveiled a monument dedicated to Sánchez Barcaíztegui, a native of Ferrol and Commander-in-chief of the North Navy forces, who had died while fighting for his monarch's claim to the throne. In 1894 a monument was dedicated in 'El Callao Square' to Méndez Núñez, the Navy officer who had been acclaimed as a national hero after leading the Spanish squadron in the Battle of El Callao in Peru in 1866.42

However local middle-class men who remained firmly in control of the town council resented being under military tutelage. The Navy and its officers were legally exempt from council taxes. The delimitation of jurisdictions was another controversial issue. In 1859 Ferrol had lost its sea front, and its main public space had been mutilated when the closing wall of the Dockyards was moved forward and devoured part of the 'Alameda'. The city was also oppressed by useless city walls that the Army refused to give up. Moreover, the technological and geo-strategic changes gradually eliminated the advantages of the estuary as the site for a naval base, while its eighteenth-century fortresses became obsolete. In 1898 the Spanish fleet was annihilated in the Hispano-American War and the remnants of the colonial Empire were lost. Ferrol citizens realized that the city was openly vulnerable to enemy attacks, and even more so in the advent of air warfare.

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