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 (I)

During the first half of the 19th century the population fell by 50% to less than 12,000. The paralysis of the ship industry coincided with the loss of the American colonies and the economic and political crises that affected the country. A new period of recovery in the middle of the 19th century was linked to the reconstruction of the state and to a naval policy of prestige. The city reached 21,400 inhabitants in 1864. Ferrol was suffering the effects of its inherent vulnerability to the economic dependency on the Navy. But the consequences for the working class were becoming increasingly serious due to the segregation that existed in residential areas. The neighbourhood of Esteiro had begun to deteriorate when the shipyard crisis brought about unemployment among the 'maestranza'. During the first half of the 19th century the neighbourhood lost about 1/3 of its population, whilst its demographic weight in the city fell from 40% to 30%.36 The military church was moved near 'Capitanía Palace' as did the offices of the Navy Quartermaster, so their staff left the neighbourhood, and therefore the Navy officers no longer had any reason to frequent the area. Shops also closed down. Only a small barracks of the new 'Guardia Civil',37 which was responsible for keeping public order, was established there.

Improvements to city infrastructures (a sewage system in 1831-46, gas lighting in 1847) were mainly carried out in La Magdalena neighbourhood, which in 1867 had six fountains and a 'lavadero público'.38 Meanwhile in Esteiro there were only two fountains in very poor condition, and only one street was paved and fitted with drains. Doctor Pastor Nieto described that neighbourhood in 1895 as 'the most populous and poorest [... where] the most shameless and stray prostitution [...] takes shelter [...] with old, humid, dark, unventilated houses [...] without latrines and with cesspools [...] with a deficient sewer system, which has all of its streets except one without paving'.39 He also underlined how that neighbourhood alone had suffered from epidemics of measles, smallpox and diphtheria in the preceding decade.

Whilst the city remained vulnerable to crises and conditions in Esteiro were growing steadily worse, most working-class people now lived 'outside the city walls', in towns and villages by the Ferrol estuary, and commuted to the city on foot or by boat. Part-time farming, the evasion of local taxes placed on food and drinks, and the access to cheap housing, and to healthier living conditions reduced the expenses that those workers had to meet. However, the social distance was reflected in the spatial segregation between the city and its outskirts. At the end of the 19th century, the council authorities tried to force the workers, who travelled to the Dockyards or to the Shipyards from the commercial port or from the west outskirts of the city very early in the morning, not to use the central streets of La Magdalena and to walk along the Dockyard wall, so that their voices or the sound of their footsteps could not bother the sleeping neighbours.40

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