In 1988, one of Gibraltar’s most popular historical landmarks was earmarked for demolition. The iconic Montagu Sea Bathing Pavilion was constructed in 1929-1930 but six decades later the government was keen to stimulate economic development by reclaiming land from the sea and creating space for much-needed housing projects.
The original reclamation project envisaged the destruction of the Montagu pavilion, and this led to the inauguration plaque, which originally stood within the entrance in the main reception area, being removed pending disposal.
According to the current government, mounting public pressure prompted a halt to the demolition order, and the Montagu façade was preserved. However, the whereabouts of the original plaque could no longer be traced and it was deemed to have been lost.
Unbeknownst to the government, it was in storage at a store in Parliament Lane, where it remained for 30 years before the owner, Albert Stagnetto, had a casual conversation with Keith Sheriff of the ministry for heritage in late 2019.
He revealed that, while the interior was being gutted, he had arrived with the intention of removing and transporting some of the beams lying around the site for use at his store. He spotted the plaque among the rubbish and decided to salvage it.
Mr. Stagnetto indicated he would be pleased to return the plaque on the understanding that it would be restored and once again displayed at the original building. The government agreed, restoration work began, and the plan was for it to be officially presented on 15 May 2020, 90 years to the day after the original plaque had been unveiled.
Unfortunately, the whole restoration project had to be temporarily shelved due to extended COVID lockdown measures, and it wasn’t until last month that the ceremony could finally go ahead.
Presiding over the new unveiling, minister for heritage John Cortes said, “I would like to thank Mr. Albert Stagnetto for his kind gesture of returning the plaque to the people of Gibraltar, as well as the STM Group PLC for kindly agreeing to the mounting of the plaque on the exterior wall of the Montagu Pavilion so it is on view to the public. The placement of the plaque was undertaken thanks to Ian Balestrino and Andrew Rowbottom of the Gibraltar Heritage Trust.
“As a child I would go almost daily ‘al Montekiu’ with my Mum and my little sister. It was there I learnt to swim and to appreciate marine life. It was hugely popular in the community, and very special to many. I am so pleased that an iconic piece of history has finally returned home.”
Inaugurated by the then governor, Alexander Godley, on 15 May 1930, the Montagu Sea Bathing Pavilion consisted of a main entrance hall leading to separate changing rooms for men and women, and divided into 100 cubicles per wing. The pavilion was designed by the city engineer, W. H. Pearce, under the supervision of Lt. Col. H. W. Tomlinson R.E., chairman of the Gibraltar City Council, and the cost of construction was £9,000.
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