A History of the Chipulina Family
Evelyn Letts - Cortes de la Frontera

1919 Rowing regattas of various types were held during this period on a course that ran parallel to the coastal road of La Linea. My father Pepe (1.1) participated in these as a young man. In one of these he won a miniature trophy resoundingly inscribed with the words, 'Regatas del Principe Alfonso, Premio del Hotel'.

Gibraltar from Campamento
Rowing regattas were often held near the shores of Campamento at that time.

Pepe (1.1) also rowed in regattas against crews from U.S. warships who were urged on by their supporters with many a raucous 'Rah, Rah, Rah.' Such chants had never been heard in Gibraltar before.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed between the Allies and Germany formally ending the Great War. It proved to be a vindictive peace. The League of Nations was also created. The U.S.A and the U.S.S.R did not join. This was also the year in which the Transport and General Workers Union arrived on the Rock. There had been no effective trade union operating in Gibraltar until then. A general workers' demonstration was organised, led by the ever present coal heavers, to protest against the high cost of food and the low level of wages.

The Governor addressed them paternalistically with his troops drawn up behind him. They went home, and the Governor with an appalling lack of either political or human sensibility gave immediate permission to his merchant friends to raise rents throughout the colony so as to solve their own financial problems. The people were understandably incensed and were out again a week later. Their protest was noted in the usual manner but the increase in rents remained in force.

Evelyn Letts (1.2) showing off her long plaited hair
This kind of photograph in which the subject sat in front of appropriately angled mirrors was all the rage at the time. She eventually cut off her long tresses but she kept them. They were found by her children many years later in the attic of 256 Main Street. On the back of the photograph Evelyn has written her name as Evelyn R. Letts, a rare reference to her second name which was Rose.

Two months later the coal heavers were out on strike again. They stayed out for four months and were forced to capitulate by the importation of scab Moorish labour from Tangier who were sent to work under military protection. Hopefully, Felipe was not involved in this one.

Before the American Squadron was finally withdrawn, relations between the locals and the Yanks deteriorated drastically when a bar chucker-out lost his life in a fracas. Local toughs began to organise themselves into posses hell-bent on knocking the stuffing out of any American sailor they could lay their hand on. Gharry drivers taking sailors back to the docks, often co-operated by delivering them to the mob. Many Yanks were reported to have dived into the sea to swim back to their ships in order to avoid the angry locals.

Many years later the Americans commissioned a large battle monument to be built at the Line Wall to commemorate their stay in Gibraltar.

The American War Memorial
Actually built in 1932/33 the children of Gibraltar grew to love it.
That wide banister made of polished stone made a great slide.

1920 Lloyd George visited. It is almost certain that he did not know anybody's father on the Rock. At around this time a certain gentleman of Scottish descent was well on his way to turning himself into a local Rockefeller. His company, Mackintosh and Co., was now the kingpin of the coal bunkering business and he was quickly making a fortune with the sweat of his underpaid workers. He had one child, a daughter who was confined to an asylum. He was later to make amends no doubt to make sure his visa to heaven was in order, by bequeathing his fortune to the people of Gibraltar. By the end of the century the Mackintosh Trust would have financed a cultural centre, homes for the elderly, a new wing to a hospital, and various scholarships awarded on a yearly basis.

My father and mother, Joseph Chipulina (1.1) and Evelyn Letts (1.2), first met around this time, probably in Governor's Parade. It was a place where military bands often played on the balcony of the Sergeant's mess, beside St. Andrew's Scottish Church, and was a popular meeting place for lovers.

A rather poor copy of a contemporary postcard of Governor’s Square
St. Andrew's Scottish Church is on the right.

There were also other distractions for the courting couple. There were the tea dances at the Assembly Rooms as well as long walks and picnics in the Spanish countryside. Once, while they were staying at a fonda near Ronda, they hired a flamenco singer to entertain them.

As they sat rather uncomfortably in a small room, face to face with the singer, it soon became apparent that they had made a serious mistake. In fact the poor fellow's efforts at cante hondo proved so ludicrous that Pepe, in a supreme effort to restrain his giggles so as not to offend the man, bit through the mouthpiece of the pipe he was smoking at the time.

Yet another popular activity was to picnic by moonlight in Catalan Bay. Perhaps some of the popularity of these picnics can be attributed to a certain lady in the village who was supremely gifted in the art of preparing Callos, a classical Madrileño stew based on chickpeas and tripe. Whatever the reason, it seems that in summer this was their idea of a perfect night out.

My father Pepe Chipulina (1.1) and my mother Evelyn Letts (1.2) The original photograph is fading rapidly. It was taken by the beach in Catalan Bay a favourite haunt at the time when they were courting. Their faces are mostly in shadow but I think the photograph is worth it just for the clothes.A small town called Cortes in the sierras near Ronda seems to have been a very popular haunt as there are quite a few photographs of their visits there.

A Picnic by a river near Cortes in Spain.The Bruzons, who were good family friends, used to rent a house in the countryside near Cortes de La Frontera. That’s Bruzon junior standing on the right. Evelyn and Pepe Chipulina were frequent visitors. This is the first of a series of snapshots of Evelyn and various groups of friends taken during several of their trips there. Evelyn stands tall right at the back. Pepe was probably the photographer.

Picnic in the countryside near Cortes de La Frontera. My mother Evelyn is on the right.

Somewhere in the countryside near Cortes de La Frontera. My mother sits on the left posing with friends

My mother. Same place near Cortes.

Yet another day at Cortes. My mother sits second from left. The young men are from the Cable and Wireless. The older gentleman at the back was Mr. Bruzon, the owner of the house where they stayed in during their visits.

Cortes. Not quite as warm as the previous visit apparently. The young man standing on the left is probably an employee of the Cable and Wireless. According to my mother the Bruzons often invited these eligible bachelors in the hope of finding a husband for one of their girls. Also according to Evelyn the Bruzons were always broke. The joke was that whenever they gave a party the debt collectors would be waiting in the next room in order to collect whatever silver cutlery they might find.

Cortes. My father and mother on the right.

Pepe with a group of friends near Corte de la Frontera in the province of Ronda. This particular photograph is different to the others for various reasons. For a start the weather seems decidedly cold which make one suspect it was not taken in summer as were all the other photos. Another oddity is that my father appears on it. In many of the others he does not which leads me to suspect that he was usually the group’s official photographer. My mother, on the other hand, is in all the others but not in this one. Perhaps she was the photographer this time.

When Pepe and Lina eventually became engaged, Angel and Memo Chipulina went to Crutchett's Ramp on the usual formal visit. By a coincidence, Angel had been an early boyfriend of Maria Luisa. It must have been a charming evening.

Postcard of Sandy Bay in the 1920s. I doubt whether this was a family favourite at the time but it would be with future generations.

1921 Prince Hirohito of Japan visited Gibraltar and the census showed a small rise in the civilian population to 18540. The two events were hopefully unrelated.

The Emperor Hirohito of Japan

That year James Joyce published Ulysses. It is not clear what the connection was, but Joyce seems to have been very familiar with 19th century Gibraltar. Towards the end of the book in Molly Bloom's monologue, she mentions the 'queer names' of people such as Pisimbo and Opisso, and of place names like Bedlams Ramp, Devil's Gap Steps and, curiously, of Crutchett's Ramp. The whole narrative is studded with remarks that clearly show his familiarity with Gibraltar and the hinterland.

Municipal elections were held that year and Gibraltarians were allowed to vote for the first time. That year a certificate was issued by the Spanish Ministerio de Justicia to the effect that my great grandmother Magdalena Mancilla left no last will and testament, The certificate describes her as 'natural de San Roque (Cadiz )'. It confirms that her parents, now of course long since dead, must have moved there from Coin sometime after she was born.

My mother. Another trip to Cortes.

My mother. Photo taken from the other side of the wall she was sitting on in the previous picture.

1922 The Governor appointed an Executive Council and brought the colony into a new stage of political development. The men he appointed were 'yes men' who would always vote according to the Governor's wishes. To make doubly sure the City Council was made up of 4 elected members and 5 Government appointees.

My father Pepe Chipulina (1.1) hard at work at the Cable and Wireless The back of the photograph tell us it was taken in February that year. Pepe was twenty seven years old and still a bachelor. He seems to be writing out a telegram. Hopefully it was good news for somebody. Unusually for him he is not wearing any glasses.

My father first from left posing with MRC rowing friends
At the back of the photograph it says:
J. Chipulina
J.A. Malin
May 1922
My sister says she can still remember the front of the club house.

In Italy, Mussolini carried out his so-called ' March on Rome'. 'Credere, Obbedire, Combattere'. At any rate the graffiti looked good as it blazoned its message from every public wall. Mussolini would use his own 'yes men' to make him 'Duce'.


In Gibraltar, the Governor used his to increase import duty on tobacco. Meanwhile hundreds of workers were putting the finishing touches on what was to be the biggest eyesore ever to have been built in Gibraltar. The Water Catchments were nearing completion.

This massive construction covered an area of about a quarter of a square mile. It stretched along the west side of the Rock just above the road that ran from la Caleta to Sandy Bay and consisted of galvanized sheeting nailed on to wooden frames, which in turn were screwed on to piles driven into the sandy slopes. Open channels directed rain water into enormous underground reservoirs. It would serve most of Gibraltar's water needs for decades to come. It would also ruin the magnificent view of the Rock from the east for an even longer period of time

Gibraltar from the north east

1923 Meanwhile in a more serious farce, the Spanish army, playing out Alfonso XII's illusions of military grandeur, was held down in the Riff mountains of Africa by Abdel Krim and his Soviet advisers. This was the year of the Pronunciamiento by Primo de Rivera. He became virtual dictator of Spain.

Pepe was still courting Lina (1.2) and often took her to the bullfights which were held in the neighbouring towns. It seems she was captivated by the colour and atmosphere of the event but was appalled by the gory spectacle of the picador's horse, usually an old nag well past its prime, being helplessly disembowelled by the bull. She must have been pleased when Primo de Rivera eventually made the petos or shields compulsory a few years later. It was this aspect of bullfighting that most shocked foreign tourists.

A modern picador doing his thing.

After a century of extreme poverty among the population, relieved only by arbitrary handouts, the Sanitary Commission, made up of local merchants and lawyers, proudly informed the Authorities that Gibraltar no longer had any need for a Poor Law. The Governor, General Sir H.L. Smith-Dorrien G.C.B., G.C.M.G., D.S.O., immediately dismissed the Food Supply Committee, withdrew the 'cheap food' tickets, removed the flour subsidy, and increased the price of bread. There was no poverty in his colony.

Soon afterwards General Sir Charles Monro took over as Governor. It would be nice to record that the reason for this was that it was feared that Smith-Dorrien stood a good chance of being lynched if he stayed on. Unfortunately the truth was that it was just somebody else's turn to misgovern the colony.

General Sir Charles Carmichael Monro, Yet another general. As Commander-in-chief in India he was indirectly responsible for the Amaritscar Massacre.

That year the Cable Depot was moved from Camp Bay to another site. The Byrne family followed suit. Two successive generations had looked after the Camp Bay terminal and been responsible for hundreds of miles of cable and the thousand and one items required by the Cable Ships. Yet a third generation would continue to do so at the new site until modern technology made Cable Ships redundant.

1924 On the 1st of September Pepe (1.1) married Evelyn (1.2) . They went on their honeymoon to London and Paris. In the French capital, Pepe demonstrated the liberal attitude of the French to sex by stopping in a crowded boulevard and giving Lina a spectacular kiss, something which in those days would have caused a sensation back home. In Paris no one gave them so much as a glance. It would also seem that their original wedding date had to be postponed. The family had decided that some of the money they had saved up for the ' hatillo '- clothing , linen and other items deemed essential in those days to start a married life - should be used to try to get Felipe to go to America. He was probably now drinking at a phenomenal rate and was becoming an embarrassment to everybody. The trip was eventually cancelled and Felipe was soon back to his old tricks making a thorough nuisance of himself.

Soon after Pepe and Evelyn were married Gibraltar bank notes were introduced, but the peseta continued to be used in everyday transactions. In fact in her early married days, Lina is reputed to have kept house with one duro a day. Pepe was by now a very keen oarsman and a leading light in the Mediterranean Rowing Club, of which he eventually became Captain. He favoured the stroke side, and usually rowed as number 2. He donated the 'Captain's Cup' which more than half a century later was still raced for in the club's annual regattas. His brother, Felipe, was also an oarsman for the MRC and would probably also have made an excellent one had he deigned to turn up for training. Unfortunately he was probably drunk most of the time.

Two types of boats were used in these regattas. One was the Yola, a racer built to international specifications with a clinker-built hull and designed for the open sea. It was essentially a Mediterranean boat and almost certainly of Italian origin. The second was the Out-rigger, a slimmer and less stable boat with its hull or shell built in one piece. It was designed for rivers and lakes and was as English as the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. In fact the boats were of similar design to those used in the Inter-University races.
My father also played hockey for the Cable & Wireless team. Edwin Wills was also a member. They used a black and white strip. There were some signs of affluence as the first telephones and motor taxis came to Gibraltar. But wide-spread poverty persisted and increased on the Rock to such an extent that the newly appointed Executive Council felt obliged to reopen the soup kitchen service. There were other even more pressing problems. There were only four surviving apes left on the Rock.

1925 For a while, early in their marriage, Pepe, Lina and Maruja lived at 42 Crutchett's Ramp, far too close to Maria Luisa (2.4) for comfort. Pepe's relationship with his mother-in-law was one of constant clashes as they were both strong characters. Nevertheless he was willing to concede that she was a wonderful cook and was quite prepared to praise her culinary skills to high heaven. A favourite concoction of hers was an orange compot made with quartered oranges rather than the usual marmalade. For this she always used a large copper pot which was inherited many years later by her granddaughter Maruja. Even more sought after were her hojuelas. These were made of extremely thin strips of a unique type of filo pastry. They were so popular that to satisfy demand she usually had to make them in large batches. This caused problems as the finished pastry tended to be as bulky as it was delicately delicious. Very often Maria Luisa (2.4) had to resort to storing some of the finished pastries in large portable baths of the type much in use at the time

This may also have been the year in which my mother’s cousin Babs Letts married Maurice Wills. They also moved to Crutchett's Ramp. and eventually had two children, Maurice junior and Ruby. Maurice junior was often referred to as Baby Maurice and Ruby grew up to be absolutely dotty on animals. Some time later they moved to Maurice's family house, Schomberg Cottage.

1926 That year my grandfather Angel Chipulina (2.1), died. After a decent interval Pepe and Lina moved to Angel's (2.1) house in 256 Main Street. They took Maria Luisa with them. The house had a narrow façade and the entrance was a long, dark, windowless corridor. The first impression was that it would be a rather small and gloomy house. In fact it was the very opposite, being quite large and very bright. At the inner end of the entrance corridor there was a glass door. A bell with its clapper overlapping the rim of the door could be heard from anywhere in the house whenever anybody came in. Close by was a coal cellar where once had been a private well, an indication of the age of the property, for wells had long since given way to cisterns. A very substantial paraqüero or umbrella stand, stood on the 1st floor landing, and the dressing room or cuarto de vestir boasted a large washstand which was topped by an immense slab of marble.

My grandmother, Memo (2.2) was also living in 256 Main Street. Around this time she subscribed to a Spanish magazine called Blanco y Negro. 

 1920 Revista Blanco y Negro

She entered a puzzle competition in the magazine and won first prize. The solution to the puzzle, which was a black letter C broken in two, was ' Ceso la Negra Partida.' which in turn referred to a notorious gang of bandits who were causing havoc at the time in the mountains near Ronda.

Puzzle competition in Blanco y Negro magazine solved by my grandmother Memo Chipulina (2.2).

It was an era in which hats were definitely in and photos abound of locals wearing every variety imaginable. Pepe and his rowing crew were apparently never to be seen with their hombergs, and the required dress for visits to Cortes de la Frontera by Lina and her friends included the wearing of 1920's pots. Panama hats and Boaters of various designs were also very popular.

Meanwhile, the Colonial Establishment continued to stifle the very limited democratic aspirations of the locals. The City Council appealed to the Governor to ask the Secretary of State to reconstitute the Council with a majority of elected members. His refusal coincided with the discovery of the skull of a Neanderthal-type child at Devil's Tower.It was also the year when the first automatic telephone exchange was installed on the Rock. In May, the General Strike began in Britain.
On the 15th October, my sister Maria de los Angeles Teresa Chipulina was born. She was, not surprisingly, rarely referred to by her real name and was usually known as Maruja. Apparently there was a reason for at least some of her official names. Maria was her grandmother's name and Angel was that of her grandfather. Maria de los Angeles was presumably a composite compliment to both of them. Memo, incidentally, had also been called Maruja in her youth.

My mother and her daughter Maria de los Angeles Teresa Chipulina
Born on the 15th October 1925 she was, not surprisingly, rarely referred to by her given name and was usually known as Maruja. On the back of this photograph her mother has written – ‘Marujita 4 meses’

Maruja junior appears to have been a little demon in her early days. Maria Luisa's sister Tita Carmen, for one, was often heard to remark that Maruja was, 'Destructiva como las ratas.' Among other misdemeanours she is reputed to have dumped back in a tub a load of recently dried washing, and to have pushed a male friend fully clothed into the sea at the Mediterranean Rowing Club.

My sister Maruja with somebody who may have been one of the family’s servants. This photograph was taken in Tangier during the period when her father was working there for the Cable and Wireless.

1927 The great post-war depression was now hitting Britain hard, and repercussions were being felt in Gibraltar. Many people were now worse off than ever, and the decision was finally taken to set up a Committee on Unemployment. The inauguration took place twenty years after the creation of the first Labour exchanges in the U.K.

In Spain, however, there were some who still had time to dream. Pedro Jevenois, a Spanish Army engineer, put forward a plan for a tunnel under the Straits. It was to run from a point eight kilometres west of Tarifa to a point between Tangier and Ksar-es-Seghir and was to be 32 kilometres long. The plan came to nothing.

Pepe was now elected Secretary of the Mediterranean Rowing Club, a position he kept for eight years. He was instrumental in the purchase of a racing boat from Livorno, the Foam, which proved a sensation in its day. A silver oar mounted on wood was presented to him in appreciation of his services. He also did a brief spell in Tangier for the Cable and Wireless. While he was there he took lessons in water colour techniques from a resident professional artist and became very good at it.

Two more or less contemporary snapshots of my father

My father was now 32 years old. He had inherited many of the physical traits of the Sacarello side of the family. In fact he and his cousin Bartolo closely resembled each other. Although he was of medium height, his bearing gave an impression of strength. He had smooth, black hair but his complexion was ruddy rather than dark or sallow, and was always suggestive of good health. He now wore spectacles permanently and had probably done so since his early teens. In the photographs of the period they give him a quiet professorial look that was not quite in character.

Pepe was an extrovert with a robust, optimistic attitude to life and a great capacity for enjoying it. Gregarious and congenial, he made friends easily. His quick temper and outspokenness - and he certainly was not given to mincing his words -thinly disguised a kindly and compassionate nature. His love of the outdoors was expressed in his dedicated activities in competitive rowing and, in later years, pleasure sailing. The increasingly painstaking neatness of the watercolours he painted as he grew older, revealed another less obvious facet to his personality. To his many friends he was always known as 'Chip'.

My mother and father posing on the beach at Catalan Bay

La Caleta. The rock in the foreground is called la Mamela. Despite the lack of photographs I think my parents enjoyed visiting Catalan Bay and did so quite often.