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Plans filed to breathe new life into derelict battery inside Gibdock

Photo by Johnny Bugeja. Images by Arc Design Architects.

A derelict former military structure called Alexandra Battery could become an integral part of the wider Gibdock facilities if plans for a heritage-sensitive refurbishment are approved by the Development and Planning Commission.

The battery dates back to 1878 and is located at the southern end of the South Mole near the yard’s largest drydock, forming part of sea-facing defensive structures.

A planning statement, complete with drawings prepared by Arc Design Architects for Balaena, says the project aims to deliver “a sensitive intervention that respects and showcases the historic building fabric, and converts these spaces into offices, meeting areas and ancillary spaces.”

The Heritage and Antiquities Act 2018 does not specifically list Alexandra Battery as a listed structure, although the curtain walls west of Rosia Road up to Alexandra Battery are included as part of the schedule of ‘Line of fortifications facing North and West and covering Gibraltar Bay and Harbour’.

The Defensive Walls of Prince William, to the south end of the South Mole a short distance away from the Battery, are equally included in this schedule of listed fortifications.

“The above notwithstanding, it is clear that Alexandra Battery has undoubted heritage value; and as such any proposal for this location will need to be sensitive to this, while trying to instil new use to this derelict structure,” the design statement says.

Plans filed with the Town Planner envisage the lower floor of the refurbished site as the project office with direct access from the dockyard.

A large-vaulted space is to become an open-plan office, with the adjacent areas providing meeting room facilities, a staff kitchen, changing areas, showers and sanitary facilities.

The intermediate floor is earmarked for office use, with glazed partitions forming cellular offices for the directors within the vaulted space.

The collapsed roof to the level above is to accommodate new stairs providing access to the top level, covered by a glazed enclosure

The top level, meanwhile, is to become the public-facing meeting room to welcome clients and visitors, with the original mechanisms and iron shields preserved and showcased.

“The refurbishment generally is intended to be as unintrusive as possible,” the design statement filed with the Town Planner says.

It would include the cleaning and exposing of the historic stone and masonry walls, as well as restoration and re-painting of iron shields and traversing mechanisms, leaving this visible and backlit under a clear glass flooring.

A raised floor system would ensure cabling and other services can run in a concealed manner, allowing for future flexibility without affecting the existing building fabric of a former military structure that has been in disuse for an extended period.

HISTORY

According to application prepared by Arc Design, Alexandra Battery is a former military coastal artillery battery that dates back to 1878.

It stands on the site of previous fortifications, notably the old Spanish fort in front of the ‘Tuerto Tower’.

“Located inside the Gibdock dockyard compound, the structure is not accessible to the public, and has been in disuse for a prolonged period of time, albeit some restoration work was undertaken in the more recent past to the iron shields and traversing mechanisms housed in the Alexandra Battery casemates,” said the design statement.

“The New Mole played an important role during the Great Siege as a safe unloading area and was heavily attacked by Spanish gun and mortar boats in the bay.”

“In 1872, works began to reconstruct the battery to accommodate four 9-inch RML guns protected by iron shields.”

“Four years later, Edward the Prince of Wales laid the foundation stone as further works commenced to allow the emplacement of a 12.5-inch 38-ton RML gun on the North-Westernmost section of the New Mole fort.”

“The battery was named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark, the Royal Consort to the Prince.”

“The guns remained in place until 1897, when they were removed due to the expansion of the dockyard and construction of the dry docks nearby.”

“This saw the demolition of much of the New Mole fort to allow the construction of a new access road to the dockyard from the South, via the new South Dockyard Approach Road.”

“The Western Defensive curtain, including Princess Alexandra Battery, however, were retained.”

“By 1906, the battery had been turned into accommodation casemates. During the Second World War, 40mm anti-aircraft Bofors gun was placed on Alexandra Battery, along with a GF gun on South Mole Battery – roughly halfway up the mole. After the war, the site was abandoned,” the statement added.

The application has yet to be discussed at the Development and Planning Commission, and the closing date for public comments on the project is today.

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