One of the great delights, though occasionally also frustrations, of coming to or living in a new country, is the differences we find. Here in Murcia, there are plenty of differences.
Look at the landscape, often with its angular shapes. The climate is remarkably different (thankfully!); and then there is the history, with much of Spain under Islamic domination for almost eight centuries, although it was “only” just over 500 years in much of Murcia.
At the same time, we all inevitably look to see what links we can establish with our new location. Of course, the Spanish, like the English (or even the British more generally) love their football, even if the recent World Cup highlighted a gulf in class. But what else can we find? If we look back into history are there any links we can find between this part of Murcia and Britain? Surprisingly, quite a few.
Let’s start with the 16th Century. This was the time that Mazarrón was still a pretty insignificant settlement, increasingly concentrating around the Castle of the Marquis of los Vélez, the ruins of which we can still see today in the centre of Mazarrón. It was not until 1572 that Mazarrón finally obtained its grant of independence from Lorca under whose control it had previously been. Mazarrón’s importance at the time was for the production of alum, which was an important substance, especially being used to fix colours in the dyeing of cloth. The Low Countries and Britain were the principal markets. Unfortunately, as you may recall, there was a slight disagreement between Spain and England in the second half of the 16th Century which saw the Spanish Armada despatched in 1588. For many years at this time, King Philip II of Spain prohibited the export of alum to England and Mazarrón suffered accordingly.
One element of suffering which was similar in both countries about this time, was the threat posed by pirates from North Africa. Of course, this was especially felt in Mazarrón because of its position, to which the coastal watchtowers bear testimony. Many were the raids on the coast hereabouts with animals, goods and people all being taken. Thus, in the summer of 1643 there were almost daily rumours of raids from Algeria, while, in 1652, reliable information pointed to armed vessels in Oran preparing for a raid on Mazarrón. But how is this relevant to England? Well, it may surprise you that, between 1616 and 1642, North African pirates seized up to 400 English ships and between 6500 and 7000 prisoners, many of them from the West Country.
Then, there is a curious incident recorded in 1650. It appears that, on 16 November 1650, the chief justice officer in Lorca was notified of an English ship with considerable contraband being at Puerto de Mazarrón. It was said that the relevant official in Mazarrón had acted beyond his powers to seize the goods. A Commission of Investigation was dispatched to Mazarrón, where an English sailor, who spoke some Spanish, (surely something of a rarity!) complained bitterly about the theft of the merchandise – cloths, linen, rugs and other broadly similar items. The whole affair then became very heated and, through the hostility of the Mazarrón inhabitants, the Committee ended up having to cease its investigation and flee back to Lorca. Complaints were then made by the Committee to the King, though it would seem that those involved in Mazarrón got away with their actions!
By the start of the 19th Century, it seems things may have been a little less chaotic when one Samuel E Cook journeyed in Spain, described Mazarrón as a large village with a healthy climate (more so than Cartagena!). The lack of trees impressed itself on his mind and he saw the area as important in the cultivation of “barilla” (seawort) and the making of soda ash. Tellingly, there was no hotel or similar in the area, so he had to lodge with a local couple.
Later in that century, mining, especially of lead, saw a massive growth in Mazarrón’s population and the prosperity at least of some individuals. In the second half of the century, numerous foreign companies came to Mazarrón seeking profit in mining. Among these were several English companies such as Henry Crookes and Company of Sheffield and the Mazarrón Manganese Iron Ore Company Limited. The square in front of the old Town Hall was originally lit by the Mazarrón Electric Light Company Limited of London, which, from 1892, had the concession for public lighting in the area.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, there was even a British consul in Puerto de Mazarrón, one Edward Pearce, who formed a partnership with a German industrialist to exploit the nearby salinas for salt production. Then, in the First World War, in September 1915, the British steamer “Cornubia” was torpedoed off the coast by a German U Boat, with the survivors seeking refuge in Puerto de Mazarrón.
Today, of course, there are several thousand British people in Mazarrón, but the links and contacts go back much further as we have seen.
Based upon extracts from the book “Exploring Murcia – Mazarrón” by Clive and Rosie Palmer, available from www.lulu.com, Best Wishes on Camposol, or contact email@example.com.