As the 2015-2016 academic year gets underway, thousands of students of the University of the West Indies (UWI) are moving into halls of residence across campuses in Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, and Barbados.
Most of those halls are relatively modern buildings and they date back to various periods in the UWI’s history. A few are spanking new. Some at Mona, Jamaica, date to the 1950s, when the fledgling university was still the University College of the West Indies (UCWI). One, at St Augustine in Trinidad & Tobago – Milner Hall – dates from the days of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) which the UWI took over in 1961.
But there’s one hall which came and went; a ‘lost hall’, so to speak; whose name is tied to the earliest years of the university. Gibraltar Hall was the name given to the male and female halls of residence occupied by the then UCWI’s first students. For those who know Mona: the women were near the present Caribbean Institute of Media & Communication (CARIMAC), in one of several refurbished wooden barracks left over from the World War 2 evacuee camp, Gibraltar Camp, whose buildings were the university’s first home. The men were a three minute walk east, in two other barracks near the Old Library; one of the few Gibraltar Camp buildings still remaining.
There were 10 women that first year, out of 33 pioneering medical students drawn to Mona from across the Caribbean. By the end of the second year, the women were moved from their section of Gibraltar Hall to Irvine Hall, the first of the modern halls built. Irvine Hall, opened in 1951, was named for Sir James Irvine, Chair of the committee which recommended the university’s establishment.
The men remained longer at Gibraltar Hall – many of the original residents remained until Chancellor Hall opened in 1953. After that, the records suggest that those barracks buildings were largely empty until they were demolished in the 1960s and 1970s.
Most people, asked about Mona’s oldest hall, think immediately of Irvine Hall, which was purpose-designed by British modernist firm of Norman & Dawbarn, the university’s earliest architects. But in fact Gibraltar Hall was the first, and it remains an important memory for the first students – the Pioneers! The late Dr Owen Minott, one of those pioneering students, recalled that the Gibraltar Hall men scratched the name Gib Hall on a rock which for a time was outside the male hall buildings. The rock, like the hall, is now just a memory.