UWI’s ‘Lost’ Hall of Residence

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.

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14 thoughts on “UWI’s ‘Lost’ Hall of Residence

    • Will definitely try and do a few more blog posts on the UCWI period. We’re also planning a bit of a focus on the UWI & the 1960s which of course was a touchstone period in many ways. Suggestions always welcome too.

      • Fantastic piece of history. The UWI Mona Campus is such a wonderful historical treasure. I was always curious to know the early days of UWI Mona. More photographs would be great.

      • Thanks. We’ll see what we can do. And if you come across people with a UCWI/UWI history (and perhaps photos or momentoes of the early years) please bring them into the loop!

  1. Thanks Suzanne

    When I think of Old Gib. I think of mangoes. A side of us Irvinites were always welcome there with bowls of any caste . I learned to eat green mango with salt and pepper a la Eastern Caribbean in those heady days of the fifties. The men of Gib. never grudged us this bounty

    Velma Pollard (Class of 1958, Arts Faculty)

    • Velma, one of our efforts is to get you alumni writing so that we have a dynamic record of the developing UCWI/UWI. A few of the very early men have given us some notes of the people and events they remember and Prof Emeritus Patrick Bryan who was in the first class has provided generous notes and some photos too. How about contributing a newsy email packed with recollections – or even get a round-robin going with others of your class…?

  2. While not a UWITE, the history for Jamaica and the Caribbean is rich and reminds us all of what it was like, keep it up Suzanne. Ainsley Henriques

  3. Entered Irvine Hall in 1959, part of the first batch of freshmen ever assigned to that hall. Some of the senior medical students in Irvine and some finalists for Batchelor degrees had started their campus life in Gib Hall. It’s great to see someone write this brief history of campus life from the earliest days of the university. Thanks.

    • Thank you too. Please follow the blog and we’ll try and get some more early UCWI/UWI stories out from time to time. We also have an initiative to try and capture more memories from various cohorts, especially the earlier decades. Would love you to share more about key memories of your time at UWI; people you remember and what they went on to do; issues, events or personalities of the time. Maybe photos too. If you’re willing, you can email to . And come visit the museum when you’re in the area.

  4. I, along with a few other students, arrived at Palisadoes Airport in September, 1949 and was whisked away to Gibraltar Hall my home for next few years. We we greeted by Barry Hamilton Smith, Head of the Student’s Guild. The first set of students were as curious to meet us as we were to meet them. Unfortunately, darkness descended and there was no light! However this was soon rectified. We each had our own large furnished room, which was extremely comfortable. Later, some students added standing fans, a refrigerator, a sound system, radios. A few cultivated patches of vegetables and flowering shrubs. There was maid service to tidy up our rooms and afternoon tea was served in the nearby dining hall. We had to wear gowns to dinner. Pranks were played on students, for “getting on bad”. A memorable one was played on a student (name withheld, as he is still alive) who was very popular with the opposite sex in Kingston. He would often have a car come for him and return him late in the evening or next morning. A group of us brought a cow and placed it in his room, together with a tree. The animal did everything except give birth, in his room which was a total mess. He was totally shocked when he returned to his room.. However, we all helped to remove the cow & tree and clean up. When the first Halls of residence (Taylor and Chancellor) were built, we did not want to relocate and resisted to the very end as we were so comfortable in Gib Hall. I was saddened and shocked when these rooms were demolished.

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