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Early days of tourism 

This week David Penny takes a look at the early days of tourism and the various institutions created by the British community of the day to cater for both resident and visitor alike.

The start of the tourist movement in the islands was determined by many factors including the promotion of passenger travel by steam ships, which were bringing in manufactured goods and taking out agricultural produce.

In 1895 Mr. Alfred L. Jones (the Freddy Laker of his day) of the Elder Dempster Line managed to reduce the price of a return ticket from Liverpool to Las Palmas to between 15 and 25 pounds in an attempt to secure a greater number of visitors to Gran Canaria.

These new visitors became known as the “Fifteen Pounders”

The increase in the influx of visitors was also linked to improvements in the available accommodation with hotels like the Grand Hotel Orotava, Camacho’s Hotel, The Grand Hotel Taoro, or Quisiana Hotel in Tenerife, and Quiney Hotel, Bellavista Hotel, Santa Catalina Hotel or the Metropole Hotel in Gran Canaria.

Their increasing demands brought about the opening of numerous establishments in all sectors: clothing stores, hat shops, bars, restaurants, photo studios, shops with English goods, and even established banks, which until 1885 were unknown in the islands.

It is noteworthy that these establishments all accepted sterling as the currency of preference and that great steps were taken to ensure that all assistants and clerks were able to converse to a high level in English.

The resident British population, together with the now sizable influx of visitors at this period, created a need for services provided by various British Institutions which were formed around this time:

Las Palmas Golf Club, this is the oldest golf club in Spain.

Founded on December 17th 1891, it had its first headquarters in Altavista and among many other trophies is the Palmer Cup which is the oldest sporting trophy in all of Spain.

Las Palmas Lawn Tennis Club. This was founded in 1895, its courts were located in the gardens of the Metropole Hotel. It held numerous tournaments – American, doubles, and mixed all of which enjoyed great popularity among the islanders. One of the most famous players was Mr. Sydney Head, who won the all Spain champion-ship in 1907 and received the trophy, in Madrid, from His Majesty King Alfonso XIII.

Las Palmas Football Club. The pitch for this club was to be found within Puerto de la Luz, outside the offices of Wilson Sons & Co., near to Santa Catalina Pier. It was a British institution in which the Canary islanders themselves soon changed from being spectators to becoming players and it enjoyed great popularity over a number of years.

Las Palmas Cricket Club was formed around the same time and it was situated between Santa Catalina Clinic and La Casa del Caminero.

Matches were played between every combination of teams including Married vs. Single, Male vs. Female, Metropolie guests vs. Sta. Catalina guests and even residents against the crews of visiting British warships.

It caused a Mr. Seddon to comment, in 1903, that the capital of Gran Canaria could be proud of its self as it’s “the only port where you could find golf clubs, cricket, lawn tennis and football, not to mention croquet and poker”.

In Tenerife, El Club Español was founded in 1909 and was located at no.9 Calle Constitucion. Cultural and recrea-tional events were often organised as well as many charitable functions. According to the statutes only British members were accepted but this was extended, in 1916, to include any English speaking members, because of low membership numbers as a result of the First World War.

Orotava Bowling and Recreation Club, which was founded in 1902, soon saw its membership boom. It practiced various sporting activities, most notably, golf, croquet, tennis and badminton.

British Orotava Out-of-doors Games Club. This was a club which developed during the ‘20s. All manor of ball games and other out door activities took place here. The building had been extended and modernized over the years and was famous for its card room and bridge championships, it also had a terrace bar and a tea pavilion.

One area in which Tenerife did lead was with its English language library. It started life in 1831 as the Tenerife Book Society and was a initially situated in, what is now called, Sitio Litre in La Orotava and was started by a Mr. Charles Smith, who came here for health reasons.

In 1904 the library opened in its current location within the Taoro Park. It is reputed to hold the largest selection of English books in any library, in a non English speaking country, in the world.

There was also the British Club of Las Palmas, but this establishment warrants its own article, as it is such an institution and is, in fact, still operating to this day.

It is interesting to note that more seemed to be going on, at this time, in Las Palmas than in Santa Cruz and this was indeed the case; if we look at the British resident population figures for this period we can see that in 1890 Tenerife had 71 and Gran Canaria 189, in the 20 years to 1910 Tenerife had 79 while Gran Canaria had grown to 437.

This was due (according to Ruiz Benetiz de Lugo, writing in 1904) to: ”In Tenerife a certain politician owned the coal stores, within the port facilities, and hampered the installation of British companies which he saw as a threat to his monopoly.”