Bilbao’s Britons: Mining in Biscay

Mike Thomas looks back to a period of economic buoyancy in the Basque region, when a special relationship flourished between the people of Biscay and Britain.

Ore inspiring: the docks at Bilbao with the City Hall, built 1892, in the background, c.1900. Getty Images/PopperfotoIn the mid-1880s William Gill, the British managing director of the Orconera Iron Ore Company, a conglomorate of British, Spanish and German enterprises in the Biscay region, shocked Bilbao society when he sent his son to work in the shipyards. The young Gill, who was training as an engineer, was sent to observe first-hand the craftsmen and workers. In doing so he adopted the lifestyle of a typical workman, leaving home early, finishing late, wearing the traditional blue working clothes and taking along his food for the day. To Bilbao society it was unimaginable that the son of a gentleman should stoop so low, when educational facilities existed which could have excused him from such an ordeal.

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