A Franciscan Convent established in 1482 was transferred to this site in 1521 and later became the British Governors’ residence in 1711. When the Christians captured The Rock in 1462, a number of religious orders established themselves in Gibraltar. Franciscan fathers took up residency in the area of what today we call The Convent, in about 1480. In 1531, Francisco de Madrid paid for a chapel and for a considerable extension to the earlier Convent. Shortly after the capture of Gibraltar by British and Dutch Forces in 1704, the Franciscan friars left.
The building, probably slightly damaged during the capture, stood abandoned until 1728 when it was taken over as the palace for the military Governor. The name ‘Convent’ from the Spanish ‘Convento’ (used in Spanish both for monasteries and for convents) has been used almost continuously since the first convent in the 15th century.
The siege of 1727 caused much damage to the old building but this was small by comparison to the severe damage caused during the Great Siege (1779/83) by enemy bombardments both from land and from the sea. Major restoration no doubt commenced after the Great Siege, but the most striking alterations were effected in 1863/64 under Lieutenant General Sir William Codrington KCB, the then Governor. This Governor had the Banqueting Hall rebuilt and the façade overlooking Main Street was totally changed from the back door it had been to the new attractive front entrance we now enjoy.
The main staircase by the entrance probably belongs to this major renovation. In 1951 the SS ‘Bedenham’, an ammunition ship, blew up in the inner harbour, but only at a distance of 360 yards. The Convent and its chapel suffered badly, as did much of Gibraltar. The Banqueting Hall suffered irreparable damage to its three stained glass windows (1863). Like many ancient buildings, the old Convent attracts a story or two but perhaps the best known is the one about the Spanish nun brought to this monastery to be executed after having tried to elope with her sweetheart, a monk, in a rather bizarre fashion and thus becoming The Convent’s resident ghost, The Grey Lady.