He also made Mahón the new capital of the island and the fortifications and some of the Georgian facade houses with sash windows that still stand today around the Port of Mahón were completed during this period, giving the town its unmistakably British feel, in contrast with the far more Hispanic and aristocratic architecture of the former capital of Ciutadella.
In 1756, Menorca was invaded by 20,000 French troops, leaving the British little choice but to beat a hasty retreat, and for the next 50 years ownership of the island alternated between the disputing superpowers of Europe. After seven years of French rule, the British regained control of Menorca before it was reclaimed by the Spanish in 1781. The third and final period of British occupation was from 1798 to 1802, when Menorca was finally returned to Spain as part of the Peace Treaty of Amiens. Throughout the 19th century, as the industrial revolution transformed Europe, the island became more prosperous, gaining international renown for textile spinning and silver purse manufacture as well as pioneers of the costume jewellery industry and high quality shoe production, for which the island is still renowned for today.
The presence of so many British sailors on the island during the 18th century had its own unusual impact. The favourite tipple of the navy was traditionally gin and within months of the first occupation in 1708, distilleries were doing a great trade on the port, manufacturing their own recipe in gin wood-fired copper stills, flavoured with Menorcan juniper berries. In fact, the aromatic gin of Mahón is still produced today using traditional methods to the same secret recipe of 300 years ago at the Son Xoriguer distillery on the harbour. Visitors are welcome to look around the factory and sample the various flavoured gins and liqueurs for sale. Menroca’s favourite drink during the local summer fiestas is ‘Pomada’ or ‘gin amb llimonada’, a deceptively refreshing drink made with gin and lemonade, more potent than it tastes and to be treated with care…!
The British also made their mark in the gastronomy of the island with the introduction of new dairy breeding stock. Governor Kane imported the Friesland cow to the island and an increased milk production enabled the extensive use of butter and cheeses in Menorcan cuisine. Today Menorcan chefs still use more butter than olive oil in their cooking unlike their Spanish counterparts, and the island’s cheeses have a reputation for excellence, the Mahón-Menorca cheese produced in farms around the island having received the ‘Denominación de Origen’ in 1985.
Furthermore, the British legacy can still be found in the ‘Menorquín’ language with surviving words like ‘grevi’, (gravy), (bótil’ (bottle), ‘peni’ (penny), ‘berguin’ (bargain), ‘xumaquer’ (shoemaker), ‘púdin’ (pudding), ‘ron’ (rum) and the more obscure ‘boinder’ for bow window and ‘sedon’ for sit down.
More recently, the most significant event of the 20th century and one which would have a lasting affect on the island’s status as a tourist destination, was the Spanish Civil War of 1936, when Menorca’s support was with the Republicans. When Nationalist troops finally invaded in 1939, the island suffered severe and brutal reprisals. However, there was a surprising and unexpected silver lining to the terrible hardships suffered by the islanders. Today, unlike many Spanish resorts, the lack of high rise buildings and over development during the 1960s / 1970s is said to date back to Franco’s desire to punish Menorca by withholding public money for commercial infrastructure, and therefore unwittingly helping to preserve the island’s unspoiled nature and beautiful landscapes. In 1977, two years after Franco’s death, the island emerged from 40 years of dictatorship with the first democratic elections and today the ‘Estatut d’Autonomía de les Illes Balears’ grants a degree of independence to Balearic Islands.
Over the past 35 years, the close link between the UK and Menorca has been reinforced by the increasing number of Brits choosing to become Menorcan residents, which until recently amounted to some 4,000 expats, about 4.5% of Menorca’s total population. Many have thoroughly integrated with the local community through setting up businesses, marriage and children, revitalising the British influence on the island. Sadly, today’s depressed economic climate (2010 to date) has forced many to return to the UK over the past couple of years.
However, for those remaining, the close Anglo Menorcan connection is kept very much alive. As part of the events to celebrate the tercentenary of the first British naval hospital built overseas on the Isla del Rey in Mahón harbour, the Menorca Britannia Association organised British Menorca Day in June 2011. This was repeated in June 2012 during a two day extravanganza to commemorate both Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Colonel Richard Kane, Menorca’s first British Governor, on the island in 1712. It hoped that British Menorca Day will become an annual event.