From Galicia to Glasgow in 1913

As an editor of the International Story Project and a Spanish student, I have been researching the connections of Spanish students to the University of Glasgow. As my placement draws to a close I would like to share the story of a student whose story took my research beyond the walls of the Archive Services.

Through my “detective work”, accessing sources and connecting the clues, I quickly learned that many Spanish students did not come to the University with the intention of graduating. Instead, they often enrolled for one year to attend a particular course, and consequently only left one piece of evidence, a matriculation slip, from their time at the University.

Salvador Alonso’s matriculation slip 1913-14 (GUAS: R8/5/34/1)

This time one hundred years ago, a Spanish student named Salvador Alonso would have been about to embark on a year at the University of Glasgow, a similar venture to that which I undertook at Granada as an ERASMUS student only two years ago.

Salvador Alonso was the youngest of six children. His father, Antonio Alonso had emigrated from Galicia to Havana, Cuba, where he married Salvador’s mother, Eloísa Giménez-Cuenca and had two children before returning to Vigo, Galicia where Salvador and the rest of his siblings were born.

The Alonso Family: Salvador standing centre, beside his father. Courtesy of Palacio de Oriente

Between 1913 and 1914, Salvador enrolled at the Faculty of Science to study Engineering. During his course he studied Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and Physical Laboratory. There is no record to tell us exactly why Salvador chose to study at Glasgow for a year, however, his elder brother Mauro had previously studied in England, and with Glasgow having been at the forefront of UK industrialisation in the century leading up to 1913, it would have been an attractive place to study and learn of business and trade first hand.

Catalogue cover from c.1915. Courtesy of Palacio de Oriente

The outbreak of  World War 1 in 1914 may have prompted Salvador to return to Spain early. Although more likely was the common pattern of studying a particular course before embarking on a business career. Salvador went on to work for his father’s canning company Antonio Alonso, Hijos (Antonio Alonso and Sons), which, evidenced by its name, was firmly established as a family-run business. The father, Antonio, had become a pioneer of the canning industry in Galicia that supplied canned fish products to countries such as France and Belgium. With the direction of his elder sons in the early years and later headed by Salvador himself, the company was able to increase production from 6 million to 60 million tins per year and by 1937 had more than 1000 people working in the various factories around Galicia and Portugal, compared with 50 when the company was first founded. The company’s success was celebrated by a visit from the King of Spain, Alfonso XII, in September 1927.

Visit from King of Spain to Vigo factory in 1927. Courtesy of Palacio de Oriente

It has been very enjoyable researching Salvador Alonso as I can relate on a personal basis to the opportunity he was given to learn a new language and experience a different culture. I have found it fascinating that despite only having one matriculation slip to base my research on, I have been able to trace Salvador Alonso’s history in order to discover his prosperous career within his family’s business (which still survives today under the name of Palacio de Oriente) that was facilitated by a year of study at the University.

Would like to extend my thanks to Palacio de Oriente for access to their rich Archives, and the use of photographs and adverts.

By Rosemary Milne, MA Spanish and History


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