By Jacqueline Fanchini,
HE was one of the first expats to settle on the Costa del Sol.
But, while George Langworthy’s life in Torremolinos was marked with trouble and heartbreak, he left behind a legacy that lasts to this day.
Both the Mancunian and his Indian-born wife Anne Margaret Roe have been honoured in the town, with his wife recently having a plaque unveiled in the centre.
The pair arrived on the coast in the mid 1890s with the plan for George to recuperate from a severe injury sustained in the Boer War.
Having immediately fallen in love with the little fishing village they decided to stay permanently, and bought the Castillo Santa Clara, close to the sea.
The loved-up couple, who married in Egypt in 1909, renovated the enormous gardens and built picturesque lookouts over the sea.
But tragedy was soon to strike when Anne died of pneumonia at the age of 40, leaving George utterly devastated and heartbroken.
But it turned out to be just the start of the story. For behind the eccentric millionaire was a deeply religious man, and following his wife’s death he began handing out money in Torremolinos to those in need.
Known as El Ingles de la peseta – the Englishman of the peseta – he gave a peseta to anyone who read a Bible passage aloud to him.
Some of the coast’s well-off Catholics eyed his selfless generosity with suspicion, fearing it to be part of a religious conversion agenda.
But a peseta could feed a whole family back then and ‘the father of the poor’ managed to give away 12 million of them.
After the First World War his generosity shone through once more, as he opened his home to wounded army officers, converting it into a hostel for them.
However, by the end of the 1920s he had parted with his fortune and could no longer afford to pay his staff, living solely off his estate and army pension.
So he made them a deal they couldn’t refuse and handed over the lease of his property to four of his workers, in agreement that they would convert it into a hotel. One condition; maintain him until his death. They agreed, of course.
And so it was that the Costa del Sol’s very first hotel opened its doors in 1930, with the Hotel Santa Clara becoming a great success with clients said to have included Salvador Dali and his muse Gala as well as Pablo Picasso.
After 15 years of seeing his former home serve as Torremolinos’ first true tourism dynamo, he died at the age of 79.
He was buried in Malaga’s English Cemetery next to his beloved wife and remains to this day Torremolinos’ adopted and favourite son.
It is a telling sign of how loved he was, and how many lives he influenced, that almost the whole of Torremolinos came to his funeral in 1945.
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