By Mike Shapton
The generous expat Brit who changed the face of Torremolinos. “Why have I never heard of him?” I wondered as I read through the article below this headline in the Olive Press in Torremolinos in 2010.
My wife and I had come to the Costa on a short spring break. She had never been to the south of Spain and I wanted her to see the Semana Santa processions and places I knew well, including Cordoba where I had lived and worked almost 40 years previously.
I kept the article and brought it back to the UK resolved to see what I could find out about this man.
Back home, an internet search revealed nothing about him apart from a sprinkling of references, on Spanish websites.
The surname was a gift for research as it was quite uncommon: Langworthy. The only prominent Langworthy in the whole of the UK was Edward Ryley Langworthy, a Victorian millionaire. George Langworthy, the ‘generous expat’ was one of the nephews of the millionaire and benefited in his will.
In 2014 and 2015 no less than four books were published about George Langworthy, his charitable work, and his home that became the first hotel on the Costa del Sol. All were in Spanish.
Here was a man loved and respected in a part of Spain that is enjoyed by millions of British holidaymakers who, in contrast, are completely unaware of his existence.
I got hold of all four books and learned more about George and his impact on this part of Spain. The Spanish books gave me pointers about his life before Spain such as where he went to school, his army career and the probable reasons he settled in Spain.
I began to research this first half of his life – he was 38 when he settled in Spain. I quickly realised that some of the information both within the books and in the various articles written about him was inaccurate and limited – not surprising as these writers were much more interested in his life in Spain.
That decided me to attempt a biography, though as I was to find out, George left little in the way of written material, just legal documents relating to his home, typed ‘treatments’ to do with his religion and an account of a drive through France in 1909 published in his regimental gazette.
Despite that, I was also able to draw on the experiences of others such as the director of Whipsnade Zoo who chose, perhaps unwisely, to retire to Spain months before the outbreak of the Civil War.
My search in the UK had started in an Army Museum in York which holds an archive of the cavalry regiment in which George served for 16 years. They generously invited me to browse the archive (paper, not digital), where I found personal accounts of the regiment’s role in India and in the Boer War and even a description of how George received a severe wound. More help came from Uppingham, the boarding school in Rutland where George was educated.
The research led me into fascinating corners of history. These ranged from learning about the educational pioneer who was George’s headmaster to the marital prospects of the British military and civilians serving in the Raj in nineteenth century India.
I was keen, too, to introduce readers to a little of Spanish history. I have been teaching English retirees basic Spanish for a few years and have realised how little they know of Spanish history, whether it be the Empire and its decline or the Civil War that so scarred Spain in the twentieth century.
Finally, I felt I had a book to write. Now I had to visit Spain again, where a descendant of George’s loyal staff shared the photos that he had left behind. Then descendants of the Englishwoman who had first managed the hotel shared their photos and invited me to their home in London to hear more of the story. Again and again, I was struck by how generous people were with their time and knowledge.
On my last trip to Spain to finalise matters, I was having lunch in Bar La Bodega in Calle San Miguel and got chatting to a group of elderly diners: ‘Fue un santo’, declared one old man, ‘He was a saint’. This man’s family had been one of so many helped by George.
Clearly his name lives on in Torremolinos even though it is 75 years since his death. I felt proud that I had traced his life and how his pre-Spain experiences, in my opinion, shaped his actions in Spain. I hope that my book will help English speakers, in Spain and the UK, learn about his remarkable life.
The Englishman of the Peseta by Mike Shapton is available on Amazon priced £11.95