José David Vidal was the lighthouse keeper from 1906 to 1936.
José David Vidal was the lighthouse keeper from 1906 to 1936. / SUR

The man who shed light on Estepona

  • A descendant of a lighthouse keeper has donated more than 250 digital reproductions of postcards to Estepona's historical archive

  • Not just a lighthouse keeper, José David Vidal preserved the history of the town with his postcard collection

Most lighthouse keepers illuminate the waters to safely guide boats along the shore, but José David Vidal did more than that. He also shed light on the town of Estepona, thanks to his hobby: collecting photographs, stamps, and postcards.

A civil engineer, Vidal arrived in Estepona in 1906 to occupy the then vacant lighthouse. He was to stay in Estepona for 30 years.

Research carried out by the municipal department of Historical Heritage, has revealed that Vidal was not just your average lighthouse keeper.

From a very young age, he showed a real passion for collecting postcards, stamps and coins. In 1916, he joined a society of international correspondence, Filatelia Internacional, whose members exchanged postcards. Thanks to his membership, Vidal managed to accumulate a vast and important collection of postcards and stamps from around the world, between 1903 and 1949.

In the most part they are traditional images from places abroad. The photographs vary from beachgoers in Biarritz, to powerful images of Muslim refugees in Greece during the First World War and of the 1924 Honduras revolution. Now a digital reproduction of the collection has been donated to Estepona's Historical Archive by one of Vidal's descendants, the writer and retired teacher, Alberto Granados.

The images illustrate society of the time.

The images illustrate society of the time. / SUR

The worth of the collection lies, according to the municipal archivist, Alfredo Galán, in the photographs of Estepona, which Vidal asked local photographers Juan Gaitán and Miguel Ramírez to take. The photographs were then sent to other members of the society in the form of postcards.

The Estepona councillor responsible for Local Heritage, José María Guerrero, said, “Without these images we wouldn't know the historic layout and structure of Estepona, the periods of development through which the lighthouse went, and so many other aspects of the everyday lives of the people, all of which would have disappeared if it were not for his collection.”

Vidal also maintained a personal relationship and correspondence with important figures such as Julián Besteiro, speaker of the Constituent Cortes of the Spanish Republic in 1931, with whom he discussed, among other things, working conditions for lighthouse keepers, politics and even stamp collecting.

More than a lighthouse keeper, collector and chronicler, Vidal was something of a hero. “He defended even those who weren't on his side,” said the archivist. During the republic, despite his leftist political views and Freemason membership, he helped a distinguished member of the local conservatives José Nadal Guerrero. Also, Vidal tried, albeit in vain, to stop his house alongside the lighthouse being ransacked. During the break-in, collections of coins and stamps were stolen “as they assumed their value to be higher than they were”, said Galán. “Fortunately, the postcards were not stolen.”

After defending Guerrero, people of Vidal's own political standing attacked him, and Vidal felt obliged to move to Alicante. There, he fought for the release of a colleague who had been arrested for political reasons.

Vidal lost his job and, under Franco, was sentenced for being a Freemason. He spent three years in Burgos prison between 1943 and 1946, and was released only on medical grounds.

Now due to his ethics, cultural ambition, and for shedding light on to Estepona's past, a petition has been started to name a square or a street 'Farero José David Vidal', preferably in the vicinity of the lighthouse that was his home.