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The truth behind the ‘Promotion Hook’, Malta.


A short while ago I saw a post about the ‘PROMOTION HOOK’ in St. Johns Street. Valetta, Malta.

I knew little of this hook despite having spent time in Malta.

Probably because the majority of the time there, I was ‘down the Gut’ or at Tigulio’s Disco (nightclub).

‘Tigullio’ in St Julian’s, in its day one of Malta’s leading nightclubs, it opened almost 50 years ago and closed in the early 1990s. In its heyday, it was one of the most popular discotheques in Malta and one of the largest nightclubs on the island.

As for the Promotion hook, I was unaware of its existence until seeing the post on a Facebook group a short while ago.

As an author of Royal Navy social history books, I was intrigued by the ‘Hook’ and decided to undertake a little research.

This is what I found.



In Valetta, Malta, near the top of St. John’s Street (or Strada San Giovanni, as it used to be called), on the southern side, there projects from the wall an iron hook, known to the Navy as “Promotion Hook”. Custom ordained that a junior officer desirous of promotion must crawl through this hook (it is just big enough) – for preference on his way back to his ship after attending a performance at the Opera.


This hook is also known as NELSON’S HOOK.

This is a report from the ‘Times of Malta’ Saturday, July 31, 2004, by Brian N. Tarpey, Sliema.

 “The mysterious hook as reported in A Century Ago (July 16) was once known as “Nelson’s Hook”.

Situated a few feet from the top of St John Street corner with Merchants Street, in Valletta, the huge iron hook fixed to the wall was placed there in the times of the Knights of Malta.

It is claimed to have been part of the equipment used in the 1740’s to raise a 6.25-ton bell onto the steeple of the nearby church (now the co-cathedral).

Later in 1760, when the courts of justice were moved to the corner building it is said to have been used for hoisting and holding into position a pillory from which convicted offenders were exposed to punishment in public. This practice was stopped when Malta came under British protection.


The Nelson legend of the hook is based on a story that when he was ashore in Malta in 1803 he and several of his officers, after having attended a dinner party in Valletta, had to walk down St John Street to return to their ship in the harbour. On reaching the top of the street one of the officers dared Nelson to try and squeeze through it. As with everything Nelson did he tried and succeeded.

After the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 the hook became known as the “Nelson Hook” and midshipmen were told on entering the Royal Navy that if they wished to be assured of promotion in the service they had to follow Nelson’s example and crawl through the hook.

A photograph taken in 1972 showing a Fleet Air Arm naval officer climbing through the hook later appeared in The Daily Telegraph and it was placed on display in the barber’s shop situated directly opposite the hook.”

 A Wikipedia article regarding The Castellania (officially known as the Castellania Palace) which served as the courthouse in Valetta reads thus:

“The side façade along St. John’s Street is not as ornate as the main façade and it contains a set of wooden and open balconies. The entrance to the Castellania’s prison cells is located in the side façade.

The building’s corner between Merchants and St. John’s streets contains a cylindrical pedestal which is about 3 m (9.8 ft) high. This originally served as a pillory where prisoners would stand on it, one at a time and publicly humiliated.

 This also served as public entertainment, where anyone interested could throw foodstuff at the condemned such as throwing tomatoes and eggs.

More serious offenders were whipped or tortured using the corda at this pillory. The corda was a rope tied to a wooden beam above the pillory and the other end used to tie the hands of the condemned who was lifted for torture. According to Eric Brockman, slaves were those often exposed to public whipping at this corner. However, anybody was subject to the ill-treatment, generally those who committed repeated offences.

Word of mouth has it that an individual would have his debt paid when a third person or group would offer to pay it off if the bankrupt person undergoes the corda, serving as public entertainment.

Those condemned to death often were subjected to endure torture and later hanged outside Valletta, at the Bastion of St. Jacob.


An iron hook is affixed into the wall of the Castellania close to the pillory. 

According to tradition, the hook might have been used to lift the largest bell of the nearby Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, but this is now regarded as unlikely. The hook was most probably used to secure prisoners to the Castellania’s pillory.

In 1803, Horatio Nelson allegedly passed through the hook in a dare and the hook became known as Nelson’s Hook after the Battle of Trafalgar. It became a tradition for Royal Navy sailors to bet and buy drinks for shipmates who managed to pass through the hook. 

Junior officers allegedly had a good chance of promotion if they passed through the hook.

Brockman further claims the hook was used to lift a cage at the pillory, with a person condemned to stay inside for public ridicule, allegedly another type of public degradation. The hook by itself is a sought-after landmark; it is often found marked on modern contemporary maps and included on tourists booklets.”

So, there you have it folks, a simple, relatively small piece of metal with a rather large, is somewhat obscure history.

If you like social and military social history, like the above, you will love my books.

HMS Tiger – Chronicles of the last big cat. Hardcover only HERE



The Pussers Cook BookTraditional Royal Navy recipes from 1950’s to late 1980’s. Available as a Paperback, HERE  or Hardcover, HERE

Jacks Dits, True tales from the Messdeck, Paperback only, HERE


What do you think?


Written by Paul White

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