Russian Woman Journal
Point of view

Monday 15 September  2008

DOUG R. (England)

Old Russian Connections


Old Russian Connections - Closer than you may think

Long Time Friends.

LondonThe people of Britain have been involved with Russia many times over several centuries, and for several reasons.

Which do you consider was the most important?

• Was it establishing and developing the Russian Navy?

• Or was it in building the original structure of the first modern Russian Army?

• Or providing safe meeting places for planning the 1917 Revolution?

Bolshevism and October 1917

Through a simple door in East London passed many Russians destined to become famous and powerful. The original Marxist Conference meetings were held in that building; The Brotherhood Church in east London.

In 1849 Karl Marx had settled in London, having been expelled from Paris.
He studied in the Bethnal Green Public library in East London.
He wrote and published ‘Das Kapital’ in three stages from 1867.
He never left Britain. His grave is in Highgate cemetery London.

Lenin (real name Ulianoff) visited Britain 6 times between 1902-1911. Russian police issued an arrest warrant if he returned to Russia. He was safe in Britain.
This founder of Bolshevism was a major force in the October 1917 Revolution.

In !907 the first Marxist conference was held at the Brotherhood Church.
Those attending included Lenin, Plekhanov, Martov and Joseph Ivanovich, real name Dzhughashvili, later known as Stalin.

Tsarist police had violent opinions of revolutionaries. Persecution and exile to Siberia were their weapons. Sensible Russians held political meetings outside Russia.
The Tsarist regime was not popular in Britain. British politicians were busy. British police were busy. These new insignificant foreign political agitators were left alone.

A local small boy earned money by running errands, distributing clandestine messages for the delegates, cleaning out fire grates and various other menial work. The agreed payment was half a penny for each job.

Mr Ivanovich was not a popular person and only spoke Russian. He was from Georgia and did not mix well with other delegates, who despised him.
He did not seem to understand the currency. He paid the small boy 30 pennies for each job. (60 times the correct rate.)
In return the small boy bought him toffees. There aren’t any toffees in Georgia.

Did the other delegates know the currency mistake and keep quiet?
If he had been more sociable could he have saved money and still had the toffees?

On the other hand Stalin was ‘good with children’ as are most dictators.

Military Links.
In the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, 1630, the first serious modernisation of the Russian Army was entrusted to Alexander Leslie- a Scot. He recruited thousands of men and their armaments.
Between 1650 and 1700, the Russian army had fifteen Generals and two Field Marshals with British origins.

When he became Tsar, Peter the Great had decided on a course of modernising Russia. He started his tradition of employing knowledgeable foreigners.
His first close advisor was a Scot, General Patrick Gordon of Aberdeen (1635-1699).

Scottish flagBritish Union Flag

Russian Navy
Peter chose the saltire (Scottish flag) as the basis of his new Russian Navy Banner.
The same as today incorporated in the British Union Flag.
He also established the Order of St Andrew as one of the important knighthoods of Russia.
This shared Veneration of St Andrew the Apostle established a strong link between Scotland and the new Russia.

Peter’s building of his modern navy faced serious difficulties;

1. Russia ships were then all oar driven galleys, wide and flat, hopeless in open seas.
2. Russian ship builders had no experience of sail-driven sea-going ships.
3. Russian generals had no experience of naval tactics or strategy.
4. Land-locked Russia had no experience of operating fighting ships.
5. In their successful naval battles with Sweden they had used land army tactics.

St Petersburg
Peter’s strategic decisions included the need to establish a strong military presence where the river Neva entered the Baltic sea.

He was determined Russia would have reliable sea-borne access to the World.
Pushkin later described it as ‘a window on the world’.
Hence the decision to build a new capital city with new powerful military defences.

Serious objections to this site were;
The area is wet and marshy, subject to frequent flooding.
Sweden controlled the land with established defensive forts.
The Swedish navy dominated the eastern Baltic with its much more powerful navy.

Nevertheless Peter decreed a shipyard be built on this site. By 1706 it had 10,000 workers.

Peter seized the Swedish owned Ingrian lands including their forts of Nyen and Noteborg.

He started building his new capital city in 1703.

The name St Petersburg originated in the Dutch Sankt-Pietersburh.
Peter had lived in Holland for some time.
He liked the Dutch system of canals instead of streets.
He decreed there would not be any permanent bridges across the canals of his new capital.

The man chosen to organise and plan the canals was an engineer from Wales, where many canals helped the industrial revolution then in progress.

The project attracted other British entrepreneurs.
St Petersburg has been an important British trading centre ever since.

Many of the new navy officers came from the British Navy, bringing their expertise and traditions.
One of Peter’s early appointments was Samuel Greig, 1735-1788.
He became a full admiral in Russia’s Baltic fleet.
He later achieved famous victories for Russia over the Ottoman Empire at Chesme and Hogland, using similar tactics of fireships to those used by the British Navy to destroy the Spanish Armada.
He is generally regarded as the father of the Russian Navy.
All his sons followed him into Russian public service. One became Minister of Finance.
Until the 1917 Revolution, thirty British Russians had achieved senior naval rank.

Other important Russians with British origins included Prince Michael Barclay de Tolly, the Russian Army’s commander against Napoleon.

Examples of non military connections are.
Charles Baird developed the wharf which, in 1815, built and launched the first Russian steamship, the Elizaveta.
Murdoch Macpherson founded the Baltic Works and Shipyard, still working.

The world of arts and science should not be ignored.
James Bruce and Robert Erskine, men of learning, gave their extensive libraries to the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences.

James Wylie, rose from Army surgeon to personal doctor to three Emperors, President of The Medico-Chirurgical Academy, and was Russia’s only baronet.

Alexander Bisset introduced tea planting and processing in Georgia.

Football was introduced to St Petersburg by the many Scottish labourers.

These contacts also went the other way.

The fairytale art nouveau ‘Russian Village’ by Fiodor Shekhtel was built in Kelvin Grove Park Glasgow Scotland by 200 Russian carpenters.
Many thousands visited it. He won the Diploma for the show’s best architect.
He later exchanged works with Charles Rennie Machintosh in displays in Moscow and Glasgow.

Of all the British cultures, Scots in particular seem to have an affinity with Russians.
Both are Christian with the same Patron Saint.
Both live in cold climates.
Both prefer simple peasant food to eat , grain spirits to drink. Sweets are popular with both.

Scots seem very much at home in Russia.


DOUG R. (England)


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Published in Woman's Magazine Russian Woman Journal  www.russianwomanjournal.com - 15 September 2008

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