Brits highlight Gothenburg links

If you’re in Gothenburg this week, you might notice that there’s rather a British feel to the place. From a Queen’s tea party at the city’s Röhsska Museum to the presence of warship HMS Kent in the harbour, the city is making a fuss of all things British.

Brits highlight Gothenburg links

For anyone who has spent time in Gothenburg, the city’s links to the other side of the North Sea are obvious – residents have proudly call the city ‘Lilla London’ or little London for at least 250 years; many of Gothenburg’s most prominent institutions have British links. The events this week, part of a festival called ‘Think Britain’, are Britain’s way of highlighting the connection, says British Ambassador Andrew Mitchell:

“There is a very strong historical relationship between Gothenburg and Britain. It’s over 300 years old, but is a very modern relationship too.”

Indeed, Gothenburg’s status as Sweden’s most important trading port owes much to the British, and particularly Scottish, connection:

Swedish investment bank Carnegie is rooted in the British link with Gothenburg. It was founded in the city as a trading business in 1803 by David Carnegie, a Scottish businessman.

The Swedish East India Company, which arguable launched Gothenburg as a major trading port, was founded by Scot Colin Campbell and attracted large numbers of of British merchants, who were eager to escape the restrictions of British trade policy. Many of these merchants quickly became Swedish citizens to escape British reprisals against deserters, and some of their descendants still live in Sweden.

That trading relationship remains important, with massive DFDS freight ferries plying the route from Gothenburg to British ports every day.

The Swedish East India Company might have gone, but reminders of it remain. The Royal Bachelors’ Club, founded in 1769 mainly by British merchants from the company, is considered the fourth oldest gentlemen’s club in the world. The club has a tradition that when the British ambassador visits it hoists a 19th century union jack on its flagpole.

The name of William Chalmers, the son of a Scottish merchant, is still remembered in the city’s famous Chalmers Technical University. Even many popular Gothenburg forenames have a Scottish feel, with Glen viewed in Sweden as a typically ‘Göteborsk’ name.

This week, British officials are hoping to alert both Brits and Gothenburgers to the importance of the relationship. The Queen’s Birthday Party, the highlight of all British embassies’ social calendars, will be held on HMS Kent in Gothenburg harbour – the first time the party has been held outside of Stockholm. The ship will later head to Stockholm, where it will play a prominent role in the Royal Wedding celebrations.

There will be some nods to history, when Andrew Mitchell rededicates a memorial to British Admiral James Saumarez, who commanded the Baltic fleet in the war against Russia, and was later honoured by Swedish King Karl XIII.

The focus of the week, however, will be on the future. A seminar bringing together Swedish and British wind power companies is being attended by over 100 people. There will also be a meeting of companies involved in electronic care, an area where the UK is a market leader.

The festival also taps into the irreverent brand of humour shared by Brits and Gothenburgers: the Röhsska Museum’s is holding a Queen’s Tea Party at the same time as the official Queen’s Birthday Party, at which anyone dressed as a queen will get in free – from little girls in tiaras to fully-fledged drag queens:

“It’s about celebrating what Britain stands for – the traditional and the modern, the diverse and the alternative,” says Mitchell.

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Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer