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.