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History of the British in Hamburg

February 7, 2012 in History of Hamburg's relations with Britain

Given Hamburg’s reputation as a mercantile city, the self-styled “gateway to the world”, it should come as no surprise that the relations between Hamburg and Britain were founded on trade.

The city’s links with England go back to 1281 when, together with merchants from Cologne and Lübeck, Hamburg opened a trading office in London, the Steelyard. In 1321, Hamburg joined the Hanseatic League, which maintained further trading posts on the east coast of England – in King’s Lynn and Boston – and in Aberdeen. Trade flourished, and Hamburg merchants were the only Germans to have a permanently reserved place at the London Stock Exchange.

It was not until the 16th century, however, that the English became established in Hamburg, when the Company of Merchant Adventurers moved its continental headquarters here and negotiated the contract that marked the beginning of the “English Church”. Consular relations date back to 1632, and in 1689 the historian Sir Paul Rycaut – an expert on the Ottoman Empire – was the first diplomat to be accredited to Hamburg, where he died in 1700.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the influence of the Merchant Adventurers had dwindled and the British in Hamburg were increasingly independent entrepreneurs. A good example is the Sloman family. William Sloman was a ship’s captain who moved with his family to Hamburg from Great Yarmouth in 1785, becoming a Hamburg citizen and establishing a ship broking company in 1798. His son, Robert Miles Sloman, inherited the company in 1800 and, despite the French occupation of Hamburg during the Napoleonic Wars, went on to open the first regular transatlantic service from Hamburg to New York. In 1851, he became a member of the first Hamburg Parliament. Today, Rob. M. Sloman is Germany’s oldest shipping company.

Few Britons can have had a more lasting impact on Hamburg than the engineer William Lindley. Born in London in 1808, Lindley visited Wandsbek as a teenager to learn German, returning in 1833 as a qualified engineer to build Hamburg’s first railway, linking the city with Bergedorf. Following the “Great Fire” of 1842, Lindley contributed to plans (with Alexis de Chateauneuf and Gottfried Semper) to reorganise the city centre. By the time he left Hamburg in 1860, Lindley had been responsible for changing public lighting to gas –Hamburg’s first gasworks were built to his plans in Grasbrook – constructing a 62-kilometre modern sewerage system and designing the first public baths and washhouse on the Continent, built in Steinstrasse. A pioneer of modern civil engineering, Lindley did much to improve the quality of life in 19th century Hamburg and establish it as a modern city. There is a statue of him near Überseebrücke.

It was in the 19th century and in the years up to 1914 that Hamburg laid the foundations for its claim today to be the most British city in Germany. The British passion for sport spread to the city, with the first horse race in Germany held on the “fields near Wandsbek” in 1835, the foundation the following year of Germany’s first rowing club, the Hamburger Ruder Club, by young Hamburg merchants apprenticed to British companies (today the Hamburger und Germania Ruder Club) and, in 1898, the establishment by Anglophile Hamburgers of the Hamburger Polo Club, the first in Germany. The British way of life, style of dress and know-how were admired and imitated. On 28 June 1904, just 10 years before the outbreak of war, King Edward VII was given an enthusiastic welcome as the first British monarch to visit Hamburg.

Hamburg-British relations in the first half of the 20th century were dominated by two World Wars, an enmity epitomised by the horrors of the German bombing of London and Coventry and the firestorm unleashed by Allied bombing of Hamburg in July 1943. The ruins of St Nicholas Church (the Nikolaikirche), completed in 1874 to plans by the British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and destroyed in 1943, serve as a memorial and a symbol of reconciliation.

For many British men and women of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation, their first experience of Hamburg will have been as members of the military occupation forces or the civilian administration that governed the city in the post-war years. (It was not until 1958 that the last British garrison troops left Hamburg.) But some opted to stay, having met and fallen in love with people from Hamburg. It is they, together with the many who came to Hamburg from Britain and the USA for their jobs, who formed the backbone of the Anglican community in Hamburg in the post-war years before the demographic shift which saw St Thomas Becket become the inclusive, international community it is today. It is in part their legacy, together with that of the Merchant Adventurers and all those in between, that we are celebrating in this 400th anniversary year.

St Mary’s, Rotterdam

June 20, 2011 in Anglican Churches in Europe

There has been a sizeable English community in Rotterdam since the days of the Reformation, when many Reformists fled Catholic England and established themselves in the comparative safety of Holland. At the time, Rotterdam’s status as of the main centres in which these refugees settled earned it the nickname ‘Little London’. Later, during the Netherlands’ brief period as an English protectorate between 1585 and 1588, some of the 6,000 troops sent by Elizabeth I were stationed in the town of Brielle, just outside Rotterdam.

It was around this time that cloth traders, some of whom had had their activities displaced from Antwerp further down the coast, began to settle in the city. By 1635, this mercantile community had grown and developed to such an extent that it began holding its own religious services, sharing St Peter’s Church in Hoogstraat with Rotterdam’s French inhabitants. As such, St Peter’s became known as the French and English Court Church. However, it was an arrangement that was short-lived – within just a few years the majority of the English traders had moved to nearby Dordrecht, taking their chaplain with them.

There were no more Anglican services in Rotterdam for some time. Yet a contingent of English merchants stayed and, in 1699, 17 of these remaining families agreed to guarantee the stipend for a new priest, to the tune of Fl 450 per annum. Services began in a converted warehouse, but over subsequent years enough was raised through donations to construct a purpose-built building, ‘The English Church of St Mary’s in Rotterdam’, consecrated in 1708. The new church could count some extremely distinguished figures among its benefactors, including Queen Anne, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke of Marlborough, and the chaplain’s stipend was paid by the British government. There was also a close link to the seafaring community, with the money for the organ (installed in 1733) donated mainly by the captains of London and Dublin vessels.

The congregation initially flourished in its new home. However, the Napoleonic invasion in 1794 saw many from the English community leave Rotterdam, including their priest, the Rev William Williams. The few who remained attended either the Scots Church or the English Presbyterian Church. St Mary’s, meanwhile, was used by the occupying French forces as a prison, a naval arsenal and a granary. In 1808, its possessions were confiscated and divided equally among Rotterdam’s other churches, and in 1811 the wardens were ordered to surrender the church registers to the authorities. Even after the city’s liberation, things did not immediately improve; Russian soldiers used the building as a stable. Thus things were in a rather sorry state when the church council regained possession in 1816, and it was only with the assistance of the British and Dutch governments that they were able to return St Mary’s to its intended purpose, with services resuming the following year.

Yet the church’s run of misfortune was far from over. In 1864, the tower had to be demolished after being struck by lightning. At the same time, subsidence was found to threaten the rest of the structure and could only be remedied through costly repairs. Finally, in 1873, the British government withdrew its vital financial support. It took St Mary’s until 1878 to find a new patron, the Colonial and Continental Church Society (today the Intercontinental Church Society), an organisation which still owns the building to this day and retains the right to appoint the chaplain.

This new source of funding marked the tentative beginnings of another renaissance for the church. With a growing number of sailors passing through Rotterdam’s busy port as a result of booming international trade, St Mary’s established a seamen’s centre together with the Scots Church and, from 1893, the Missions to Seamen. St Mary’s original facilities now being beyond repair, it was decided to build a new combined church and seamen’s club on a donated plot of land in the district of Delfshaven. The interior of the old church was duly sold and the building demolished in 1913 (a move berated by the British journal Architectural Review as an act of ‘vandalism’), and a replacement built, based on a neo-Gothic design by Dutch architect J. Verheul Dzn.

Yet Europe, and with it St Mary’s, was soon plunged into the turmoil of the two world wars. In each of these, the occupying German forces requisitioned the church and put it to use for military purposes. In the First World War, St Mary’s was used for the internment of prisoners of war. The then chaplain, Rev H. Haworth Coryton, who remained in the Netherlands during the hostilities, regularly visited prisoners held at Groningen prison camp in the north of the country in order to minister to them. During the Second World War, the church’s possessions were confiscated and its building was used first as sleeping quarters for German troops and then as a place for storing motorcycles and petrol, before finally becoming the German Naval Garrison Church in late 1940. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the congregation were displaced to the Old Catholic Church, where they worshipped until the end of the war and the return of St Mary’s to them.

The post-war years saw the church flourish as Rotterdam regained its importance as a trading centre and as a consequence of a large number of Anglo-Dutch marriages. The 1950s saw the installation of stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel and of a peal of bells in the tower, and the 250th anniversary year in 1958 was marked by a visit from HM Queen Elizabeth II, HRH Prince Philip, HM Queen Juliana and TRH Prince Bernhard, Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene.

St Mary’s has recently undergone extensive restoration work to preserve this wonderful church for future generations. In 2008, it celebrated its 300th anniversary at an event attended by HM Queen Beatrix – an honour which underscores the important role St Mary’s continues to play in Rotterdam’s social tapestry. Services are held twice weekly, on Sundays and Thursdays, and are open to people of all denominations.

Based on a number of articles on the St Mary’s website.

St Boniface, Antwerp

June 17, 2011 in Anglican Churches in Europe

The history of the Anglican Church in Antwerp is intimately intertwined with the city’s history as a great trading centre in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. The first English settlers were cloth merchants in around the 12th century. Their guild, the Fraternity of St Thomas of Canterbury, received extensive privileges from the Duke of Brabant in 1305, and subsequently went on to establish its own chapel, staffed by guild-appointed chaplains and with furnishings imported from England. This chapel was probably dedicated to the guild’s patron saint, St Thomas of Canterbury (St Thomas Becket).

The early years of the 16th century saw Antwerp become a haven for English Reformers fleeing persecution. Among these was William Tyndale, whose famous translation of the Bible was to heavily influence the authors of the King James Version a century later. Antwerp’s authorities tolerated the presence of the Reformers because of the crucial importance of the English merchants for the local economy, but as Reformation politics played out across the Channel and tensions between England and the Low Countries’ Spanish rulers escalated, this situation became increasingly strained. Elizabeth I’s government had initially enjoyed comparatively warm relations with Spain, but these gradually deteriorated, not helped by English sympathy for Dutch Protestant rebels. The Company of Merchant Adventurers, the successor organisation to the Fraternity of St Thomas of Canterbury, introduced a statute insisting that all its members must become members of the Church of England, and reports were sent back to Phillip II branding the English merchants as ‘heretics’. A series of increasingly severe edicts against Protestants were issued, yet for a time Antwerp’s authorities continued to leave the merchants in peace. This lasted until the city became a key centre of the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule, in which England sided with Protestant rebels. When Spanish forces regained control of Antwerp in 1585 after a lengthy siege, Protestants were ordered to leave the city, depriving it of its most prosperous citizens. It was just one of many blows to Antwerp’s status as a great trading centre. In 1614, a dispute between James I and the Dutch Republic led to short-lived boycott of English cloth. Finally in 1648 the Peace of Münster – which accorded Dutch independence formal recognition – closed the River Schledt, the great artery linking Antwerp to the North Sea, to shipping. For this proud city, which just a century before had accounted for around 40% of world trade, it was the end of an era. Now, the merchants who had once been such a key part of its economy took their activities elsewhere, notably to Rotterdam and Hamburg.

Antwerp then remained without a sizeable British community, or a place of Anglican worship, for nearly 200 years. It was only with the reopening of the Schledt to trade following the establishment of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 that British merchants slowly returned. At first, they held services in a room at the Bourse, but soon received permission to share a building, the Church of the Annonciades, with the city’s other Protestant denominations. Yet this arrangement entailed considerable inconvenience, and so they petitioned the government for their own church and a share of the Church of the Annonciades’ subsidy. On 13 June 1821, a royal decree put another building, the Chapelle des Tanneurs, at the congregation’s sole disposal, but the funding was made contingent on the services conforming to the rites of the Dutch Presbyterian Church, something they had to refuse on principle. They were therefore forced to fund the church themselves until the Belgian secession in 1830, when the new government accorded them the same subsidy granted to all other officially recognised churches.

The Chapelle des Tanneurs served as the home of Antwerp’s Anglican congregation until 1910, when it was replaced by the current building. The idea of constructing a new church was first raised in 1885 after it became clear that the Chapelle required urgent investment in order to fund repairs. Plans were drawn up for a new building, plus a vicarage and schoolrooms, and after much delay a plot of land was purchased in 1904. Sadly, the chaplain, the Rev Michael Kearney, who had done much to advance the project, passed away shortly before the church’s completion in 1910. He is remembered in a stained glass window in the south aisle. The congregation also went to great efforts to raise the money to build a church hall, which would have opened in autumn 1914 had it not been for the outbreak of World War I.

When hostilities began, many of the church’s members initially remained in Antwerp. Shelling of the city began shortly before midnight on 7 October 1914, blowing out the windows of the vicarage and the church’s East Window. An operation was launched to evacuate Antwerp’s 1,500 British residents by sea. When the city fell on 9 October, responsibility for the protection of British interests and property passed to the American Consul, Tuck Sherman. He took the church’s altar crosses, other brasses and Communion silver to his own home for safe-keeping and went to great efforts to ensure that neither the church nor the vicarage were left unoccupied. In the absence of a chaplain, he himself read either Matins or Evensong on a weekly basis, and his parents took up residence in the vicarage to prevent it from being requisitioned by the Germans. When the United States entered the war in 1917, Mr Sherman passed the church’s brasses and silver to the wife of the Danish Consul, herself British by birth, and the Dutch Consul assumed responsibility for safeguarding the buildings. In the latter part of the war, the Rev H.S.T. Gahan, the Anglican chaplain of Christ Church Brussels, was able to regularly visit British prisoners of war held in Antwerp.

The war left the congregation much diminished and the church initially facing not insignificant financial difficulties. However, despite this, and due in no small part to the dedication of the church’s members and certain individuals in particular, the interwar years nonetheless witnessed a revival. Many of the stained glass windows, donated in memory of past parishioners, date from this period, as does the mosaic situated beneath the East Window, the money for which was raised by the congregation.

The arrival of the Second World War and the threat of impending German occupation saw the majority of the congregation depart once again in May 1940. As 25 years earlier, the church was initially placed under the protection of the US Consul. Nevertheless, within just three months the vicarage and its garden had become overgrown and open windows left the interior exposed to the elements. As such Mrs Flandre, a member of the congregation who had remained behind, agreed with the Consul that she should move in to prevent it from falling into disrepair. Shortly thereafter, the Germans began using the church for their own services and their chaplain demanded the return of the Communion silver, which Mrs Flandre had hidden in the vicarage’s gas oven. She denied all knowledge of the silver’s whereabouts but, all the same, decided it best to find an alternative hiding place and so entrusted it to her doctor for the duration of the war. It remained in his possession until Antwerp was liberated by British troops in September 1944, when it was returned to its rightful home at the church. St Boniface then spent a brief period under the control of the British military authorities, with services conducted by army chaplains, until the pre-war chaplain, the Rev R. Wainwright, returned in February 1947.

St Boniface has recently celebrated its centenary and begun a major restoration project to preserve this recognised state monument for future generations. Amid this beautiful setting, the clergy and congregation aim to provide an open and welcoming spiritual home for both residents of Antwerp and visitors. Morning services are held weekly, with Evensong once a month. The church is also engaged in a number of charity projects and holds a series of social and fundraising events throughout the year.

Based on an article published on the St Boniface website.

St Andrew’s, Moscow

May 12, 2011 in Anglican Churches in Europe

The foundations which would allow the establishment of the Anglican community in Russia were laid by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), who reigned between 1533 and 1584. In an effort to promote trade with Europe, he gave permission for foreign communities of merchants to worship according to their own traditions, complete with their own church buildings and ministers. Russia’s first Anglican church was most probably built in Archangel in the seventeenth century. Archangel, like Hamburg, was a bustling centre of trade, with the British Isles among Russia’s foremost trading partners. From around 1705, Archangel’s chaplain regularly travelled to Moscow to hold services there. In those days, with St Petersburg the capital, Moscow’s British community consisted mainly of young merchants living far from their homes and families. As might be expected, drunkenness and disorder were common, frequently with loss of life.  Women were few and far between – in 1706, they numbered only eight in the congregation, six of whom were probably servants. Thus Moscow remained a small and isolated outpost of the Anglican Church, becoming one of four congregations in Russia, the others being Archangel, St Petersburg [established 1754] and Kronstadt [established 1771]). Like the others, it was supported and administered by the Russia Company, a powerful trading company responsible for much of Anglo-Russian trade. It appointed the chaplains and provided the financial means to maintain the congregations, an echo of our own links to the Merchant Adventurers at St Thomas Becket.

The Anglican community in Moscow remained small until the nineteenth century, when the city underwent rapid industrialisation. With this blossoming came the settlement of numerous professional families involved in trade and manufacturing, and thus the congregation grew sufficiently for it to obtain first its own chaplain in 1825 (prior to which it had been served from first Archangel and then St Petersburg) and then its own church building in 1828. The British (Anglican) Chapel, as it was officially called, was far more than just a place of worship – it was the heart of the British community. Over the subsequent years, its facilities grew to include stables, a coach house, a hearse house, a library and a school. It thus exerted a stabilising influence on the British population, providing a focus for social life and encouraging families to put down roots. Furthermore, the chaplains and congregation were also committed to playing a role in wider society. An orphanage was founded in 1831, and places at the school were open to Russian and British children alike.

Eventually, the congregation outgrew the small chapel and the Russia Company was persuaded of the need to construct a larger building. Thus it was that the English architect Richard Knill Freeman was commissioned to build a replacement on the existing site, a project completed in 1884. What he created was, as noted in 1915 by Herbert Bury, Bishop for North and Central Europe, ‘almost startlingly like, it seems in that ancient capital, to a bit of a London suburb.’ The congregation gave generously to support the project, for although the Russia Company contributed 25,000 roubles towards it, this fell far short of the final bill of 213,616 roubles ‘exclusive of stained glass and other presentations’. The windows, almost all of which contained stained glass, were contributed mainly by families in memory of deceased relatives, and fittings and furnishings were in many cases donated by members of the congregation according to their profession. Thus the ‘draperies and fittings for the nave doors’ were supplied by Muir and Mirrieles, a Scottish-owned department store, and the boiler, wrought iron church gates and railings were a gift of the Smith family, who owned a local boiler factory.

The story of how the church came to be dedicated to St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, is an interesting one and highlights that life at the chaplaincy was not always as harmonious as might be supposed. The congregation was roughly equally divided between English (Anglican) and Scottish (Presbyterian) members. Neither could agree on how the church was to be run, and at one point the dispute was so bitter that each side appointed its own wardens and there were fights over which side should have the minute book. Foremost among the Scots’ complaints was the style of worship. The clergy, being licensed to officiate by the Bishop of London, were obliged to conduct services according to the Book of Common Prayer, which was unpalatable to those of a Presbyterian persuasion. One former chaplain later recalled: “My work in Moscow was difficult and uphill… for I am a good and definite Churchman, and yet I had to persuade people, who were really Dissenters, to look at Church matters from the Church point of view.” Thus the decision to dedicate the new building to St Andrew was a compromise in return for the Scots permitting services to be conducted according to the rites of the Church of England. Not that this entirely resolved the disputes: in December 1911, the then chaplain, Rev Frank North, was criticised by the committee for decorating the church with flowers and evergreen foliage at Christmas. Thus the old tensions appear to have persisted for decades afterwards.

What did successfully bring the congregation together, however, was a shared spirit of national identity. Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, for instance, saw a profound outpouring of grief. Such occasions also underlined the importance of the British community’s role in Muscovite society. A year later, the service to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII drew 285 people, including, as the committee minutes record, ‘the Consuls of most foreign nations’. When Edward died in 1910, those attending the memorial service (550 in all) included the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her retinue. Yet despite taking pride in their shared national roots, the congregation was also deeply involved in helping the wider community. Jane McGill, who funded the construction of the parsonage in memory of her deceased husband, also established a hospital. Later, during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), the Ladies’ Committee helped to raise funds for wounded Russian soldiers, stating that ‘although we are living here in a foreign country, yet it is our duty to help those who are… to a large extent, our personal and good friends in their hour of need.’

This relatively stable state of affairs was thrown into turmoil in 1917 by the October Revolution. During the fighting, the church tower was commandeered the Bolsheviks, who used it for a machine gun emplacement. When the fighting had passed, the chaplain and his family emerged from their hiding place in the basement to find ‘many spent cartridges in the courtyard and two large pools of blood.’ Nor was this the only immediate consequence of the Revolution for the church. The church strong room, which had contained valuables deposited there for safekeeping by members of the congregation, was raided by the new authorities, and some 126 locked boxes and 193,000 roubles in cash taken. The upheaval also brought hardship and persecution, and here the incredible contribution of Rev Frank North and his wife Margaret deserves to be noted. In the turbulent times between the October Revolution and leaving Russia on the final train to Helsinki in March 1920, they visited those in prison, protested to the authorities about cases of ill-treatment and were themselves imprisoned several times. They bought food on the black market to feed the weak and destitute, turning part of the parsonage into a canteen. Finally, when it became clear they would have to leave, they did not do so without first organising the evacuation of the British community. For their efforts, they both received CBEs for services to the community, and Rev North became chaplain of Helsinki or, as it was renamed, ‘Helsinki with Moscow’, a symbol that St Andrew’s, though vacant, was not forgotten.

Under the Soviet Union, the church became a hostel and then, from 1964, offices and recording studios for the state-owned recording company, Melodiya, whilst the parsonage became first the Finnish Embassy and then the Estonian Legation. Anglican worship in Moscow was restricted to occasional services held by visiting clergy, often at the British Embassy. Finally, in 1991, Rev Tyler Strand, the Helsinki chaplain, managed to persuade Melodiya to allow him to hold services in the church on Sundays, and on 15 July the Eucharist was celebrated there for the first time since 1920. From then on, services took place roughly fortnightly the appointment of a full-time chaplain, Rev Canon Chad Coussmaker, in 1993. What has followed since is a process of gradual transition back to the building’s original use as a place of worship. When HRH Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1994, she was told by President Boris Yeltsin that the church was being returned to the congregation, yet it was 2001 before Melodiya fully vacated the premises. Today, St Andrew’s is once again a thriving community, with weekly attendance numbering approximately 150 people drawn from a wide range of national backgrounds, and around 200 for major festivals. The tower is home to an Anglican–Orthodox education centre, St Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute.

this article is based on the articles by Jean Coussmaker that appear on the St Andrew’s website.

Who was Thomas Becket?

May 11, 2011 in Who was Thomas Becket?

The dramatic life of the patron saint of the Merchant Adventurers was the theme of a historical movie titled "Becket". This film adaptation produced in 1964 starred Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II.
Click on the image to view the trailer.

Thomas Becket was born in London, probably in 1118, of Norman parents and was given a good education. In 1142 he entered the service of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald, who sent him abroad to study canon law and, in 1154, made him Archdeacon of Canterbury.  A year later, in 1155, King Henry II appointed him Royal Chancellor. He was on good terms with the king and led an extravagant lifestyle as a courtier. But when Henry appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, following Theobald’s death, he changed from being, in his own words, ‘a patron of play-actors and a follower of hounds, to being a shepherd of souls’. His new role soon brought him into violent conflict with the king. He fled to exile in France and did not dare return for six years until he was reconciled with Henry. But the quarrel soon broke out afresh. Henry, in Normandy, flew into a rage and uttered the reckless words that were to be Thomas’s death warrant: ‘Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ Four knights hurried to England and murdered Thomas in a side chapel of Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170.

Thomas was canonised (made a saint) only three years later in 1173. Canterbury, always on the pilgrim route to Rome, became a destination in its own right, immortalised in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Although Thomas’s shrine was destroyed in 1538 on the orders of King Henry VIII, Canterbury remains a pilgrimage site to this day. St Thomas Becket’s feast day is 29 December, the anniversary of his death.

This article draws on information in The Penguin Dictionary of Saints by Donald Attwater (Penguin Books 1965)

Read more about Thomas Becket and Canterbury Cathedral here

You can read a short biography of Thomas Becket by Andrew Chapman (originally published on the Surefish web site in January 2007) on the church website.

More information about Thomas Becket from Wikipedia.

Hamburg and Great Britain – a brief history of relations

May 6, 2011 in History of Hamburg's relations with Britain

Reproduced from “The British Consulate-General in Harvestehuder Weg” by Michael Ahrens (British Consulate-General, Hamburg, September 2003) by kind permission of the author.

The British feel at home in Germany’s “most anglophile city”, whose origins date back to the ninth century when the “Hammaburg” was built as the seat of Bishop Ansgar, the “Apostle of the North”. Emperor Barbarossa’s Charter of 1189 granted Hamburg the privilege of toll-free river and sea trade. Hamburg’s links with Great Britain began almost 100 years later.

Together with merchants from Cologne and Lübeck, Hamburg opened a central trading office in London in 1281. Known as the “Steelyard”, it was Hamburg’s bridgehead in England. In 1321, Hamburg joined the Hanseatic League. English sheep provided the wool for cloth, the most important product. In the 16th century, the cloth trade was organised by the “Right Worshipful Company of Merchant Adventurers of England”, an amalgamation of local traders’ associations which had formed out of religious fraternities. The Adventurers began trading cloth with Hamburg in 1567. The city provided the English Court guest house in Groninger Straße free of charge. In 1611, Hamburg concluded a contract with the Adventurers which gave them the right to hold church services in English for their members. The “English Church of St. Thomas à Becket”, situated on the Zeughausmarkt and completed in 1838, was the first non-Lutheran religious community in Hamburg and the oldest Anglican church on the continent. It is still used today and comes under the bishopric of London.

Trade between Hamburg and Great Britain flourished: Hamburg merchants were the only Germans to have a permanently reserved place at the London Stock Exchange. The prosperous herring trade was protected by bilateral agreements. In 1618, Hamburg became a “free imperial city”. Sir Paul Rycaut was the first British diplomat to be accredited in the Hanseatic city over 70 years later in 1689.

It was a tradition for the sons of Hamburg merchants to serve an apprenticeship with a British company. They “imported” the sport of rowing to Hamburg. As a result, the “Hamburg Rowing Club” was founded in 1836 and still exists today as the “Germania Rowing Club”. The British passion for equestrian sports also came galloping across to Germany in the early 19th century. The first ever horse race in Germany took place in 1835 on the “fields near Wandsbek”. The first Polo Club was founded in Hamburg just 60 years later.

The “Great Fire” of 1842 destroyed a third of the city. The British engineer William Lindley came up with the idea of stopping the fire through controlled explosions and thus prevented worse damage. Together with Alexis de Chateauneuf and Gottfried Semper, he proposed the complete reorganisation of the city centre immediately after the “Great Fire”. Lindley played a major role in the subsequent urban redevelopment measures. Under his leadership a modern sewerage system was constructed. A 62-kilometre network of pipes was built between 1844 and 1848. Lindley was also responsible for public lighting being changed to gas, and Hamburg’s first gasworks was built according to Lindley’s plans on the Grasbrook between 1843 and 1845. He also designed the first public baths and wash¬house on the Continent, built in Steinstraße in 1855.

Furthermore, Lindley established northern Germany’s first rail link, from Hamburg to Bergedorf. The locomotives were built by the British company Stephenson. A bronze statue by Hans-Jörg Wagner was erected at Baumwall in 1993 as a memorial to Lindley’s work.

The great British architect Sir George Gilbert Scott also worked in Hamburg after the “Great Fire”. Scott‘s design for the rebuilding of the Nikolaikirche was selected in a competition which attracted 42 entries and the church was rebuilt in Neo-Gothic style between 1846 and 1874.

Hamburg became part of the German Empire in 1871 and joined the German Customs Union when the free port was established in 1888.

The cholera epidemic of 1892 claimed 9,000 victims. The British historian Richard J. Evans documented this terrible year in his book “Death in Hamburg” (1990).

In the years up to 1914, there were extremely positive developments in relations between Hamburg and Great Britain. The British way of life, style of dress and know-how were admired and imitated. On 28 June 1904, King Edward VII was given an enthusiastic welcome as the first British monarch to visit Hamburg.

The First World War (1914 — 1918) cost 40,000 Hamburg citizens their lives. After the war, Hamburg‘s economy was also at rock bottom. A democratically elected city parliament was formed for the first time in the city’s history in 1919. The “Greater Hamburg Law” of 1937 incorporated Altona, Harburg-Wilhelmsburg, Wandsbek and other Prussian municipalities into Hamburg.

In the same year, Hamburg’s Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S. awarded the “Shakespeare Prize” for the first time. It is dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon contribution towards the fostering of European culture and is awarded annually.1 The first winner was the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The Second World War (1939 — 1945) caused severe damage to the city. More than 45,000 people died in allied air raids; over half the residential accommodation was destroyed. The worst damage was inflicted by the bombing campaign “Operation Gomorrah” (25 July to 3 August 1943). More than 8,000 Jewish citizens were deported and murdered by National Socialists during the war.

The end of the war in Hamburg was signalled by British troops crossing the Elbe at Artlenburg on 29 April 1945. This is where the first talks on the surrender of Hamburg were held between German negotiators and the British. General Wolz capitulated on 2 May 1945 and British troops marched into the city the following day. At 6.25 p.m. General Wolz surrendered the city to Brigadier Spurling at the entrance to the town hall. On the same evening, the British military occupied the broadcasting centre of the “Reichssender Hamburg” on Rothenbaumchaussee. it was from there on 4 May that “Radio Hamburg” proclaimed itself not only the radio station for the Allied Military Government but also the first allied broadcasting station in occupied Germany.

As well as building up the broadcasting sector, the British military government helped to develop Hamburg as a media centre by licensing the weekly newspaper “Die ZEIT“ (in February 1946) and four new dailies. On 29 July 1945, the British Forces Network (later BFBS) began broadcasting from the Hamburg Concert Hall. The forces radio remained in Hamburg until 1954 when it moved to Cologne.

The “appointed city parliament” was convened on 27 February 1946. The first free elections since 1932 were held on 13 October 1946. Max Brauer (SPD) became Mayor. Henry Vaughan Berry was British “Regional Commissioner” from August 1946 until May 1949. During this period, Berry gained much respect for his reserved and decidedly civilian approach. During the harsh winter of 1946/7 he forbade the heating of the British administration offices.

The Anglo-German Club (AGC) was founded in Hamburg on 11 June 1948. The founders included the future Land Commissioner and British Consul-General John Dunlop, Axel Springer, members of the British Military Government along with figures from trade, industry, politics and culture. Henry Vaughan Berry was appointed its first chairman. The British Consul-General is still Honorary President of the AGC², together with the Mayor.

The town-twinning link between the London district of Leyton (Borough of Waltham Forest) and Hamburg-Wandsbek was established in 1950. Since 1960 the German side of the link has been cultivated by the “Leyton-Wandsbek Freundschaftsverbund e.V.”, whose former chairwoman, Margaretha Ziemer, was appointed an honorary “Member of the British Empire“ (MBE) by HM Queen Elizabeth II. In 1954, the Alfred Toepfer Foundation initiated the “Masefield concerts” in memory of the British Poet Laureate John Masefield. In the sameyear, Hamburg University entered into a twinning link with the University of Southampton, the first of 40 such links to date.

On 13 April 1962, the Beatles appeared at the opening of the Star Club on “Große Freiheit”. For the “mopheads”, Hamburg was the springboard for later worldwide success. HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited Hamburg on 28 May 1965. Tens of thousands lined the streets to greet the royal couple. They left Hamburg on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The “Hamburg Players”, an amateur drama group which puts on three plays a year at the Theater an der Marschnerstraße, was founded in 1965. The “English Theatre” at Mundsburg, which performs British and American classics of all genres, was founded 10 years later.

TRH The Prince and Princess of Wales came to Hamburg on 6 November 1987. It was the last stop on their tour of Germany. One of the places they visited was the English Church of St Thomas à Becket. The German edition of Prince Charles’ children’s book “The Old Man of Lochnagar” – the rights for which were obtained by the Hamburg publishing house Olaf Hille – was launched at the British Consulate-General in June 1993. In the same year, Prince Charles supported Hamburg’s UNICEF partnership by donating 10 signed copies of the book.

The British have also played – and continue to play – an important role in Hamburg‘s cultural life: Michael Bogdanov was Director of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus from 1989 to 1991, John Eliot Gardiner was Chief Conductor of the NDR Symphony Orchestra and Robin Gritton was Conductor of the NDR choir from 1994/5 to 1997.

In April 2003, there were approximately 70 British subsidiaries based in Hamburg. Firms such as Shell and Unilever even maintain their German headquarters in the Hanseatic City.

1)    The Shakespeare Prize was awarded for the last time in 2006.
2)    The British Ambassador in Berlin since the closure of the Consulate-General in 2006.

Who were the Merchant Adventurers?

May 5, 2011 in Merchant Adventurers

For centuries, the Guild of Merchant Adventurers was the most powerful cloth-trading company in northern Europe. Members of the company travelled to far-flung parts of northern Europe, such as the Baltic and Iceland, to sell their goods, bringing back prized commodities to sell.

According to Britannica Online, the Merchant Adventurers were “a company of English merchants who engaged in trade with the Netherlands (and later with northwest Germany) from the early 15th century to 1806. The company, chartered in 1407, principally engaged in the export of finished cloth from the burgeoning English woolen industry. Its heyday extended from the late 15th century to 1564, during which period it sent its fleets to its market at Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands with cloth to be sold at the annual fairs. By the middle of the 16th century, as much as three-fourths of English foreign trade was controlled by the London officers of the company, many of whom served as financiers and advisers to the Tudor monarchs. After 1564 the Merchant Adventurers lost its market in the Spanish Netherlands and a long search for a new one followed. After 1611 its foreign trading activities were centred at Hamburg and one or another town in the republican United Provinces. The company was criticized in Parliament as a monopoly, and it lost many of its privileges in the 17th century. Its charter was abrogated in 1689, but the company survived as a trading association at Hamburg until the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars”.

The York fellowship of the Merchant Adventurers is still active today. Now called The Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York, it holds one of the best preserved medieval guild halls in the world in trust and operates it as a museum, administers charities and plays an important role in the civic and business life of the City of York. Find out more about the York Company and the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall here

by Monica

The 400-year-long history of the Anglican Church in Hamburg

April 1, 2011 in History of the Anglican Church in Hamburg

The 400-year-long history of the Anglican Church in Hamburg, is story is intertwined with both Hamburg’s illustrious trade history and the Church of England’s history in Europe. Although English-speaking Christians had worshipped in Europe since before the Reformation, the Hamburg congregation played a particularly pivotal role in the 17th century in establishing the Church of England’s presence in Europe. In 1611 the English in Hamburg, at that time as members of the  Guild of Merchant Adventurers – for centuries the most powerful cloth-trading company in northern Europe – were granted by the Senate of Hamburg the privilege of holding services in the English language according to the rite of the Church of England. In securing an unprecedented religious freedom, the church became the first sanctioned non-Lutheran congregation in the city. For much of its history the church was simply known as ‘The English Church’.

historical drawing of the Anglican Church of St Thomas Becket in HamburgThe current church located on Zeughausmarkt was consecrated after building on 11 November 1838. The name St Thomas Becket, the patron saint of the Merchant Adventurers, was given to the church after it reopened after the war in 1947.

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