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Talk: Roderick Heather – ‘An Accidental Relationship: The British in Tsarist Russia’

When English sailors set out in 1553 seeking an easterly sea passage to China, they made an unexpected discovery.  Like Christopher Columbus and America sixty years earlier, they encountered a large, uncharted land mass barring their progress.  They had not intended to ‘discover’ Russia; it was totally accidental and unanticipated.  This chance encounter was to lead not only to a remarkable relationship but also the eventual involvement of thousands of British men and women in Russia’s future development.

No other country had as great and continuous or widespread influence on Russia as the British between the 16th-20th centuries.  This accidental encounter also had a profound influence on both countries’ relationships with the rest of the world.  The ensuing relationship between Britain and Russia would see friendship and rivalry, trade and blockade, alliance and war, etc.  It is highly probable that neither empire would have been able to progress in the way it did without this relationship.

Whether they came as traders or explorers, soldiers, or doctors, etc., the British were active right across this vast country from the Baltic to the Black Sea and from the Caucasus to Siberia.  Some came as visitors, others arrived to work and raise families there.  Some were fascinated by the country whilst many others loathed it, finding the Russians uncultured and extremely corrupt.  A successful few made their fortunes or achieved great honours, others experienced bad luck or extreme hardship and many died there.  Over the generations, a large number of British-Russian families became established in Russia, often interlinked by marriage or business interests and they helped introduce the country to many aspects of traditional British life, especially the love of sport.

In his talk, the author looks at five different phases in the development of the British-Russian relationship and relates the stories of several remarkable British men and women and their experiences in Tsarist Russia.

Following an honours degree in Economics from Sheffield University, Roderick Heather spent 30 years working for various manufacturing businesses in the UK and overseas.  In 1995, he moved to Tatarstan in Russia, leading a team of international consultants at a large automotive company and in 1997 he became an advisor to the UK Foreign Office and later the Department for International Development, travelling extensively in Russia until 2002.  He also worked as a consultant on various projects in Russia and Ukraine.

Born in Royal Leamington Spa, Roderick lived in Canada, USA, Switzerland, France, Spain and Russia, and travelled to 70 different countries.  He is married with three adult sons and lives in Chester.  He has written two other books about Russia – The Iron Tsar and Russia from Red to Black.