This post is part of a series of 10 posts about the British Community in Russia. You can read the complete series HERE
In the 16th Century, Russia was a small medieval country. The main exports were hides, honey, wax, whale oil, flax and furs and the British traded these in exchange for western goods.
The port of Archangel was established in 1584 to facilitate foreign trade,with the links between Russia and Britain, remaining in tact until 1920, when the Bolsheviks took over.
Despite, the British trading regularly , it was not until the reign of Peter the Great (1682-1725), that the British Community because established. Peter the Great wanted to expand and develop his country. He had toured extensively throughout western Europe, bringing in benefits of trade and technology.
He moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, which was a new city on the Baltic Sea. Peter had visited Britain previously, and later on, employed British shipbuilders and artisans, believing that the establishing of factories and the building of ships would provide opportunity for him to modernise his armed services. He hired professional soldiers and sailors to train and instruct his fellow countrymen.
After Peter died, the employing of westerners continued. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, Russia began expanding in the areas of what is now Poland, Finland and the Baltic States. During the 19th Century there was great expansion of the British community. The period after the Crimean War led to modernisation of the Russian economy, in turn this led Czar Alexandra II to free the Serfs and introduce legal and economic reforms which brought Russia into the modern world. This saw a new generation of Britons setting up mines and factories in Russia, and to build railways.
In the south of Russia, cotton began growing on a large scale, with those in charge following the expertise of the Britons, to build cotton mills, as large as those in the British city of Manchester.
In the 1860’s, the brothers, William and John Yates established a paper factory. The mill began to be successful and the family began to settle into life in Western Siberia. By 1918, the family owned a mechanical works and five mills. The work they undertook was reported to be of good quality and they were known through the whole of Siberia. By 1914, the family had amassed a fortune wealth of approximately £350,000, although much of it would be confiscated under the Bolsheviks.
Not unexpectedly, the mining industry was doing rather well, the spread was across Russia, producing coal in the Ukraine, platinum in the Urals, copper in the Caucasus and gold in eastern Siberia.
Experts were recruited into the beginning of the oil industry, to run the oil rigs and to build, and maintain the pipelines. By the turn of the 20th Century, the Russian oil fields produced more oil that the rest of the global oil fields combined.
The recruitment of employees from Britain led to an increased amount of young women who were employed in Russia as governesses to the children of wealthy families. The first governesses in Russia were documented in 1830 and within 50 years, this was seen to be a “suitable” way for a independent women to earn a living. These young women lived in mainly large cities, but many families had second homes and estates in the rural areas of Russia, with many of these families taking holidays in the Crimea and Finland.
You can read the complete series, of the British Community in Russia HERE.