Sunday, 20 June 2010

From the archives: Peter the Great in Deptford

A look not just at the visit of the Russian Czar but also at Deptford's strangest statue:

Henry VIII established the first Royal Dockyard in Deptford, in 1513. Ships were built and repaired there; the 'Sovereign of the Seas' was launched in 1637, a 100-gun, 1500-ton warship nicknamed the "golden devil". Deptford was therefore a natural choice for Peter I, Tsar of Russia when he travelled to Britain in 1698 to study shipbuilding techniques. Although Peter travelled incognito and disguised himself as a carpenter to work at the dockyard, it is unlikely that he was not recognised.

He stayed in diarist John Evelyn's house, Sayes Court: it was convenient for the dockyard, and also enjoyed a semi-rural location outside London. However, as a modern young man, Peter not only wanted to learn about the latest science and technology but also enjoyed drunken parties. These caused hundreds of pounds' worth of damage, a fortune at the time; Evelyn was particularly upset at the injury to his holly hedge although by 1704 he boasted that it "mocks the rudest assaults of the weather, beasts, or hedge-breakers. "

Today, Peter the Great's visit is commemorated by a riverside statue which was a gift from Russia, designed by Mickhael Chemiakin. It is, frankly, bizarre: Peter (who was 6'7" tall but appears normally proportioned in contemporary portraits) is strangely elongated with a tiny head, and accompanied by a dwarf and an empty chair.

For all Peter the Great posts, click here

1 comment:

M@ said...

Peter's visit to Deptford is memorably fictionalised in the third book of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle. Cracking (if lengthy, nay sprawling) read.

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