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How the Englishmen and the Scottish started to like Gdansk

Great Britain once a true sea super-power, had connections to vast majority of ports worldwide. Gdansk was no exception. Learn more from newest article by prof. Januszajtis.

Old Scotland (Alteschotten on this antique map) district is the best proof for vivid relations with Gdansk
Old Scotland (Alteschotten on this antique map) district is the best proof for vivid relations with Gdansk



One of the first descriptions of our area (the Vistula delta) was created by Wulfstan, a sailor and retainer of the King of Wessex, Alfred the Great, who wrote down the sailor’s tales. Wulfstan sailed to Truso (near Elblag) in 890: “... the Vistula flows from the lands of the Slavs and into the Estum Sea [the Vistula Lagoon](...). And the river Ifling [Elblag] from the east, the land of the Est people [Prussians], and the Vistula from the south, the land of the Wends [Slavs], both merge here. This is where the Vistula deprives Ifling of its name and flows from the lagoon into the sea in the north west. Thus, the name ‘Mouth of the Vistula’”. At the time, Gdansk did not yet exist...


After the fall of the Prussian Truso, Gdansk emerged on the other side of the delta, and was referred to as a city (urbs) as early as during the visit of St Adalbert (997). English merchants would also visit us during that period – as evidenced by the coins of King Aethelred (978-1016) and his successors found in the area.


The first English settled in Gdansk in 1337. The first to gain citizenship were: Thomas Bevirley (1369), John Bade (1370), John de Lunden (from London – 1374), Robert Bixton (1380), Edelwan Boldwyn (1386), among others. In 1382, the owner of the parcel of the future English House on Chlebnicka Street was William Tablot’s widow.


Several times between 1390 and 1392, the Earl of Derby and future King of England, Henry Bolingbroke, visited the city, allegedly to join the Teutonic Order in its attacks on Lithuania – the longest such visit took place in 1391 (from 15 February until the end of March). He resided in the Bishop Palace in Wloclawek on Bishop Hill, as well as spending some time in private homes. During one of his visits to the Long Shore, William Douglas of Nithsdale, a Scottish knight and son-in-law of King Robert II, was killed by the men of Lord Thomas Clifford, with whom he had been conflicted for many years. The event became infamous, and even a poem was written about it.


In 1391, John Bebys, the “boss” of the Factory for trading in the Baltic, had his headquarters in Gdansk. In 1392, 300 British ships reportedly arrived in the city’s port. British merchants and their families were numerous in Gdansk the 15th century, as evidenced by the street name English Causeway (Lat. agger anglicorum, 1440 Engelischer Tamm), first mentioned in 1415.


Gdansk’s return under Polish rule in 1454 allowed the city to develop further. Our relationship with England could be troubled at times. In 1471, after obtaining the consent of King Casimir Jagiellon, Gdansk’s fleet took part in the war waged by the Hanse against England. In one of the naval skirmishes that ensued, Captain Pawel Beneke captured Sir Thomas Cooke, Lord Mayor of London. On the other hand, in 1545, three naval vessels were launched for King Henry VIII by the Lastadia shipyard.


There were also many Scottish people among the British settlers in Gdansk. In 1509, a suburb emerged along the road to Orunia, consisting mostly of Scottish craftsmen and bearing the name (from 1570) Szkoty (Scots), which was eventually changed to Stare Szkoty (Old Scots) – to differentiate it from the Nowe (New) Szkoty district which emerged before 1593 at the outskirts of Wrzeszcz. Around the same time (from 1550), the embankment surrounding the Long Gardens from the south (from the opposite side to the English Causeway) was dubbed the Scottish Causeway.

In 1570, the largest townhouse of old Gdansk, the English House, was built. In 1577, the British merchant community in Gdansk numbered at least 700 members. The earliest known names of local Anglican priests come from 1650. Between 1640 and 1699, they would gather in the English House, which began to be called that name only after it was transformed into a hotel in 1716, one which was recommended for guests coming from England. A house on Sw. Ducha Street (modern-day building No 111) was repurposed as a chapel, which operated until the outbreak of World War II. It was managed by priests from England and Scotland, taking turns. The congregation had its own doctors in the local isolation hospital, the so-called Lazaret.


In 1680, the Davidson fund was created, which helped people who wanted to study in Leiden and Edinburgh. Gravestones and epitaphs are what is left of these Scottish residents of our city – most of them can be found in the St Peter Church in the Old Suburb. Between 1751 and 1753, the preacher at that church was a Scottish-Polish resident of Tczew, Jan Rajnold Forster. In 1754, he baptised the son of Jan Jerzy, with whom he eventually (1771-1774) sailed around the world as part of James Cook’s second voyage – they were the first citizens of the Republic of Poland to have ever done so.


In 1664, brilliant Gdansk astronomer Johannes Hevelius became a member of The Royal Society in London. Hevelius’s incredibly exact measurements raised the suspicion of Robert Hooke (the discoverer of Hooke’s law), who was known for his incredulousness, and, in 1679, the Society sent Edmond Halley (the discoverer of the famous comet) as an auditor. His assessment of Hevelius’s work was very positive.