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July 23rd 2003

Goteborg, Sweden



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Goteborg, Sweden

Gothenburg ( known as Goteborg ) is a thriving industrial centre in Sweden today, that country's second largest city. At the start of the 17th Century, however, the King of Sweden had only just got the surrounding delta area back after taking seven years to pay a 1 million Kroner ransom to the Danes ?and that was not for the first time.

The Baron and Lady of Prestoungrange visited the City in August 2002 to gather a host of information on its history since the 17th Century as background to their campaign to reopen The Goth in Prestonpans. They met with City and Regional Archivists and the Lord Mayor, Jorgen Linder. Neither realised the legacy the 19th Century that Scotland had received from the Gothenburg System commenced there in1865. The archivists in Goteborg City had not had a temperance visitor for several generations and the Lord Mayor thought we were pulling his leg about our temperance pub.

Before returning to Scotland, the key Gothenburg System documents had been scanned to disk ?all with the compliments of the City of Goteborg and a photo collection garnered in. They are all now included in the Goteborg Gallery as linked here.

What Scotland Did for Goteborg

But why on earth was this city so friendly to a visiting Scot? Well, quite simply because, wholly unknown to us visitors, Scottish merchants had played a very significant part indeed in the City's growth and development since the 17th Century.

Goteborg stands on the estuary of the Gota Alv, and as Sweden's second largest city today has some half million inhabitants. It has, since the early 17th century when today's city was founded with Dutch canal expertise, been an entrepot for much of the Baltic Sea as well as a centre for the export of Swedish timber and iron ore to the rest of the world. The Gota Canal stretching 190 km. across to Stockholm is still one of the greatest achievements of Swedish engineers and was completed in 1819. Like the Panama Canal 100 years later it uses inland lakes for its passage across the peninsular. Shipbuilding led by Keiller grew up on the river banks followed by cotton textile manufactures. Porter was brewed by Carnegie. The Swedish East India Company founded under the leadership of Colin Campbell traded magnificently with the East Indies and China for over 80 years from 1731. The roots for the world famous Chalmers University of Technology today were put in place in 1829 in the Chalmers School of Crafts. In all these various ways of commerce, Scottish merchants was there leading from the thick of it.

According to tradition, honourably reported by the Lord Mayor, it was also Scottish textile workers who first introduced football to the country with a recorded game played in the City in May 1892. Today there are 250 soccer clubs that play each week and the City proudly hosts the Gothia Cup for over 1000 12/18 year old teams from across the world - truly the Youth World Tournament.

One of Goteborg's finest eras was from 1806-1815 when Napoleon established his Continental System, banning the import of all English goods to his Empire. Goteborg obliged as the entrepot from 1810 with massive trade south across the Baltic whilst a post-Nelson HMS Victory stood friendly and constructive guard offshore. From this period Goteborg gained and still retains the nickname Little London. Most recently in June 2001 it hosted the European Union's Summit Meeting of Heads of Government during Sweden's Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers.

What Goteborg Did with the Proceeds of its Vodka Sales

If the extensive nature of earlier Scottish connections was a surprise, so too for us was the inescapable evidence that the Gothenburg System as we were led to believe in it bore only minor similarities to what seems to have happened there in the last quarter of the 19th century.

The facts are that the System related solely to the locally made vodka and certainly not to beers or other spirits. Secondly an almost certain 5% return for the shareholders was a very satisfactory investment to be making especially since the municipality obliged by refusing to renew all then current licences at the urging inter alia of two Scottish families the Dickinsons and the Carnegies. Instead the licences were given in 1865 to the new Goteborg Company or Bolag led by local businessmen. Thirdly, the surplus profits which were considerably above the 5% were not given to trustees per se. 70% went to the municipality; 10% to the rural agricultural societies; and 20% to Stockholm. It was not until 1917 that ration books were introduced allowing only 4 litres of vodka per month per adult over 20 years of age with ladies required to send their maids. Mercifully, those over 50 were allowed a larger quantity. The System was in effect a pattern of regressive taxation that relieved the better off in society of some of the pressing need to make particular provision themselves for social services such as education and library services. Kungsbacka, a market town 20 km south of the city, managed for many generations to collect no other local taxes at all. Fourthly, although there was a pattern of encouragement to eat as well as drink, this was not a major feature of the System and the off-licence trade in vodka flourished even as on trade sales stabilised and even fell.

In many ways a more impressive system grew up in Denmark based on encouragement to drink low alcohol beers rather than spirits and the creation of broadly based social facilities and entertainment centres where such drinking took place. In Denmark there were no special companies granted monopolies by law. Local temperance groups found they could run appropriate facilities that simply encouraged less alcoholism which was reportedly the underlying objective.

In fact all this had been loudly proclaimed by Edwin Pratt in 1907 after a similar visit to Goteborg, of which he wrote at length in Licensing and Temperance in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. It should not have escaped our attention but then, as he suggested at the time, he was not telling the facts the way many temperance workers and municipal socialists wanted to hear them. And it was not for want of field visits by a host of them either at the turn of the century. As Pratt reported, the city was inundated with visiting do-gooders.

Beer, Arts & Tourism in Goteborg

It would have been remiss on such a visit not to research and then sample the local beers. The most widely drunk today, and still Swedish owned, is Falcon from Falkenburg some 100 km south of the city. Carnegie's porter is still to be had but that, like Pripps Bla the best known Goteborg brew, is now owned by Carlsberg.

The arts in the city are most spectacularly apparent in the Opera House completed in 1994 after many years controversy. It has its own resident symphony orchestra. Architecture is on the grand scale not least in the Head Offices of the East India Company now the City's Museum.

Other magnificent tourist attractions are the Botanical Gardens, the Horticultural Society's Gardens including a scaled down replica of Paxton's Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851, and the Klippans Industrial Heritage Reserve.

And for a leisured time, visits to the Liseberg Amusement Park and the old wharves by the Goth Alv now transformed for walking and eating and including the Maritime Museum are a must. Liseberg was built to celebrate the City's tri-centenary in 1923 and still attracts 3 million visitors each year and rising. The 7 metre high statue of Poseidon, Greek God of the Deep Sea, was also created for the same celebrations.

Goteborg Picture Gallery

In the Picture Gallery linked here we attempt to do justice to the City of Goteborg, which can be seen to mean far more for Scotland and vice versa than a travesty of the truth about late 19th Century notions of how to organise temperance pubs for the poor - for better or for worse!

Lord Mayor's Visit to Prestoungrange - July 23rd 2003 & Gothenburg Day in the Pans

For Prestoungrange the biggest symbolism of the linkage was the Lord Mayor's Visit to Prestoungrange on July 23rd 2003. The tale is written up here on the web at the link below:

Lord Mayor's Tales 1-7

And subsequently, Tom Ewing for the Arts Festival painted a commemorative picture and took a second copy to Goteborg to present to the Lord Mayor.

The Lord Mayor in His Parlour

And finally, to commemorate that visit more actively, each year The Prestoungrange Gothenburg has declared July 23rd to be Gothenburg Day - and makes every attempt to attract every Swede living in Scotland to find their way to the shore of the Firth of Forth at Prestonpans.

Two More Visits from Jorgen Linder in 2007 and 2011

Such was the interest inour 21st Century initiatives, Jorgen Linder returned in 2007 to launch our Centenary Year. Details are linked HERE

A Civic Reception was also held at The Prestoungrange Gothenburg.

Again in 2011 Jorgen Linder, just retired as Lord Mayor, came to Prestonpans with a group of 14 friends from the city. Details are linked HERE

He was able to meet local artists once again at The Prestoungrange Gothenburg and travel to see the Prestonpans Tapestry - on exhibition at the time in Kirkcaldy. So impressed were Jorgen and his wife Lisbeth,that they agree to assist in the creation back in their city of embroidered panels telling of Gothenburg's historic links since 1621 with Scotland. They will constitute the 'foundation' panels of the exciting new Scottish Diaspora Tapestry planned for 25 global communities by the 2nd Great Scottish Homecoming in 2014.

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