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Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?
The Haga district in Gothenburg was cleaned up and modernised by its British residents. Photo: Frida Winter / Göteborg & Co

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer

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Sweden’s ‘Truth Commission’ delves into painful Sami past

After centuries of persecution, Sweden's indigenous Sami people are beginning to provide testimony about the injustices they experienced in a recently launched "Truth Commission" probing the country's discriminatory policies and their consequences.

Sweden's 'Truth Commission' delves into painful Sami past

Experts have since February been gathering the often-painful accounts from Samis, formerly known by the pejorative term Laplanders or Lapps.

There are an estimated 100,000 Sami people across the vast Arctic wilderness of northern Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia’s Kola peninsula.

They have lived by hunting, fishing and herding reindeer for thousands of years, and been subjected to colonisation for centuries.

Like all children of Sami reindeer herders since 1913, Nils-Henrik Sikku, a Sami writer now aged 72, was taken away from his family at the age of seven and forcibly placed in a state-run boarding school.

At these “nomad schools”, founded as part of a policy aimed officially at preserving the Sami, the education was basic and, paradoxically, taught in Swedish rather than the Sami language.

The children were punished if they spoke their mother tongue.

“If you did something wrong you were punished, you could be hit, you could be locked up, they could take your clothes and you would be sitting outside until the next morning,” Sikku recalled in an interview with AFP.

The severe conditions led him and a few friends to escape on a freezing winter night.

“We ran… I don’t know how we managed to do it,” he said. “But we were more afraid to go back than to continue.”

The last Sami boarding schools were closed in 1962, but this did not bring an end to the Sami’s long and painful history.

The persecution of the Sami, Europe’s only indigenous people, goes back to the 17th century, when the state began colonising and exploiting their resource-rich lands.

They were first brutally forced to Christianise and abandon their shamanism, before assimilation efforts intensified in the 19th and 20th centuries as the far north’s economic importance grew.

Racial biology

The policies were motivated by the emergence of theories about a “pure Swedish race”, leading to the creation in 1922 of the world’s first State Institute for Racial Biology in Uppsala.

Its director travelled regularly to Lapland to collect skulls and measure and photograph Sami – often children and the elderly, forced to strip naked – in a bid to prove they were an “inferior race”.

Sikku believes he, like his father before him, was subjected to the pseudo-scientific examinations.

“We don’t know what they did with us. But we stood naked in front of the so-called doctors,” he said.

Sami reindeer herders. File photo. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The Sami were treated differently if they were reindeer herders, considered “authentic” Sami.

“Because the Sami were seen as an ‘inferior race’, (the authorities) thought they were going to disappear so they wanted to preserve the reindeer herders, to salvage them,” explained Sami researcher Kaisa Huuva.

Children of reindeer herders were sent to the state boarding schools, while other Sami lost their land rights.

“A lot of these wrongdoings that were committed a long time ago are still reflected in the families, their living conditions or how they perceive their relations with Swedish society,” Kerstin Calissendorff, head of the Truth Commission, told AFP.

‘Stealing land’

While neighbouring Norway and Finland are scheduled to present the conclusions of their own truth commissions later this year, Sweden is due to publish its report in 2025.

It is expected to pave the way for a reconciliation process.

But Sikku won’t be participating.

“I have no confidence” in the process, he said. “They have stolen our land, forbidden our religion and stolen our childhoods.”

The past, as painful as it was, must not overshadow the problems the Sami still face, Huuva warned.

Even today, “it’s all about the stealing of the land”, she said.

Today’s reindeer herders, considered the last guardians of Sami culture, now see their traditional way of life threatened by climate change and conflicts with industry.

A recent study revealed that the suicide rate among young male reindeer herders was significantly higher than in the general population.

“They want to pass on their culture… and they overstretch their capacity” carrying out the challenging work, study author Petter Stoor, a psychologist at Umeå University, told AFP.

Swedish mining giant LKAB in January announced the discovery of Europe’s biggest deposit of rare earth minerals, much needed for the green transition.

The deposit is located near Kiruna, on Sami land belonging to Huuva’s family.

She’s worried.

“If our land is gone, we are gone with it. We will melt like snow in the sun.”

By AFP’s Maëlle Lions-Geollot