From Czar Street to Moscow Place 

Czar Street in Deptford, now a crescent lined with council flats, is so named because of Peter the Great’s visit there in 1698. The young Tsar, drawn to Holland and England by his passion for shipbuilding, moved from his lodgings off the Strand to Sayes Court in Deptford near the Thames. He sublet a mansion there from John Benbow, a naval officer made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” (the tavern where the story starts is called the Admiral Benbow). The mansion was actually the home of the famous diarist John Evelyn. Peter’s men proceeded to wreck the house during their three month stay; they covered the carpets in ink and grease, shot at the pictures, burned the chairs and pushed each other in wheelbarrows through the ornamental hedges that were Evelyn’s pride and joy. The housekeeper wrote to Evelyn to complain of ‘a house full of people right nasty’. Architect Sir Christopher Wren was called in to survey the damage after they had gone which he estimated to be around £250.

An inventory of the garden reported: ‘During the time the Zar of Muscovie inhabited the said house, severall disorders have been committed in the gardens … the grasse is … broke into holes by their leaping and shewing tricks upon it’. Today, the grass in diminutive Sayes Court Park, is all that is left of the garden. It flourishes once again, but around a gnarled and spreading mulberry, unkempt rosebushes and several stately plane trees.

In Rotherhithe, a short distance north along the meandering Thames, the willows of the ‘Russia Dock woodland’ grow on the site of a former dock, closed and filled in the 1970s. Until then, huge boats carrying timber from Russia used to arrive here along the river. The wall of the old dock can still be seen near an attractive ecological garden, full of purple loosestrife and baby moorhens.

On the riverbank to the east of Sayes Court Park, an unusual monument by sculptor, Mikhail Chemiakin, recalls Peter the Great’s visit. The Tsar stands on a platform flanked by canons, between a throne and a laughing, imperial dwarf, looking out across the wide Thames that drew him to the city.

Peter also visited the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and the Arsenal at Woolwich, now one of the world’s oldest military museums. The ancient Tower of London with its Royal Mint and the nearby St Katherine’s Docks, now a picturesque oasis in the city, appealed to him. There’s no trace of the pub he drank in on Great Tower Street – the landlord is supposed to have renamed it the ‘Czar’s Head’ in Peter’s honour – but there is a Muscovy Street opposite the Tower of London. A host of other Russian road names, including St Petersburgh Mews and Moscow Place, sprung up in the Bayswater area to commemorate Tsar Alexander I’s visit to London in 1814, along with the ornamental Russian eagle which graces nearby Orme Square.


Sources:  Batuman, Elif. The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them. – Farrar: Straus and Giroux, 2010.

Cross, Anthony. Peter the Great Through British Eyes: Perceptions and Representations of the Tsar since 1698. - Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Grey, Ian. «Peter the Great in England»// History Today. – 1956. - # 6.4. - Pp. 225 - 234.

Hughes, Lindsey. Peter the Great: A Biography. - Yale University Press, 2002.

Young, Sarah J. Russians in London: Peter the Great  -

Loewenson, Leo. «People Peter the Great Met in England. Moses Stringer, Chymist and Physician» // Slavonic and East European Review. – 1959. - # 37). - Pp. 459 - 468.

Loewenson, Leo. «Some Details of Peter the Great’s Stay in England in 1698: Neglected English Material» // Slavonic and East European Review. – 1962. - # 40. - Pp. 431 - 443.

MacGregor, Arthur.  The Tsar in England // The Seventeenth Century. – 2004. - # 19. - Pp. 116 – 147.

Russia in London