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Scotland To Goteborg and Back

The archivists in Goteborg City had not had a temperance visitor for a generation and the Lord Mayor, Jorgen Linder, thought we were pulling his leg when we first emailed him about our temperance pub. By the time we called to see him August 6th/9th 2002 he knew better, he said. He had made for his dictionary to find out that the notion of temperance could be associated with a pub, and that we were indeed a part of his City's historical legacy to Scotland.

Yet the trip had always seemed logical to us. Here we were in Prestonpans making an enormous fuss about The Goth, and everything it seemingly stood for. It had to make sense to visit the original home of that myth and talk to its archivists there and see what really happened. And were there surprises in store? The opening:

"You're from Scotland then?" asked Swedish archivist Anna Connell in a Welsh accent.
"Most certainly, and my mother was born there," I replied.
"Oh, my husband is from Devon, my father in law lives in Manchester and I worked for a year in Cardiff, including a spell as a barmaid!"

So although all the archival material was in Swedish, there was no problem in getting a guided tour and top of the head translations. Indeed, the work that the archivists had put in against my slender brief was prescient and overwhelming. And before we left the key documents had been scanned to disk for us… all with the compliments of the City of Goteborg. They are now included in the Goteborg Gallery.

What Scotland Did for Goteborg

So why on earth was this city so friendly to a visiting Scot? Well, quite simply because Scottish merchants played a very significant part indeed in the city's growth and development.

Goteborg stands on the estuary of the Gota Alv, and is today Sweden's second largest city with 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 190km 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 the river banks followed by cotton textile manufacturers. 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 the various ways of commerce, Scottish merchants were 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 and giving them instead 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 four 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 20km 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 100km 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 of 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 seven metre high statue of Poseidon, the Greek God of Deep Water, was also created for the same celebrations.

Published Date: August 6th 2002

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