February 27th – On this day in 1557, the first Russian Embassy opened in London, and on this same day exactly one year later, a Russian trade mission arrived in London, bringing with it many sable skins.
On a more-or-less related note, the entry in John Evelyn’s diary for February 6th, 1698 records that “The Czar Emp: of Moscovy [Peter the Great], having a mind to see the Building of Ships, hired my house at Says Court [in Deptford], & made it his Court & palace, lying & remaining in it … ”. Perhaps not altogether surprisingly, the Czar, who had something of a reputation for drunken riotous living, was far from a model guest. He proceeded to comprehensively trash Evelyn’s house – knocking a hole in the wall to allow easier access to the shipyard, breaking over three hundred windows, twenty pictures and fifty chairs, ruining all the paintwork, curtains and bedding, covering all the floors with ink and grease, and in all causing £150 worth of damage! Worse, he destroyed Evelyn’s pride and joy, the “impregnable” hedge in his garden, “four hundred foot in length, nine Foot high, and five in diameter … [that] mocks at the rudest assaults of the Weather, Beasts or Hedge-breakers” – making a great play of being repeatedly pushed through it in a wheelbarrow!
The Czar’s visit is also recalled by a statue on the west bank of Deptford Creek, by a plaque on the site of the Friends’ Meeting House on Deptford High Street, by “Czar Street” in Deptford, and by “Muscovy Street” just off Great Tower Street in the City – near the long-lost pub he drank so much in that the landlord renamed it “The Czar of Muscovy” in his honour!