Paul Brummell, British Ambassador to Romania

Paul Brummell

Head of Soft Power and External Affairs Department, Communication Directorate

11th July 2018

Britain In Romania

Our #BritainInRomania public diplomacy campaign aims to celebrate our bilateral partnership. One of the goals we set ourselves was to hold an event in each of the twelve cities across Romania ever to have hosted a UK consulate or vice-consulate, exploring the UK’s links with the city and region in question. We completed this programme last month with a speech at the Palace of Culture in Iasi.

The events took different forms in different places. In Bucharest, we held our first ever Embassy Open Day, focusing the event around the links between the architectural history of our building and the changing role of the Embassy. In Cluj and Timisoara I gave a lecture at the university. But the most common format was a partnership with the county history museum, where we helped the museum organise an exhibition on UK links with the city. Museums and local archives invariably took up the challenge with enthusiasm, and the resulting exhibitions were fascinating.

Viewed together, the events paint a vivid picture of our historical relationship with Romania. Until the late eighteenth century, our diplomatic links with the future Romanian Principalities were sporadic, mainly involving visits from British Ambassadors to the Ottoman Porte. That changed in 1803, when we established in Bucharest a British Consulate for Wallachia and Moldavia.

The impression given by our diplomatic representation in Romania in the nineteenth century is of a flexible approach to political change. Consulates in smaller cities like Focsani and Craiova were set up quickly following the de facto union of the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, when the UK was a guarantor power, only to be closed again a few years later following the formal creation of the Romanian United Principalities, when their political raison d’etre disappeared.

The role of individuals in building our partnership shines through. Like Vice-Consul in Braila St. Vincent Lloyd, who provided refuge to a group of 1848 revolutionaries, among them the future first leader of united Romania, A. I. Cuza. Effingham Grant, the Secretary to the British Consulate-General in Bucharest in the mid-nineteenth century, whose support for Romania is still remembered in the name of a bridge in Bucharest. And Charles Cunningham, Vice-Consul in Galati from 1837, a campaigner for the improved navigability of the Danube.

The exhibitions highlight consular activity, such as an intercession in Craiova on behalf of a British citizen who had allegedly been insulted by a local customs officer. But the strongest impression is of the commercial focus of the work of the consulates.

The largest concentration of consulates lay along the river ports of the Danube. Their establishment came in the wake of the repeal of the Corn Laws, when a free-trading, outward-looking Britain sought out new sources of grain, and was drawn to the plains of Wallachia and Moldavia. The main export route for the grain was the Danube. The Crimean War removed a key obstacle to its exploitation; Russian control of its mouth. But nature provided another challenge, in particular the narrow channels of the Danube Delta and their proclivity to siltation. It took the establishment of a European Commission for the Danube, and a British chief engineer, Sir Charles Hartley, to open up the river for the grain trade. A bust of Sir Charles, ‘father of the Danube’, has now been placed at its mouth.

Other British engineers promoted railways as a solution for the export of grain. In 1860, the Danube and Black Sea Railway was completed, with capital from investors linked to the Midland Railway Company, joining the river port of Cernavoda with the then village of Constanta, turning the latter into the important port it remains today. The project manager was John Trevor Barkley, who also developed the Bucharest to Giurgiu Railway, opened in 1869, linking the capital with the Danube, the great European transport artery of its day.

The individuals appointed to staff our consulates often had a trade and investment background. Thus in Timisoara we appointed as vice-consul Sigmund Szana, a local entrepreneur who had developed the match factory and moved to banking, but met his end in a heart attack in the middle of a business dinner in Chicago in 1929.

Much of the work around researching our historical links and setting up the partnerships with local organisations in each city was done by two embassy interns, Ralph Rogobete and then Alina Toporas, to whom I am most grateful.

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