Sunday, September 24, 2017

OXFORD | Russian Heritage

Dr Nina Kruglikova at
Weston Library, Oxford.

What would the main themes be of a Russian Heritage tour of Oxford? 

I asked Nina Kruglikova, a fellow Trinity College, Oxford alum whom I met on a tour led by Felicity Tholstrup of WW2 Oxford earlier this month on the Oxford Weekend. 

Here are some topics for a Russian Heritage tour, which Nina has conducted in the past.

17th Century – Visit to Oxford from Peter the Great. Tsar Peter I ("the Great"), founder of St Petersburg, was born in 1672 and became emperor at ten years of age. He ruled for 43 years. 


He visited the United States in 1698 and later Oxford, incognito, staying at the Golden Cross and visiting the Chapel at Trinity College. Even though he was in disguise, he cut such a figure that he attracted attention.

19th Century – Visit from Alexander I. Emperor Alexander (1777-1825) went to Radcliffe Camera to celebrate the victory over Napoleon in 1814. He stayed in the Queen's Room in Merton (where the wife of Charles I lived during the period before Cromwell prevailed over the monarchy). He gave a big vase from Suberia and also a double-headed eagle in a stained-glass window, the arms of the Tsar. One legend is that Alexander caused damage during his visit and the vase and window were repayment.
Peter I ("The Great")

20th Century (A) – Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov. Yusupov (1887-1967), who as a youth went under the title Count Sumarokov-Elston (Князь Фе́ликс Фе́ликсович Юсу́пов, Граф Сумаро́ков-Эльстон) was for three years, 1909-12, at University College, Oxford. He had lavish parties at Univ. For example, he brought in a famed Russian ballet dancer named Pavlova (a cake is named after her). His best friend from St. Petersburg, Oswald Raynor, was at Oriel.

At the end of his student years at Oxford he was reported to have visited Royal Albert Hall for a full-dress event and to have impressed many onlookers as the best-dressed person in the Hall. Five years later he went to the United States and was depicted in a thinly fictionalized film as having raped his wife. He sued the film company and won.


He is credited along with the Tsar's cousin Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich with killing Father Grigori Yefimovich (Gregory) 1869-1916, the "mad Monk" friend of the family of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Rasputin died at Yusupov's home; he did not eat the cyanide-laced cookies so he was shot in the head.


Nicolas II – Nice man,
bad tsar.
Yusupov and his wife Irina migrated to England after the assassination of Tsar Nicholas with his wife and five children in 1918, after having abdicated under pressure from the Bolshevik government in 1917, ending three centuries of Romanov rule. Yusupov and his wife bought a house at 4 Marston Street, Oxford that is now called St Nicholas House. They were interviewed about his 1953 book, Lost Splendor. Prince Yusupov died at St Pancras Hospital in 1963 and is buried at Headington Cemetery outside of Oxford. 

The influence and origins of Rasputin continue to be a mystery, so that when Yusupov died there was interest in his personal papers; however, he apparently burned them.

20th Century (B) – Charles Sydney Gibbes. Son of John Gibbs (sic – he added the "e" later in life), he did the Moral Sciences Tripos at St John's College, Cambridge. He became the tutor to the children of Tsar Nicholas II. He was deeply distressed a perceived betrayal of the Tsar by his British relatives, but the Great War was going so badly that all of the countries were fearful of revolution. One view is that George V's wife Mary was hostile to the Tsar's family because they lorded over her at Osborne on the Isle of Wight when Victoria was still alive. After Nicholas II and his family were assassinated, Gibbes first became a monk and then became an Orthodox priest in Oxford, taking the name Nicholas out of respect for the Tsar and his family.

20th Century (C) – Leonid Pasternak. The father of Boris Pasternak, Leonid lived in Park Town, Oxford. He was an artist and his house is now a museum, full of his paintings.

21st Century – St Nicholas Church. The church that Nina and other Russian Orthodox faithful attend is at the previously mentioned #4 Marston Road (St Nicholas House), near the intersection with Ferry Road. It used to be the Anglican church of St Nicholas. They have Sunday services from 10:30 until 1:30 pm or later.

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