The first decade or so of the 20th century was a very prosperous period for Riga. It was a major trading and manufacturing hub and the third largest city in the Russian Empire, of which is was part at the time.
The city’s prosperity was in no small measure due George Armitstead, its mayor between 1901 and 1912.
Armitstead was born in Riga, the son of a very successful British merchant, who owned many factories and other properties in the city.
During his time as mayor, Armitstead sought to improve the lives of the city’s citizens. So it was that new parks were constructed and libraries, theatres, museums and hospitals were opened. Fourteen new schools were opened as were a new power station and fire station. Public lighting and water systems were improved and the horse drawn tram system was electrified and expanded.
During his time as mayor, 600 of the city’s gorgeous Art Nouveau buildings were constructed.
Tsar Nicholas II quickly became aware of Armitstead’s abilities and tried to persuade him to become Mayor of St Petersburg, an offer which he turned down, wishing to remain in his beloved Riga.
George Armitstead died in office in 1912 and is remembered through this beautifully formed statue of him, his wife Cecilia Pychlau and their dog out for a stroll near the Latvian National Opera.
The statue, sponsored by local businessmen and created by local artist Andris Varpas, was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2006, to mark the 160th anniversary of his birthday (and possibly give Her Majesty an excuse to visit Riga!).
Continuing on with the Latvian/British connection, later at a state banquet, the Queen paid tribute to the role played by Latvia and Latvian hemp in the Battle of Trafalgar. “British ships at that time were waterproofed with pitch from Riga, rigged with ropes of hemp from Riga, and their masts were of pine from Riga,” the queen told dignitaries.
And I thought I came up with some obscure trivia!