In 1698, Tsar Peter I of Russia (1672–1725), better known as Peter the Great, arrived in England to learn about shipbuilding and navigation.

His aim? To establish the first Russian Navy.

King William III of England welcomed the opportunity to increase trade with Russia, and gave Peter all the assistance he could.

During his visit, Peter stayed in Deptford close to the dockyards, and paid a special visit to the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

Find out more about his time in England below.

Peter the Great fact file

Born on 30 May 1672, Peter was the son of Tsar Alexis I, and the first son from his second marriage.

In 1682, ten-year-old Peter became joint tsar with his half-brother Ivan and in 1696 began to rule alone.

From childhood, Peter was interested in warfare and practical activities such as carpentry, and sailing and building ships.

Peter the Great's visit to England

Peter was the first tsar to leave Russia for more than 100 years.

He hoped to investigate and learn about all types of technology and science, especially the latest on shipbuilding and navigation. He also wanted to study the way fleets were organised, and recruit specialists to travel home with him to help build a Russian navy.

King William III of England meanwhile wanted to increase trade with Russia, which had plenty of pitch, potash, tallow, leather, grain and furs to trade.

In 1698 Peter stayed at a house in Deptford belonging to the writer and diarist, John Evelyn. The house suited Peter because it was close to the dockyards, where he could easily visit ships being built. He was especially keen to study the drawing of ship plans.

Peter was also given free access to all naval and military bases, including the arsenal and gun foundry at Woolwich. He was also invited to review the naval fleet at Portsmouth.

Peter was interested in astronomy because of its links with navigation, so he visited the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, observing Venus from the Octagon Room with the first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. He also visited the Royal Society and the Tower of London to view the Royal Mint.

The Russian Navy and Britain

When Peter the Great returned to Russia, a large shipbuilding programme was established.

In 1703, a fleet was founded in the Baltic Sea, and by the end of Peter's reign 28,000 men were serving there, on 49 ships and 800 smaller vessels. In the early years of the fleet, many Britons built, maintained and served in these Russian ships.

Before Peter became tsar, Russia had no navy at all. After his reign, Russian industry and armed forces were completely reorganised, and the country became a significant naval power.