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Britsburgh Descends Upon Pittsburgh

on Mon, 08/31/2015 - 00:00

The links between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Great Britain go back centuries, and are both obvious and subtle in nature. Pennsylvania, for instance, was founded by English real estate entrepreneur William Penn, while the city itself was named by British General John Forbes in honor of William Pitt, the First Earl of Chatham. Pittsburgh’s dominance in the steel industry, meanwhile, was led by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant whose philanthropic legacy includes both museums and libraries throughout the region.

Beginning September 8, 2015, meanwhile, the connections between Pittsburgh and Britain will become even more apparent during Britsburgh, a weeklong festival that not only pays homage to the influence of Great Britain within the Steel City but likewise marks Queen Elizabeth II’s emergence as the longest serving British head of state on September 10th, the date she surpasses Queen Victoria for that honor.

“When we heard that the Trinity College Choir was coming to Pittsburgh and realized that Queen Elizabeth II became the longest serving monarch a few days earlier, we had a window for a celebration,” Roger O. Cranville, President of British-American Connections Pittsburgh—the organizer of Britsburgh—explains. “That window has been filled with a great selection of events organized with dozens of partners. All events celebrate in some way or another the links with, and the culture of, the UK. We have been amazed by the number of people that have emerged and want to get on board and celebrate the long relationship between the UK and South Western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh.”

Britsburgh officially kicks off on September 8th with a “Proper British Dinner” at Gaynor’s School of Cooking on East Carson Street, followed the next day by “Afternoon Tea” at the Mansions on Fifth and “Ceilidah at the Chapel,” featuring a picnic outside the Heinz Chapel in Oakland and performances by the Ringgold Harp Ensemble, Steel Clover and Road to the Isles.

“Britsburgh at the Ballpark,” an evening at PNC Park with the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as a special comedy performance at the Arcade Comedy Theater on Liberty Avenue are amongst the highlights for Thursday. Britsburgh then continues throughout the weekend—including a day-long celebration at Highmark Stadium in Station Square entitled “A Very British Day Out”—before concluding on Monday, September 14th, with a concert by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, at the Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside.

“A full day of fun for the family,” is how Roger Cranville describes of A Very British Day Out. “Soccer and cricket, music, food, children’s activities, and a Queen Elizabeth II look-alike competition. Highmark Stadium gives a great backdrop of the City of Pittsburgh for the Day Out.”

Over 250 years after John Forbes declared the city to be named Pittsburgh, the ties between the region and Great Britain still remain strong. “People from Britain came here, lived here and worked here,” Cranville explains of the early connections. “Now, over 150 UK operations in the Pittsburgh region employ thousands of people here in SWPA and over 100 SWPA companies have operations in the UK, also employing thousands of people. Over forty people daily fly via Paris to London and hundreds fly daily to the UK for business, leisure or for some other reason. That all adds up to a lot of traffic between the UK and SWPA.”

In addition to the physical connection between settlers, travelers and business men and women, British culture has likewise had a significant impact on American culture in general. England, after all, is the land of William Shakespeare and the Beatles, as well as such fictional icons as Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Doctor Who.

“I think Britain is held in high regard by me and by many for its culture developed over centuries,” Roger Cranville offers. “It’s sense of what is right and appropriate, its global outlook, its beauty, its quaintness and of course, the pubs and the greatest game of all—cricket!”

Then there’s the monarchy, an area of equal fascination on the American side of the Atlantic Ocean as it is in England itself. Queen Victoria reigned over Great Britain for 63 years, from June 20, 1837, until her death on January 22, 1901. Queen Elizabeth II, meanwhile, will eclipse that mark on September 10, 2015—having ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952—a monumental accomplishment that played a key role in the decision to launch Britsburgh in the Steel City.

“She has been an outstanding Monarch who has seen great change during her reign,” Cranville says of Elizabeth II. “The Queen is widely respected around the globe and particularly throughout the Commonwealth of (53) Nations. The Royal Family adds a certain mystery, stability and respect, based on their longevity and, not least of all, the pageantry is spectacular.”

Cranville adds that Buckingham Palace, the residence of Queen Elizabeth II in London, has recognized Britsburgh with an official letter of thanks and well wishes, while Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has likewise paid tribute with an official proclamation declaring the days of the event as “Britsburgh Week” in Pittsburgh.

“British-American Connections Pittsburgh was formerly the British-American Business Council Pittsburgh, which was established in 1995,” Roger Cranville explains of the organization behind the festival. “In 2012 the board of the not-for-profit organization decided to shift the focus from business development to strengthening and developing connections and raising the awareness of Britain in Pittsburgh. Britsburgh is the first British festival that we are aware of in Pittsburgh and we plan for it to become an annual event.”

Based on its inaugural efforts and a shared past between Britain and Pittsburgh that goes back centuries, it is safe to assume that Britsburgh will indeed be around for many more years to come.

Anthony Letizia

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