UK Sri Lanka Relations

High Commission of Sri Lanka
No.13, Hyde Park Gardens
London W2 2LU,
United Kingdom.

Tel:  020 7262 1841
Fax: 020 7262 7970



UK - Sri Lanka Relations

UK - Sri Lanka Relations

The Sri Lanka High Commission in the UK was officially opened on 22nd October 1948, and was the second overseas Mission to be opened by Sri Lanka. This was the first Embassy to start operating after Sri Lanka then Ceylon gained independence from Britain.

Bilateral ties with the UK takes centre stage in the country's post colonial foreign policy making London one of the most important Missions abroad for Sri Lanka. In addition to its bilateral work, the Mission also handles the work related to the Commonwealth Organisation. Sri Lanka also established diplomatic relations with the then Republic of Ireland in February 1996, and concurrent accreditation was formalised when the High Commissioner presented credentials as Ambassador to the President of Ireland in January 1997.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, visited Sri Lanka twice since independence, first in 1953 and then in 1981. The Queen's second visit was to attend the celebrations marking 50 years of universal adult franchise in Sri Lanka. The Victoria Dam under the Mahaweli Diversion Programme was ceremoniously opened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984. Sri Lanka's ties with Britain are multifaceted and cover a wide range of areas. Over a period of time, Britain's commercial interests in Sri Lanka have shown a gradual shift from plantations to industry.

At present, Sri Lanka's major exports to the UK have changed to industrial products and also include apparel, machinery, sea food, bicycles etc. The UK is Sri Lanka's second largest market and third largest Foreign Direct Investor. There are 207 UK companies operating in Sri Lanka with an estimated investment of US $ 429 million.

UK is the second largest tourism market for Sri Lanka accounting for 20% of the country's tourist arrivals and 30% of tourism related earnings. A recent commercial development has been the large increase in tourists from Britain, with it presently being the largest single source of tourists visiting Sri Lanka from the EU.

The British Council has continued to play a vital role in improving the standards of English through its numerous programmes in Sri Lanka, including the popular library services it offers in Colombo and Kandy. In the field of higher education, a number of students from Sri Lankan universities continue to receive bursaries and other scholarships from British seats of higher learning.


A little piece of London that is forever ours
Russell Square in Bloomsbury, London

If you don't visit Russell Square in Bloomsbury, London, when you are in England, you are certainly missing out on a large wedge of Sri Lanka that stands as a beacon to the beginnings of Modern Period of Lanka-London art and literature.

The Lankan art world will tell you all about Martin Russell [left] who founded the '43 Group Colombo-London, projected the Group worldwide, and helped us, in the criticism of painting as a discipline, to come of age.

Martin founded the Colombo-London '43 Group with the launching of his book, 'George Keyt' in 1950; the staging of several art exhibitions featuring the work of the Lankan Group; and the sale of his paintings through Sotheby's and Christie's. I must tell you of the man first, for it was so much of his destiny that he had to come to Ceylon and come to be so involved with the nine painters of our '43 Group.

Martin Russell was the first son of Gilbert Russell. Gilbert was the third son of Lord Arthur, brother of Francis Charles Hastings, the ninth Duke of Bedford, and the diplomat, Odo Russell who was later made Lord Ampthil. Both Odo and Francis were the nephews of Lord John Russell, and it will be interesting to note that Lord John's cousin was Lord Torrington, Governor of Ceylon from 1847 -1850. Lord John was also Britain's PM and introduced the Reform Bill in 1832 that was a pointer to the introduction of Universal Suffrage in Ceylon in 1931.

Martin Russell loved this country, and also our art. He was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge, where he read Economics. He served in the King's Royal Rifle Corps and from 1939-1940 was Assistant Private Secretary to the Right Honourable Duff Cooper. He continued as Private Secretary when, in 1941, Cooper was made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and was sent out by Winston Churchill to report on the British Governments in the Far East, with an office in Singapore.

Martin Russell was with Cooper in Singapore, but in 1942, Cooper returned to England, while Martin remained to close the Singapore office and withdraw in the face of the Japanese invasion. Cooper was made First Viscount Norwich in 1952. As for Martin, he made his way to Ceylon on March 13, 1942, and here, he served as Captain in the staff of Lord Mountbatten at the South Asia-Command Headquarters--at-Peradeniya, that-stood at the site that had been set apart for the Peradeniya University. It was in 1942, that he met Lionel Wendt and was inspired by that impressionist and post-impressionist artist who formed the '43 Group in Ceylon.

Martin's knowledge of modem painting was derived from his mother. He enthusiastically responded to the group and saw that our own art was both of international quality and stature. He held an abiding interest in the history of this country and in November 2003, on the 60th anniversary of the first '43 Group exhibition, recalled that the show was, to him, memorable. By that time he had known and loved this country for 61 years. One of his own paintings show him at a chessboard [right] - a game that he was keen on since his years at Eton.

In June this year, the 'Russell Square' in Bloomsbury throbbed with life and the gleaming shards of memory. The Square bears the name of Martin's forbears and is now one of the most acclaimed destinations in London. Martin died on December 23, 2003 at his home in Dorset, leaving as it were, an unending contribution to us, for his dream of bringing the constellation of the nine '43 Group painters to be of world fame, came true.

Mr. N. Sivasambu, Secretary of the '43 Group Colombo-London, could not allow the Martin Russell commemoration to pass unsung ... and so, Russell Square and the 'Friends of Russell Square' marked the day in the Square gardens on June 19th this year as well as at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. The illustrated seminar on 'Martin Russel and the '43 Group' was prepared by Neville Weeraratne. A monograph, 'Martin Russell: Appreciation and Tribute' was edited by Sivasambu and carried biographical sketches and a memoir by Laura Beresford, Martin's daughter; Martin's writings on George Keyt; on George Claessen; writings on the '43 Group; a seminar paper by Neville Weeraratne together with his obituary on Martin and a list of illustrations. Also included are notes on sculptor Tissa Ranasinghe; Lionel Wendt; Keyt's translation of 'Jayadeva;' Cedric de Silva on Keyt; remembering Ivan Peries; the formation of the Colombo-London '43 Group; Senake Bandaranayake and Shamil Wanigaratne on Martin; and a host of other appreciations and greetings.

As you know, Neville Weeraratne studied under Richard Gabriel and Ivan Peiris and has written '43 Group: A Chronicle and The Art of Richard Gabriel.

At the outdoor Square ceremony, sculptor Tissa Ranasinghe planted a Tulip tree - a tree Martin was particular fond of. But let me also tell you of Russell Square. It holds open-air art galleries, and there are the 'Friends of Russell Square' formed in 1966 and headquartered in 'The Cafe' in the gardens. The picture below was sent me by Sivasambu:

There is a lot of environmental effort to keep 'green' and the Camden Borough of London presented the Square with the Green Flag Award.

In the picture [right] is the Borough's Counsellor, and Executive Member for Culture, Flick Rea, after the Award presentation in the gardens.

Russell Square is not only a lasting memorial to Martin, but a place where all the simple delights of life await one. There is a gardening club, the determination to cut out all pollution, an air-monitoring station, even specially organised coach trips for visitors to Woburn Abbey and Safari Park; to Brighton and the Pavilion; and Winchester Cathedral. There is also 'Tavistock Trust' Park will do them a world of good. 'The Cafe' is open all year round and of course, there is St. George's Church and the Baptist Church.

Martin Russell can never be forgotten - and the art world of Sri Lanka must not forget either. He was a man who held this island in deep honour and worked tirelessly to promote our art and culture.




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