Traces of Serbia in London

When I lived in the UK, like any foreigner, especially as a member of a not quite prominent (nor popular) nation, every once in a while, I sought places that reminded me of home. At first it was just the places that had the vibe that reminded me of Serbia.

I immediately fell in love with the Barbican and the Southbank as they reminded me of New Belgrade. Fitzrovia’s dumpy but lively eclecticism and Marylebone’s significantly more refined but still bustling street life also vaguely had the vibe of Central Belgrade. The estates around Clerkenwell with their cockney residents and chip shops, also had the warmth that reminded me of home.

It is only immediately before I left London, and homesickness became too strong, that I started becoming interested in actual Serbia-related places and monuments in London.

The obvious starting point was going to an Easter service at the St Sava Church, which despite being a bog-standard Neo-Gothic Anglican church has a beautiful and very orthodox interior since 1952, when it was became consecrated as part of the SOC.

Just a few blocks away was the Ravna Gora hotel on Holland Park Rd, (which I drove past on my first visit to London in 2006). Then, on an election night in mid-2010s, I was taken to have ćevapi at Paya and the Horse pub in Battersea and meet its indefatigable owner.

Ravna gora and Paya and the Horse are monuments to the two of major waves of Serbian immigration to the UK. Neither of these migration waves had the effects comparable to the influx of other large diaspora communities in London, but they still left their trace in the city.

The first was during and after WWII when a lot of royalists followed the Royal Government-in-exile to the UK. While Aleksandar II, the new head of the deposed Karađorđević dynasty, was born at the Claridge’s hotel in 1945, the rest of their followers settled at less prestigious addresses. Many chose Notting Hill and Holland Park, and later moved further west to Ealing where there is a Black George pub. Others went further afield and started working in the industrial areas of Northern England and the Midlands where there is even an impressive Serbian church dedicated to Prince Lazar.

That major move could have almost led to me not being born. At some point during, or immediately after WWII, my great-grandfather, who served in the Royal Yugoslav military, was offered to leave to London with his wife and his small daughter. They were apparently very keen to leave, but at one point decided against. That turned out to be a smart move. According to the family lore, the convoy which they would have joined was bombed and almost all of the people in it died.

The other, less numerous and organised trickle of Serbs to the UK happened since the late 1980s, due to the collapse of Yugoslavia. Several restaurants, like Paya and the Horse, popped up and some, like the Fulham Kitchen, are frequented by Serbian sportsmen, like Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović. Almost a world away from these homely establishments, there is Roksanda Ilinčić’s impressive boutique on Mount street, where I went when I needed a reminder that it indeed is possible make it big in the UK.

Then, of course, there are the official places.

I always loved the elegance of the Serbian flag flying from a listed terrace house in the very heart of Belgravia, but was frustrated with our seemingly permanently closed cultural centre in Mayfair, which annoyingly stood next to some of my favourite London haunts like the Loop.

The poshness of the location of our Embassy testifies to the close ties between Serbia and the UK at the start of the 20h century. Back then our King Alexander I was married to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, and Serbian intellectuals were very present in England.

Although the father of Serbian Enlightenment, Dositej Obradović visited London in 1784 (there is a plaque on St Clements lane), the ties between the two cultures were weak until the late 19th and early 20th century when the UK stopped supporting the Ottomans over Serbia.

The list of great Serbian Anglophiles starts with Čedomilj Mijatović, a statesman, spiritualist, writer, self-help author, and member of the Royal Historical Society, who along with his English wife Elodie Lawton worked hard to popularise Serbia among the British elite. Then, there was Price Pavle, who was educated at Christchurch college and eventually took over the reins of the state from his assassinated relative. At last but not the least, there was another Oxonian – Nikolaj Velimirović (St Nikolaj of Žiča and Ohrid). During WWI, as part of the pro-Serbian propaganda effort, on Vidovdan (28th June) 1916 he gave an impassioned sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral making him the first Orthodox cleric to address this important congregation.

Immediately after WWII, the intellectual relations between the two countries somewhat cooled, and London was popular with intellectual (self-)exiles such as Miloš Crnjanski and Borislav Pekić, who wrote extensively about their life in England.

Still, with Socialist Yugoslavia’s turn away from the Soviets in 1948, the relationship improved. Already in 1952, Yugoslavia donated wood for construction of a theatre in Coventry and the city was twinned with Belgrade, due to their shared destruction from German bombs. A few decades later, sespite her familial ties with Karađorđević’s Queen Elizabeth II palled around with Tito in 1972, She rode on his Blue train and planted a tree in Belgrade’s Friendship park. Around that time, JAT, the Yugoslav flag carrier, acquired an office in Mayfair, which, after the company fell into financial troubles, became the Serbian cultural centre (or Serbian house).

My favourite bits of Serbia in London, however, are two artworks.

The first is a Vinča statue on permanent display in the British Museum. It is located there as it was with the help of various British archaeologists and financiers that Miloje Vasić managed to lead the largest exploration of the Belo Brdo site in late 1920s.  

The second, and probably my favourite piece of Serbia in London, is the torso of Banović Strahinja, carved by Meštrović. It stands next to Rodin’s masterworks, inside the V&A as a magnificent left-over from a major WWI-era exhibition which was supposed to sway the British public to support Serbia.

I love visiting both of them even now that I don’t live in the UK anymore and despite the fact that Narodni Muzej contains almost exactly the same artefacts. They remind me that despite our tumultuous relationship, there is much to be appreciated on both sides and much to be gained by working together.  

The map of all the places I mentioned is available here.

The Nutshell Times is an independent project and a work of love – but it still requires money to run. If you like the content you can support it on Paypal or Patreon.

5 thoughts on “Traces of Serbia in London

  1. OMG, I am so happy to have found your blog (someone posted the link to this post on Serbian reddit 🙂 )
    Thank you so much for bringing us the atmosphere of a very complicated Serbian and UK / London history. Very much appreciated.

  2. Zdravo! This was a really good read. I’m not far from London (as it goes) so this will be useful if I go there. You mention two authors, Crnjanski and Pekić who wrote about life in the UK; are these available in English do you know? I’m interested to learn more about that post-war diaspora experience. Hvala vam!

    1. Yes – some of their work has been translated. Crnjanski’s A Novel of London is available here ( while Pekić’s Sentimental history of the Britsih Empire ( is not available in English but some of his other works are (

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.