The first representative of British Council in Bulgaria Henry L Littler and staff
1939 – The first representative of British Council in Bulgaria Henry L Littler and staff

British Council is the world’s leading cultural relations organisation with more than 80 years of history and more than 100 offices across the world. So did it really come to Bulgaria as late as 1991? This was indeed when we opened our office on Tulovo Street but our history in Bulgaria began much earlier.

Join us on a short journey back in time to discover some curious, unknown facts.

1939 - One of the first overseas offices of the British Council

The first overseas offices of the British Council opened in 1938. The Bulgaria office followed just a year later, in 1939, with Henry L Littler serving as the first representative. 

The early years 

Initially Littler was based at the British Legation, but eventually moved to Gueshoff House. The British Council (called the British Institute at the time) worked with Bulgarian-British associations and the English Speaking League. During 1940 the office remained open, despite great difficulties of World War II. Wartime did not diminish the popularity of the English language courses the Institute offered.

In 1941 the Defence Ministry advised the British Council to withdraw from Bulgaria and the office suspended all activities. Nevertheless, the fact it had remained open for so long was considered extraordinary. 

Reopening and closure

After the war an office was re-established in 1947, with W Lynndon Clough as the representative. The first activity was to distribute books and periodicals, and teach English language. However these were difficult times and the office had to close in 1950.

1991 - A new beginning 

Cultural relations between Britain and Bulgaria developed slowly but surely. Towards the end of the 1980s the British Council expanded its work in Bulgaria significantly which led to the reopening of our local office. 

British Council Bulgaria, as we know it today, was established on 18 February 1991 when the governments of Bulgaria and the UK signed a bilateral agreement for the creation of cultural centres. 

President Zhelev at the opening of the new premises of British Council in Bulgaria
November 1990 – Official opening of the new premises of the British Embassy’s cultural section which became the British Council office after the signing of the bilateral agreement between the UK and Bulgaria in 1991. Left to right: HM Ambassador Richard Thomas; Sir Dick Francis – Director General of the British Council; Zhelyu Zhelev – President of the Republic of Bulgaria; David Stokes – Director of British Council Bulgaria
The Duke of York at the opening of  the new premises in 2001
The British Council moved to its current premises on 7 Krakra Street in 2001. On 18 October that year the building was officially inaugurated by Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
The British Council office in Sofia
The spacious house built in 1921 in the Art Deco style, was the home of one of the most affluent entrepreneurs and tobacco merchants from the early 20th century, Doncho Palaveev. The life in the house inspired the Bulgarian writer Dimitar Dimov to write his masterpiece novel 'Tobacco'.

One of Sofia's most interesting buildings

White stone was used to build the house which escaped damage during the bombing of Sofia in WWII. After the war the house was transformed into a headquarters for the Soviet Troops, then later became a kindergarten. Today it hosts the British Council. Visitors can see the 90-year-old ceramic fireplace and the original oak wainscoting on the walls and ceilings. The British Council named its ground floor space after the original owners of the house – Doncho Palaveev and his family.

The staircase of the building was transformed into an exhibition space where visitors can see some highly acclaimed works from the British Council art collection.

The British Council library stock has a new home

British Council has maintained a library collection in Sofia since 1991, which is when we first started our operation in Bulgaria. During the 1990s this collection was a valuable resource for audiences who have long identified the United Kingdom as a source of knowledge and ideas.  

However in recent years, with wide access to English books and materials becoming increasingly easier, we found that our library service was no longer unique and therefore in much less demand. That is why in November 2009 we closed our library service.

We donated most of our library stock to the English & American Studies Library at Sofia University in order to allow continued access to it.