Old English Court: Architecture

Old English Court: Architecture


  • The Chambers of the Old English Court date back to the 15th and 16th centuries and give a penetrating insight into what stone buildings looked like in medieval Moscow.
  • You will learn about the evolution of Russian-English commercial relations in the 16th and 17th centuries, traded goods and commercial rules.
  • The Everyday Life of the English Court in the 16th and 17th centuries is an exhibition devoted to the realities of life in that period.
  • Museum exhibits have labels translated into Russian; guided tours are available.

The Chambers of the Old English CourtRussian: Stary anglisky dvor or Старый английский двор are a unique architectural landmark of Moscow. This is one of the oldest examples of civic architecture dating back to the 15–early 16th centuries. That was a time of active stone construction work in the Kremlin and the redevelopment of the adjacent Veliky PosadRussian: Великий Посад, now renamed Kitay-GorodRussian: Китай-Город, where two sets of stone chambers were built– the Chambers of the Romanov BoyarsRussian: palaty boyar Romanovykh or палаты бояр Романовых and the Chambers of the Bobrishchev BoyarsRussian: palaty boyar Bobrischevykh or палаты бояр Бобрищевых, the latter now called the Old English Court. Take a tour of these chambers, and you will have a clear idea of what stone buildings looked like in medieval Moscow.


add1701_image2_s The reference to England and the English in the name of the building is not accidental. 1553 was the year of Richard Chancellor’s expedition, his arrival in Russia, the establishment of the first ever Russian-English trade relations, and the foundation of the Muscovy Company in London. In 1555, Ivan the Terriblereigned from 1533 to 1584 passed ownership of the former boyarsmembers of the highest rank of the feudal society in Russia’ chambers in Varvarka streetRussian: Варваркa to English merchants so that they could set up their trade mission. The location of the Chambers offered a lot of advantages: there were river ports, traders’ markets, and houses owned by rich Moscow merchants, as well as Veliky TorgRussian: Великий торг (meaning Great Market) in the Kitay-gorod area. It may seem strange that the northern part of the building which faces Varvarka street and the heart of the city is a secondary facade. In the 16th century, the main entrance was located on the southern side of the building and looked onto the Moskva RiverRussian: Moskva-reka or Москва-река, the main artery of the medieval city. In 1636, the Muscovy Trading CompanyRussian: Moskovskaya torgovaya kompaniya or Московская торговая компания acquired a house at the Ilyinsky GateRussian: Ilyinsky vorota or Ильинскиe воротa, which became the British merchants’ New CourtRussian: Novyi dvor or Новый двор while the former chambers were called the Old Court.

In the 17th century, as a result of revolution and the execution of King Charles I in England, trade relations with England were stopped. In years to come, this building housed the Ambassadorial PrikazRussian: Posolskiy prikaz or Посольский приказ, the parish of the Nizhny Novgoroda city in the administrative center of Volga Federal District and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in Russia monastery (late 17th century), and an Arithmetic schoolRussian: Arifmeticheskaya shkola or Арифметическая школа (the first quarter of the 18th century). Prior to the beginning of the 19th century, the Chambers had been repeatedly rebuilt, and after 1812 their layout underwent a complete change and an Empire-style façade was added to the building. In the 20th century, the former Chambers of the English Court faced hard times: they housed offices, warehouses, and even apartments. Until 1966, the Library of Foreign LiteratureRussian: Biblioteka inostrannoy literatury or Библиотека иностранной литературы was located there.

If the Russian history is a subject of your interest and you want to know about it more , for example, what is the oldest church in Moscow, what are the famous monasteries around Moscow, which style of Moscow architecture you can see only in this town, you can read about Kremlin Moscow – the most famous landmark in the world and about “History and Architecture”.


add1702_image3_s The Chambers are built of stone – a very expensive but the most durable material used at the time. However, it was not possible to avoid damage to the stone as time passed. The Chambers owe their current appearance to restorer P. Baranovsky, who established the great value and unique character of the building and supervised the restoration of its original 16-17th century exterior, including the removal of the later extensions. The exhibition organised by the Museum of MoscowRussian: Muzey Moskvy or Музей Москвы which recently opened in the Chambers demonstrates what they could have looked like in the 16-17th centuries. The exhibits of the museum housed in the Chambers give an idea of the reality of life in that epoch – they fit perfectly into the building architecture.

The oldest part of the building is the basement called ‘podklet’ – a kind of a cellar which was used for household purposes. This historically invaluable place is a fairly large room with low solid ceilings and so-called ‘pechuras’ along the walls, i.e. niches to keep food and other items. The cellar could also serve as a place of refuge; it is also known that in the 17th century, prisoners of war were kept captive there. Now it houses the exhibition “Russian-English Trade Relations in the 16-17th CenturiesRussian: Russko-angliyskie torgovye otnosheniya v XVI-XVII vv. or Русско-английские торговые отношения в XVI‒XVII вв.” which gives a visual representation of the goods which were traded between England and Russia and the rules which applied to these transactions.

Treasury ChamberOn the top floor, there are ceremonial rooms. The front ‘senia room in a Russian traditional house, that connects the outside, or porch area to the lived in part inside’ leads into the Treasury ChamberRussian: Kazyonnaya palata or Казённая палата – the main and most impressive room in the house. Its ceiling is a typical 17th century cloistered vault with spandrels and a carved stone rosette in the middle. The floor had black and white ceramic tiles laid out in a checkerboard pattern, and the centrepiece was an oven lined with red tiles. This room was used to hold meetings of sales agents and to house the treasury. The second most important room in the house is the Cooking ChamberRussian: Povarnya or Поварня. Today, the exhibition “Everyday Life in the English Courtyard in the 16-17th CenturiesRussian: Povsednevnaya zhizn na Angliyskom dvore v XVI-XVII vv. or Повседневная жизнь на Английском дворе в XVI‒XVII вв.” is on display in it.

© 2016-2023
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total number of grades: 8, average rating: 4.63 (from 5)
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Kitay-Gorod, Ploshchad Revolyutsii


4A Varvarka Street,  Moscow


Pyotr Dmitriyevich Baranovsky
Ivan the Terrible
Richard Chancellor
Treasury Chamber. Tiled stove
Entrance to the cellar
Museum Plan
Reconstruction of the 17th-century Old English Court and the surrounding buildings by V. A. Ryabov in 2000
Exterior of the Palace seen from the east
Treasury Chamber

Featured reviews

Visitor rating:   4.0

March 2016
The Old English Court is not very impressive. There are four "euro-restored" rooms, two showcases with authentic artifacts and some decorations. Maybe it's more interesting with a guide?!
The architecture itself is interesting. It's hard to spoil it.
Outside, the English court makes a greater impression than inside.
For immersion in History, I recommend you visiting the Chambers of the Romanov Boyars located on 10 Varvarka Street. It's two churches away from the Kremlin. It's MUCH more interesting over there.

December 2015
I recommend for visiting the old English courtyard in Varvarka Street - it's very interesting and educational. The spirit of ancient Moscow has been preserved and you can feel it to the full. In general, the building is historic. It's an architectural monument of the 15-17th centuries, the residence of the English trading Moscow company and during the ambassador's missions it was the English Embassy House. Obviously, this place has been neglected for a long time as many buildings nearby, but now it is brushed up and used as a museum. On the outside, it is a white-stone building with a wooden roof, with tiny loopholes made in thick walls.

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