This museum is located two blocks away from the Kremlin, in old chambers which are a 15-17th century architectural landmark. This makes the museum noteworthy both as a historical and as a unique architectural asset. Adjacent to the Old English CourtRussian: Angliyskoe podvorye, or Английское подворье is an array of iconic architectural and historical landmarks of pre-Petrinebefore the time of Peter the Great of Russia (ruled from 1682 until 1725) times: the Znamensky MonasteryRussian: Знаменский монастырь, the Church of Saint BarbaraRussian: Varvarinskaya tserkov, or Варваринская церковь, the Church of Saint GeorgeRussian: Georgievskaya tserkov, or Георгиевская церковь, and the House of the Romanov boyarsRussian: Palaty boyar Romanovyh or Палаты бояр Романовых. Together they form an outstanding ensemble which is a must to visit while walking around the Kremlin.
The HISTORY OF THE OLD ENGLISH COURT
The historical significance of the Old English Court for Russian-European relations cannot be overestimated: in the 16th century, the chambers of the Old English Court housed the trading house of the English “Muscovy CompanyRussian: Moskovskaya kompaniya or Московская компания”, a key trade intermediary between England and Russia and the first joint-stock company in Russian history. In the 16-17th centuries, the chambers served as an ambassadorial office for English diplomats. Tsar Ivan the Terriblereigned from 1533 until his death in 1584 gave the chambers over to the English so that they could set up a trade office there. This came after Captain Richard Chancellor’s mission’s visit to Moscow in 1553. The chambers of the Old English Court became Moscow’s largest warehouse of British goods. In the 16-17th centuries England imported wool cloth, lead, weapons, metals, tableware, and luxury goods into Russia, while Russia exported wood, hemp, rope, wax, leather, caviar and other goods to England. All those goods were stored in the Old English Court chambers, and the Muscovy Company was granted significant benefits and was under Ivan the Terrible’s personal patronage.
The work of the English trade mission had a great impact on Russia’s status abroad. It was in these chambers that many Russian people first encountered foreigners and European customs which in the era of Peter the Great were to become a common feature of Russian life. However, in 1649, Anglo-Russian relations were brought to an abrupt end due to the revolution and the execution of King Charles I. The chambers were returned to the state treasury and then passed over to Boyar a member of the highest rank of the feudal society in Russia I. Miloslavsky, Tsar Aleksey Ithe tsar of Russia from 1645 until his death in 1676’s distant relative. In subsequent periods, the building was used as a church representative office, a prison, a school, a private house, a trading office, and even a library. Among its owners there were well-known representatives of Moscow merchants: the Solodovnikovs, the Milases etc.
The turning point in the history of the chambers came in the mid-1960s when their restoration as an architectural landmark began. The key restorer for the project was P. Baranovsky. Later, the renovated building of the Old English Court was transferred to the Museum of MoscowRussian: Музей Москвы and became a branch of that museum. The official opening of the chambers was timed to coincide with the state visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip on 18 October 1994.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE CHAMBERS
Originally, this city’s oldest secular building was used by Moscow merchants to store money and goods for sale. The architecture of the Old English Court chambers is a unique example of medieval architecture in present-day Moscow. The building is set on white-stone ‘podklets’, or cellars, dating from the 15th century. The exterior of the chambers reflects some typical features of a Western European trading house. First and foremost, these are massive cellars (used to store goods), thick brick walls, narrow loop windows with security bars and shutters, loading doors and narrow spiral staircases. The main room is called the Treasury ChamberRussian: Kazennaya palata or Казенная палата; it served both as a presence chamber and as a strong-room for storing money. The Treasury Chamber is vaulted with a majestic dome and decorated with a tiled stove and tiled floor (inspired by 16th century European offices). In addition, the chambers had a kitchen, a gallery, ‘senian entrance part (hallway) of the traditional Russian house’, and stairs. All this gives museum visitors an idea of the lifestyle in medieval Moscow. In the 17th century, the chambers were rebuilt. They were extended with a south facade, which has been preserved to this day.
On display in the museum which is located in the chambers are, for instance, a model of a 16th century ship, samples of English and Russian goods of those times, a 3D map of Europe, some typical household items used by English people who resided in Russia (books, tools, and clothing), a variety of samples of Western European weapons of the 16th century (halberds, muskets, rapiers, carbines, and pistols). The Treasury Chamber is recreated in detail as it was when it hosted official receptions and commercial deals in the 16-17th centuries. The reconstructed furniture and lighting are patterned after 16-17th century Russian and English counterparts. For example, the chandelier in the Treasury Chamber was designed as a 1640s chandelier.
The museum runs regular excursions (by appointment). They are primarily devoted to the history of the chambers and their English owners. You can also join a walking tour of the nearby area of Moscow, Kitay-GorodRussian: Китай-город.