The British in Moscow

The British in Moscow


  • The earliest regular Russian-English contacts were established in the mid-16th
  • The English trading company, known as the Muscovy Company, was founded in 1555, and Ivan the Terrible granted it a building in Varvarka Street (now the “Old English Court”).
  • Jacob Bruce was one of the best-known Englishmen of Scottish descent and an associate of Peter the Great who made a brilliant military career in Russia.
  • Michael Maddox (1747-1822), an English engineer and theatre manager, established Moscow’s first public theatre, Petrovsky Theatre, once located on Petrovka Street.
  • The only active Anglican church in Moscow, Andrew’s Church, was designed by English architect Richard Knill Freeman.
  • Bustling British pubs such as Sally O’Briens, Mollie’s and Chelsea Gastropub are highly popular in Moscow.

Great Britain has always been a major political and cultural power. The same is true for Russia. The two powers have come in contact many times, both as enemies and allies. Britain often catalysed the development of new cultural trends, which then spread throughout the world, including Russia. All of this has caused Russian public opinion to oscillate dramatically between looking up to Britain as a role model and considering it to be the source of trouble. Starting from the 16th century, Russia became a country of new opportunities for many British people. Entrepreneurs, artists, contractors, engineers and many others came there in search of fulfillment in life. From museums to architecture, the British trace is everywhere in Moscow, even in the famous image of the SpasskayaSaviour Tower Tower of the Kremlin constructed with the participation of a British architect. There is also an Anglican church in Moscow. Besides, the myriads of English and Irish pubs are the most frequented ones in the capital.


Address: 4A Varvarka StreetRussian: ulitsa Varvarka or улица Варварка

Nearest metro station: Kitay-gorod

The first permanent Russian-English relations were established in the mid-16th century. Edward Bonaventure, an English ship commanded by Captain Richard Chancellor (1521–1556) reached the northern coast of Russia in 1553. The Englishmen were looking for a northern route to China, but the ship was washed ashore by a storm. The explorers headed to Moscow, where they successfully negotiated trade privileges for English merchants. At the time, Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible was trying to establish relations with the European monarchies; legend has it that he even considered marrying Elizabeth, the queen of England.

469_image1_sAll of this paved the way for the appearance of the Muscovy Trading Company in 1555. Ivan the Terrible granted this company a stone building in Varvarka Street, now known as the Old English Court. The building served as home to a sales office and warehouses and provided accommodation for English embassies. Chancellor wrote The Book of the Great and Mighty Emperor of Russia and the Duke of Moscovia dedicated to his journey to Russia. Among other things, the book describes the impression Moscow produced on him: Chancellor found the city to have been built crudely with buildings arranged haphazardly and unsystematically. On the other hand, he was fascinated by the Kremlin and the churches. The first English mission lasted until 1649, when all ties between the countries were severed: England had a revolution and King Charles I had been executed. Russian Tsar Alexis I considered maintaining political relations totally unacceptable.

At present, the Old English Court is a museum. Queen Elizabeth II attended its opening ceremony in 1994. The permanent exhibition is dedicated to trade and diplomatic relations between the countries as well as everyday life of English merchants in Moscow.


478_image2_sAddress: Kremlin, Red Square, Moscow

Nearest metro stations: Borovitskaya, Aleksandrovsky sad, Biblioteka imeni Lenina

British influence can sometimes be found where you least expect it, like on the top of the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin. In the early 17th century, the tower acquired its first tent-roofed addition at the top, as well as the clock. Construction was supervised by Christopher Halloway, an architect and mechanic of Scottish origin, who was in the Tsar’s service. Halloway was working on this project in collaboration with Russian architect Bazhen Ogurtsov. The clock had a rather unique design: its hands remained fixed while its face rotated. That clock no longer exists but the one that’s currently on the tower was manufactured in the mid-19th century. The tent-like structure above the clock used to have bells inside; the bells were connected to the clock mechanism and chimed the time. The tent-roofed top is still there today. Halloway also designed a water-lifting mechanism for the Vodovzvodnayawater-lifting Tower.


Scotsman Jacob Bruce was one of the best known British people who served Russia. He was born and raised in the German Quarter, a small compact European ‘settlement’ that had been in Moscow since the 16th century (back then, Russians referred to all west-European foreigners as ‘Germansнемцы, meaning ‘mute’ in Russian’). Bruce became a close associate of reformer-Tsar Peter the Great and made a brilliant military career, reforming the Russian artillery, participating in 17th-century military expeditions to Crimea and in the Great Northern War against Sweden. He also founded the first Russian observatory (as part of the Moscow School of Mathematics and Navigation) and personally took charge of it. The observatory was located inside the Sukharev Tower, which no longer exists. 479_image3_s

Bruce’s reclusive lifestyle, his interest in alchemy, and the gloomy appearance of the Sukharev Tower provided fodder for all sorts of stories about his connection with evil spirits. One of the city legends mentions the so-called Bruce’s House in Razgulyay SquareRussian: ploshchad’ Razgulyay or площадь Разгуляй. People gave this name to the house of Alexei Musin-Pushkin (1744–1817), a renowned collector and historian (2/1 Spartakovskaya StreetRussian: Spartakovskaya ulitsa or Спартаковская улица). What caused all the gossip was the white plate of stone built into the façade of this house. Some argued it was a magical sundial made by Bruce for Musin-Pushkin, which could foretell the future; others would tell a spooky tale about Jacob Bruce immuring his wife in the wall and covering up the space with the plate of stone. However, although Jacob Bruce did own the land, the house itself was not actually constructed until half a century after his death. Another of Jacob Bruce’s houses is located in downtown Moscow, in Bryusov LaneRussian: Bryusov pereulok or Брюсов переулок, near the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory (2/14 Bryusov Lane). Supposedly, the Bruce family had already settled in that house by the early 18th century, giving the name to this lane. However, the earliest owner of the house whose name has been well-established was Jacob’s nephew Alexander Bruce (1708–1752). The house took on its present-day appearance in 1814.


481_image5_sEnglish engineer and theatrical entrepreneur Michael Maddox (1747–1822) established the first public theatre in Moscow: in 1780, he erected the stone building of the Petrovsky Theatre in Petrovka StreetRussian: ulitsa Petrovka or улица Петровка. The troupe of Maddox, known as Mikhail Yegorovich Maddox in Russia, consisted of Russian actors, both professionals and serfs hired out or sold by their owners. Apart from the theatre, Maddox also established a voksal in the eastern suburb of Moscow. This was a type of commercial entertainment venue for holding ballroom dance parties, concerts, performances, etc. for the public at large. The word voksal is derived from Vauxhall Gardens, the name of a pleasure garden near London. Sadly, this enterprise of Maddox’s ended up going out of business. Nothing remains of it today. Before 1919, Maly Vokzalny and Bolshoy Vokzalny Lanes were located here; today their names are Maly Fakelny and Bolshoy Fakelny LanesRussian: Maly Fakel’ny i Bol’shoy Fakel’ny pereulki or Малый Факельный и Большой Факельный переулки. On top of all that, Maddox’s Petrovsky Theatre burned down in a fire of 1805, although some traces of it remained. The famous Bolshoi Theatre was later built upon its existing foundation (1 Teatralnaya SquareRussian: Teatral’naya ploshchad’ or Театральная площадь).


Address: 2 Petrovka Street

Nearest metro station: Kuznetsky Most

Speaking of entrepreneurs from Great Britain, the most noticeable mark was left on Moscow by Scotsman Andrew Muir (1817-1899) and Archibald Mirrielees (1797–1877)—and their successors. Their trade company originated in Saint Petersburg and moved to Moscow in the 1880s. The entrepreneurs started by selling women’s hats and moved on to a wider assortment of goods, essentially creating the first Russian department store where one could buy almost anything, except groceries. The Muir and Mirrielees Trade Company was located on the site of the present-day TsUMa large fashion department store, being one of the most popular shopping venues in Moscow. Following 483_image7_stwo fires, a new building was constructed by architect Roman Klein (1858–1924) in 1908. That was a six-story building designed in the English neo-Gothic style. After the founders passed away, a gentleman named Philip Watson (1845–1919) proved worthy of being their successor. The revolution of 1917 found him as the company co-owner; the Trade Company was nationalised, and Watson died in Moscow in 1919, having spent his final days in poverty.

The Muir and Mirrielees Trading Company owned two other shops in central Moscow and a furniture factory that held the esteemed status of being a ‘Supplier of His Imperial Majesty Court’. The furniture department was located not too far from the main store and occupied the 1st and 2nd floors in Khomyakov Revenue House at the intersection of Kuznetsky MostRussian: Кузнецкий Мост and Petrovka streets (Bld. 2, 6/3 Kuznetsky Most). The building has survived to this day, having acquired two more storeys. Interestingly, the building was the set for Eldar Ryazanov’s Office Romance, a landmark of Soviet cinema.


Address: 8/5 Voznesensky LaneRussian: Voznesenskiy pereulok or Вознесенский переулок

Nearest metro stations: Pushkinskaya, Okhotny Ryad, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina


.St. Andrew’s Anglican Church is the only Anglican church in Moscow. The design project was developed by British architect Richard Knill Freeman (1840–1904). He designed the church in the typical English style, dedicating it to Andrew the Apostle, the patron saint of Scotland. Being traditionally a nation of migrants, the Scottish people formed a considerable part of the British community in Moscow. The church and the Clergy HouseRussian: dom prichta or дом причта were constructed in 1882–1884 using the funds of the local British community, mostly those of Jane McGill—in memory of her husband Robert McGill, owner of a cast iron foundry.

St. Andrew’s Church became the centre of social and cultural life for people of British origin. During World War I, the community set up a British hospital for wounded Russian soldiers. The church was damaged during the fights in Moscow in November 1917. Valuable items and the community cash fund were confiscated by the Bolsheviks, and the priest was arrested repeatedly before he eventually made it back to Great Britain. In 1920, the church was shut down and the building was used for a number of purposes other than what it was intended for; notably, it was used as a warehouse, as a dormitory, and as a recording studio at different periods of the Soviet era. Religious services resumed in 1991, and the church was officially given back to the renewed Anglican community after the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1994. Church services are normally held on Sunday mornings; it is better to double-check the exact time on the church’s website (available in English only). Services are conducted in the English language only. Apart from that, there are concerts given by the church choir and a Sunday school available for parishioners’ children.


Address: 2 Teatralny DriveRussian: Teatralniy Proyezd or Театральный проезд

Nearest metro station: Teatralnaya

485_image9_sThis famous Art Nouveau landmark was built in Moscow according to the designs of architect William Walcot (1874–1943). Walcot came from a German-Scottish family. In 1899, he entered the competition for the best design of a future hotel; he was placed fourth by the competition committee, but Savva Mamontov—the millionaire patron who ordered the competition—ignored the jury’s opinion and selected Walcot’s project. Even so, a few alterations were made to Walcot’s design, and he had to work in collaboration with the first prize winner, the famous architect Lev Kekushev. Their joint efforts resulted in a gem of Moscow’s Art Nouveau architectural design, adorned with a mosaic panel by Mikhail VrubelRussian painter of the turn of the 19th-20th centuries.

Today, the Metropol is a hotel in the upscale price range. Those who have stayed at the Metropol include such British cultural figures as writer Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), musician Elton John (born 1947), etc.

William Walcot designed a few other buildings in Moscow: private houses of Maria Yakunchikova (10 Prechistensky LaneRussian: Prechistenskiy pereulok or Пречистенский переулок and Karl Gutheil (Blds. 1 & 2, 8 Prechistensky Lane), the revenue house of Moscow Trade and Construction Joint-Stock Company in 4/3 Myasnitsky PassageRussian: Myasnitskiy proyezd or Мясницкий проезд. He also took part in creating the mosaic panel for the Otto List’s House (10 Glazovsky LaneRussian: Glazovskiy pereulok or Глазовский переулок). These buildings are unique landmarks of Moscow’s Art Nouveau design, and William Walcot’s name is forever part of its history. Many of the buildings, such as Yakunchikova’s private house, possess some features of Anglo-Scottish Art Nouveau.

Another project of William Walcot’s related to Great Britain deserves special attention: in 1903–1904, the architect built the so-called St. Andrew’s House (9 Spiridonyevsky LaneRussian: Spiridon’yevskiy pereulok or Спиридоньевский переулок), which provided affordable lodging for British and American governesses. The construction was commissioned by Jane McGill, a Scottish philanthropist and patroness of arts. This widow of a Scottish manufacturer devoted herself to helping her compatriots and the Anglican community. For instance, she made a considerable financial contribution to the construction of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church. During the Soviet period, St. Andew’s House underwent a reconstruction which distorted its historic appearance. Presently, it houses the Marco Polo Presnja Hotel.

British Embassy


Address: 10 Smolenskaya EmbankmentRussian: Smolenskaya naberezhnaya or Смоленская набережная

Nearest metro station: Smolenskaya


British Cuisine and Pubs

Pubs are the part of British gastronomic culture that Russians have found to be especially appealing. Moscow has lots of pubs differing significantly from one another in terms of price and service quality. If you’re looking for a place with an atmosphere similar to that of an authentic British pub, don’t let price be your only guide. Here are a few English-style pubs and eating places worth visiting:

Bobby Dazzler. Metro: Chistye Prudy, Turgenevskaya, Sretensky Bulvar. 7/13 Kostyansky LaneRussian: Kostyanskiy pereulok or Костянский переулок.
One of Moscow’s oldest pubs, it is considered to be the place of gathering for local fans of the Manchester United football club. The interior is designed in the traditional manner of an English football pub. During holidays, at weekends, and on the days of football matches the place is heaving with guests and it’s hard to find a seat, so you’ll have to book a table in advance. Price: 700–1,500 rub.

Molly Gwynn’s ОктябрьскаяSally O’Briens.
Metro: Polyanka. 1/3 Bolshaya Polyanka StreetRussian: ulitsa Bol`shaya Polyanka or улица Большая Полянка.
An Irish pub.

Metro: Chistiye Prudy, Lubyanka, Turgnevskaya, Kuznetsky Most, Sretensky Bulvar. 13 Myasnitskaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Myasnitskaya or улица Мясницкая, bld. 3.
An Irish pub.

Molly Gwinn’s.
Metro: Novokuznetskaya, Tretyakovskaya. 24 Pyatnitskaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Pyatnitskaya or улица Пятницкая, bld. 1.
A summer veranda is available.
An Irish pub.

Plotnikov Pub.
Metro: Smolenskaya, Arbatskaya. 22/16 Plotnikov LaneRussian: Plotnikov pereulok or Плотников переулок.
An English pub.

Chelsea GastropPub.
Metro: Tverskaya, Pushkinskaya, Chekhovskaya. 12 Maly Gnezdnikovsky LaneRussian: Maly Gnezdnikovskiy pereulok or Малый Гнездниковский переулок.
A wide selection of whiskey (about 50 types). The cuisine comes from England and ‘all of its former colonies’.

Pie Point.
Metro: Tverskaya, Pushkinskaya, Chekhovskaya. 27/4 Bronnaya StreetRussian: ulitsa Bol`shaya Bronnaya or улица Большая Бронная or улица Большая Бронная.
A small cafe serving English pies.

British Collections in Museums of Moscow

.Kremlin Armoury.
The Kremlin.
British weapons of the 17th–19th centuries; one of the world’s top collections of 16th–17th century English silverware – mainly gifts from foreign diplomats; 18th–19th century artworks by London jewellers; two English carriages from the 16th and the 18th centuries.

Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Metro: Kropotkinskaya, 12 Volkhonka StreetRussian: ulitsa Volhonka or улица Волхонка.

© 2016-2023
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