The Old English Yard is not a name for a landmark one would expect to encounter in the very center of the Russian capital. Tucked away beyond the far side of the Red Square this unimposing building is overlooked by most visitors. However, old English yard hides a fascinating history.
The story of this place with an unusual name starts with an even more flamboyantly named company. “Mystery and Company of Merchant Adventurers for the Discovery of Regions, Dominions, Islands, and Places unknown,” or “Muscovy Company” as it would be known for the most of its long existence, was founded in London in 1551 by three gentlemen of fortune, Richard Chancellor, Sebastian Cabot, and Sir Hugh Willoughby, with the intent of establishing a new trade route with the far east. With the assumption that sailing at higher latitudes would mean a shorter route to China, these gentlemen decided to look for a northeastern sea passage beyond the northernmost tip of Scandinavia and above the coast of Siberia.
The first expedition set sail on 10 May 1553, under the joint command of Sir Willoughby and Mr. Chancellor. Unfortunately, the expedition ran into a storm near the Lofoten islands in Norway, and Chancellor’s ships got separated from the rest of the convoy. Determined to reach his goal, Sir Willoughby pushed forward and managed to sail as far as Novaya Zemlya, only to get his ship stuck in ice. He and his men met their end in the Arctic winter of 1554.
Richard Chancellor had much more luck. He managed to find his way to the White Sea and the port of Nikolo-Korelsky Monastery, a settlement of orthodox monks in the far north. The news of exotic guests soon reached Moscow and the court of Czar Ivan the Terrible. Czar Ivan was delighted at the news of foreign merchants reaching the shores of his domain. At the time Russia was cut off from the rest of Europe by its Polish and Swedish enemies, while the trade on the Baltic sea was firmly in the hands of Hanseatic Merchants who extorted hefty fees for their efforts, and the Black sea was a Turkish domain. The Englishmen, who had found another way in, were immediately summoned to the capital.
The meeting with the Czar was a start of a lucrative business, which would last until 1917 and the October revolution. For almost 450 year the Muscovy Company would serve as an important trade and diplomatic link between two empires and the Old English Yard functioned as Company’s Moscow headquarter until its end.
Know Before You Go
Take metro lines 6 or 7 to Kitai Gorod metro station.