Survey of London: Volume 15, All Hallows, Barking-By-The-Tower, Pt II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1934.
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II.—MUSCOVY COURT. SITE OF MUSCOVY (SIR JOHN ALLEYN'S) HOUSE
Muscovy Court, which lay in the north-west angle of Tower Hill, covered the site of a short lane which formed a back entrance to the precinct of Crutched Friars. The parish boundary ran through the centre of the lane, and apparently its abrupt turn to the west occurred near the gate. The court was entirely in All Hallows parish, and so were the houses that surrounded it to the north, west and south. That to the east, which was the only one of any age which survived, lay in the adjoining parish of St. Olave's (see plan on Plates 6 and 7).
The original passage served other properties beside the Friars, since in a deed of 1538 John Martyn, gentleman, is recorded to have leased to Christopher Draper, gentleman, a messuage and two gardens in All Hallows parish near Tower Hill with "a way severall" from them and from another house of Christopher's to the Crutched Friars. It ran by a brick wall on the west which was the boundary wall of an important house which fronted on Seething Lane, and was partly in All Hallows and partly in St. Olave's parish. In 1538 this belonged to "Master John Aleyn, Knight." (fn. 1)
The position of this property between Seething Lane and Tower Hill, and partly in the two parishes, makes it possible to identify its owners back to an early period. In 1329 Walter le Hurer granted it to William Curteys, he having purchased it from the executors of Roger de Frowyk. (fn. 2) Roger (who was a goldsmith), with his wife Idonea, is recorded as having bought property in Seething Lane from Richard Boundy of Totenham as early as 1303, (fn. 3) and at his death much of his possessions went to endow his neighbours, the Crutched Friars. We next find it in the hands of William Briklesworth, and later of John his son, whose widow, Leticia, parts with it apparently to trustees in 1368. (fn. 4) In 1461 it belonged to John Warre, woolman, who with Agnes his wife granted it to Richard Lee and George Irland, alderman, (fn. 5) and no other record has come to light until we find it in the hands of Sir John Alleyn in 1538. He is described as of Moate (the old name for Ightham Moat), Kent, in a deed of 1564, when with Etheldreda his wife he sold it to Richard Fookes and Thomas Nicholls. (fn. 6) In the grant it is described as a "tenement called Alleyn's House in Seething Lane," lying in both parishes and in the tenure of one Shafftinge. The sale was confirmed by Alleyn's son Christopher in the same year. (fn. 7) Sir John was a wealthy mercer and twice Lord Mayor of London (fn. 8) (1525–6 and 1535–6).
It would seem that Richard Fookes and Thomas Nicholls were either representatives of "the Fellowship of Englishe merchantes for discovery of newe Trades" (an endorsement reads "The Company of Muscovie"), or they sold it to them, for in 1579–80 the company is found selling the capital messuage called Muscovy House, "once Sir John Allins howse," in Seething Lane in the parishes of St. Olave, Hart Street, and All Hallows Barking to Sir Francis Walsingham, (fn. 9) who died there in 1590. He left most of his property to his wife, (fn. 10) who died in 1602. Their daughter, Lady Frances, who had been the wife of Sir Philip Sidney, contracted the secret marriage with Robert Earl of Essex that so much displeased Queen Elizabeth. This occurred at the time of her father's death, and it was arranged by Essex that she should live "very retired at her mother's house." (fn. 11) This explains the entries in the parish registers of All Hallows which record the burial of three of her children: (fn. 12)
1591. Feb. 19. Mr. Walter Devereux, sonne to the Right Hon. ye Earle of Essex.
1596. May 7. Henry Devereux, sonne to the Earle of Essex.
1599. June 27. Penelope, daughter of the Earle of Essex.
Lady Frances is mentioned in a deed of sale from the Earl of Northumberland (who bought the house for £2,000 in 1603) to John Wolstenholme and Nicholas Salter. (fn. 13) This was in 1606 and the price paid £1,800. The premises are called "the capitall messuage lately called Muscovia House and sometimes Sir John Allins howse … and nowe comonly called Walsingham howse." The inn called the "White Horse," in Seething Lane, in the parish of All Hallows, was included in the purchase. Sir Nicholas Salter and Sir John Wolstenholme divided the property between them. The latter, whom Pepys mentions as one of the officers of the Customs, (fn. 14) sold his part (then in the tenure of Sir John Gore) in 1654 to the Admiralty Commissioners for the Navy Board. (fn. 15)
In 1672 a fire destroyed the greater part of the house, then known as the Navy Office. Thereupon the Commissioners obtained an Act (fn. 16) empowering them to buy the adjoining property, and they purchased the rest of Walsingham House which had been "totally burnt down and demolished." This part was then held by Nicholas Salter the elder, who had leased it in 1655 to Sir Richard Ford. The house is described as in two parishes, and adjoining its eastern side was "the great garden [the garden formerly of the Crutched Friars] … which was then lately divided with a brick wall"—a reference to Salter's demolition of Alleyn's wall along the seven-foot way. (fn. 17) The Navy Office, as rebuilt, was wholly in St. Olave's parish.
The earliest reference to Muscovy Court is in the description of the bounds of the Tower Liberty in the third year of James II (1687–8), and we may therefore conclude that it was erected soon after the fire of 1672. It occurs first in the rate-lists in 1692. The Muscovy Company was the outcome of an expedition to discover the north-east route to Cathay, organised by John Gresham (whose grandson was the founder of the Royal Exchange) and a company of adventurers formed by him in 1553. Sebastian Cabot's services were requisitioned to prepare for the voyage, and under the leadership of Sir Hugh Willoughby, three ships set out on May 11th of that year. The leader was lost with two of the ships, but Richard Chancellor reached Russia, interviewed the Czar, and on his return with a letter to Queen Mary, granting privileges to English merchants, the Russia (or Muscovy) Company was formed, and received its charter in 1555. It was therefore nine years after its foundation (fn. 18) that it was housed in Muscovy House, Seething Lane, and, as we have seen, it remained here for fifteen years, two facts which so far have not been recorded in its annals.
From the minutes of the Company which have been courteously shown us by the Hon. Evelyn Hubbard, we learn that the Courts were held later in the 17th and 18th centuries at various places: East India House, the halls of the Brewers and the Ironmongers, and at other times at taverns and coffee-houses. An outline of its history will be found in Prof. W. R. Scott's History of Joint Stock Companies to 1720, and Hakluyt (fn. 19) gives a copy of the original charter and various particulars regarding the Company's consuls, governors and assistants.