What I love about London is you will be walking down a regular looking street and, unless you know it’s there, can be missing an absolute treasure. When doing some research for our trip this month, J and I came across a reference to Charterhouse. I was vaguely aware of it – Wasn’t it a school? – but knew absolutely no details, let alone its history. After checking out their site, we saw they offered tours so we signed up.
What we discovered was a mediaeval jewel in the heart of the busy city. Spread over six acres(!) Charterhouse is a former Carthusian monastery founded by monks from Chartreuse in France in 1371. (‘Charterhouse’ is the anglicanisation of ‘Chartreuse’.)
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s, many of the monks were hung at Tyburn for refusing to take an oath recognising Henry as head of the church in England, and the monastery became a possession of the crown. It was granted to Lord North, who sold it to The Duke of Norfolk, who later sold it to Thomas Sutton in 1611.
Sutton was an extremely wealthy ‘commoner’, having made much of his money in munitions. He turned Charterhouse into a charitable foundation to educate boys and offer residential care for single elderly men.
Former pupils of the school – which relocated to Surrey in 1872 when it outgrew the space – include Lord Baden-Powell (founder of the Scout movement), William Makepeace Thackery (writer) and John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church).
If you’re a soccer fan, you might be interested to learn that two of the rules of the game (the offside rule and throw in) came into being on this site where the boys played the game in the cloisters.
Charterhouse continues to offer accommodation for single elderly men. Known as ‘Brothers’, they must be between 60-80 years of age and men of limited financial means. (Teachers, artists, clergymen, etc.) They live independently in their own flats in the grounds but meet together daily for meals. Although Charterhouse is an Anglican community, there is no obligation to attend services – or even be a member of The Church of England.
Charterhouse was damaged by bombing during World War Two. You can still see the evidence of the remnants of a burned door which protected the chapel.
Today, Charterhouse is open for tours on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday and alternate Saturday afternoons. They last for approximately an hour and a half and cost 10GBP per person. Tours are led by Brothers and must be booked in advance. Please click here for the online application form. Members of the public can also attend services in their chapel. Please click here for information.
Charterhouse can also be hired as wedding venue and is used quite often by film and television companies for location shooting for productions such as Downton Abbey and Great Expectations.
If you’re a history geek and/or looking for something just a little bit different during your visit to London, both J and myself highly recommend Charterhouse. With history stretching back over 700 years, it really is a jewel.