Our latest Curiosity of the Week is a slice of history hidden in the middle of modern London. The Charterhouse is a former Carthusian monastery, which has also been used as a private mansion, a boys’ school and an almshouse (which it remains as today).
Built on part of a burial ground for the victims of the Black Death, the Charterhouse was originally established in 1371 as a monastery. A prior and twenty-four monks were accommodated in two-storey houses arranged round a characteristically large cloister. A church, built alongside the burial ground, became the priory church. Thomas More, ’A man for all seasons’, friend of Erasmus and later Henry VIII’s Chancellor, frequently visited the Charterhouse as a young student, as it was an important centre of ecclesiastical learning.
The Royal influence on the Charterhouse’s history is hard to ignore. In 1535, the monks refused to conform to Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy and some were brutally executed at Tyburn. The building was passed to the Crown and was granted to Lord North, who constructed a fine Tudor mansion. In 1558, Elizabeth I arrived at the Charterhouse. It was the fifth day of her reign and she stayed for five days before proceeding to the Tower of London on the way to her coronation at Westminster Abbey. Upon succeeding to the throne in 1603, James I came to the Charterhouse from Edinburgh and held his first council in what is now the Great Chamber.
In 1611 the mansion was sold to Thomas Sutton, the wealthiest commoner in England. He used some of his wealth to set up a charitable foundation to educate boys and care for elderly men, known as ‘Brothers’. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was a pupil at the school; as was William Makepeace Thackeray, in the early nineteenth century.
Sutton’s hospital sustained much damage during the Second World War but was faithfully restored by the architects, Seely and Paget, opening its doors again in 1951. In 2000 the Admiral Ashmore Building was completed by Hopkins Architects to house fourteen Brothers. The two new buildings restored the southwest corner of Preacher’s Court, replacing those lost to bombing in WWII. In 2001, further building work took place in Preacher’s Court when a number of offices and garages were converted to create a larger infirmary for the Brothers.
The Charterhouse now conducts special tours of this historically interesting site. The Charterhouse tours take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and every other Saturday and cost £10 per person. Tours are taken by the Brothers and tickets must be pre-booked.
Contrary Life would like to thank the team at the Charterhouse for their help with this week’s curiosity. If you have an idea for Curiosity of the Week then do get in touch, we welcome suggestions from everyone. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, we are always on the lookout for unique and interesting places to discover.