Sunday, 6 October 2013

To Live and Die in Charterhouse

October 6th – Today is the anniversary of the death in 1101 of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order (of hermit-monks).

The Carthusian monastery, or “Chartrouse” in  Charterhouse Square was built  in 1371 by Sir Walter (de) Manny, “a stranger born, lord of the town of Manny, in the diocese of Cambray, beyond the seas,  who for service done to  Edward III was made Knight of the Garter” (Stow).  In fact, the site was first consecrated as a burial ground for victims of the “Black Death” in 1348-9 (again as Stow put it, “A great pestilence ... overspread all England, so wasting the people that scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive, and churchyards were not sufficient to receive the dead, but men were forced to choose out certain fields for burial”).    

During the Reformation, in 1535, the Prior, John Houghton and six monks were executed at Tyburn, and a further nine monks died in prison (Houghton was later made a saint).  After the associated Dissolution of the Monasteries, in 1537-8, the site became a private residence, originally owned by Sir Edward North, the Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, from 1545; and then a  charitable alms-house and school founded by a bequest by Thomas  Sutton, the one-time Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts and the richest man in England, from 1611  (the school relocated to Godalming in Surrey in 1872).  

Remarkably, much still survives here from the Medieval to post-Medieval, Tudor to Stuart period, either in it’s original state, or restored thereto by Seely and Paget following damage sustained during an incendiary bombing raid in 1941.  Perhaps the most notable buildings, fragments of buildings or fitments are Sutton’s memorial in what is now the Chapel, but was once the Chapter House, dating to 1614; 
Sutton memorial (1614)
Faith, Hope and Charity (1625)

North’s Great Hall, dating at least in part to the 1540s; his Great Chamber, also dating at least in part to the 1540s, and one of the finest in all England, where Queen Elizabeth I more than once held court, at great cost to her host; 
Great Hall (1540s)

Great Chamber (1540s)

Wash-House Court, dating back to the early 1530s, in the case of the brick buildings, and to an even  earlier part of monastic period, in the case of the stone ones; 
Wash-House Court  (monastic period,  to 1530s)

and the doorway to “Cell B”, in the Norfolk Cloister, complete with  it’s guichet or serving hatch, dating all the way back to the time of the original foundation of the monastery in 1371.
Cell B, with guichet, Norfolk Cloister (1371)

A “Museum of London Archaeology Service” monograph describes in detail the findings of recent archaeological excavations at the Charterhouse site.  Excavations at  the associated “Crossrail” development site  are still ongoing.   To date, they have unearthed a number of skeletons, believed to be from the Black Death burial ground.

Charterhouse  is visited, although not entered, on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn – Fanfare and Plainsong” walk.

Please note that this or indeed any of our other walks can be booked by e-mail ( or phone (020-8998-3051).

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