History of the Charterhouse

The History of the London Charterhouse

The site upon which the Charterhouse stands was acquired in the middle of the fourteenth century as a burial ground for the victims of the Black Death. As not all the space was used, a Carthusian Monastery was established here in 1371 by Sir Walter de Mauny (Manny), one of Edward III’s senior advisers. A prior and twenty-four monks were accommodated in two-storey houses arranged round a characteristically large cloister, and the 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 Charterhouse as a young student, as it was an important centre of ecclesiastical learning.

In 1535, the monks refused to conform to Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy and some were brutally executed at Tyburn. The monastery was suppressed and passed to the Crown. Subsequently it was granted to Lord North, who constructed a fine Tudor mansion which was later sold to the fourth Duke of Norfolk, who further embellished it. On 23 November 1558, Elizabeth I arrived at Charterhouse from Hatfield on the fifth day of her reign and stayed for five days before proceeding to the Tower of London on the way to her coronation in Westminster Abbey. In later years she would return to Charterhouse on at least two other occasions. Upon succeeding to the throne in 1603, James I came to Charterhouse from Edinburgh and held his first council in what is now the Great Chamber.

In 1611 Norfolk’s son, Thomas Howard, first Earl of Suffolk, sold the mansion to Thomas Sutton, building Audley End in Essex with the proceeds. Sutton was said to be the wealthiest commoner in England. He had held the post of Master of the Ordnance in the Northern Parts from 1568 to 1594 and his involvement in the coal trade, advantageous property dealings and money lending had enabled him to amass a considerable fortune. He used much of his wealth to endow a charitable foundation to educate boys and care for elderly men, known as ‘Brothers’ (London Metropolitan Archives). John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was a pupil at the school in Charterhouse as was William Makepeace Thackeray, in the early nineteenth century. The school was moved to Godalming, Surrey, in 1872, when Robert Baden-Powell was a pupil. The area was divided, though the almshouse continues to this day to occupy the land to the west.

Until 1933, Merchant Taylors’ School occupied the site to the east. This area later became The Medical College of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and is now occupied by Barts and the The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London.

The Charterhouse 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.

Tours are available and there is also a fully illustrated Guidebook is available

The London Charterhouse
 by Dr Stephen Porter, Archivist of Charterhouse is also now available.