Charterhouse, Monastery of


Above: Ancient gateway in Charterhouse Square that was the original entrance to the Monastery of Charterhouse.

Before the religious houses of England were suppressed (in 1536) by Henry VIII, London acted are quite a magnate for the English mother houses (or headquarters in England) of many of the well-known monasteries of the time. As time went by, many of the religious orders relaxed their rules and those who lived there enjoyed quite a comfortable – if not lavish – existence.

The most austere of all the religious orders, who never relaxed their rules at all, were the order founded in a place called La Grand Chartreuse, in France, near Grenoble. When the order came to London the locals – whose strong point was never a mastery of foreign languages – thought the name sounded like ‘Charterhouse’ and that is what the order became known as. The monks who joined this order were not looking for an easy life and only a very few ever joined. You were assigned a piece of land, you had to build a stone cell on part of the land and use the rest of it to grow vegetables and feed yourself by cooking what you managed to grow. Each monk lived in a solitary cell, never talking to the others and living a very grim life indeed.


Above: View from Charterhouse Square through the ancient entrance arch to one of the courtyards at Charterhouse.

The order started in London in 1390. By 1398 only 19 of the intended 24 cells had been completed. A few decades later the 24 cells were completed along with other buildings. Charterhouse was closed in 1537 and all the monks had to swear allegiance to Henry VIII as the new ‘Head of the Church of England’. Being men of determination all of them refused and all of them were put to death by burning at the stake at Smithfield. The property was acquired by the wealthy Thomas Sutton who had most of the religious buildings demolished and the stone reused to build him a fine house. Most of that remains to this day.

On the site Sutton founded a fraternity where single men could stay for their retiring lives and that organisation is still looking after such men still. Sutton also founded Charterhouse School for boys. That remained on the site until Victorian times when the school was removed to Godalming, in Surrey. It is still running – as a private boarding school.

Charterhouse (google earth)_800x500

Above: Aerial view from Google Maps of some of the buildings at Charterhouse.

One feels rather a sense of achievement when you look at Google Maps and find that there are some streets – not very many – that Google’s all-seeing camera equipped car is either not allowed to take pictures of or could not get access to. The aerial view above shows Charterhouse Square (along the bottom of the view where the tall trees are) and part of Charterhouse and the several courtyards. At the bottom right-hand corner are several cars but Google Maps does not show views from that position.

The small rectangular courtyard on the left is Wash-house Court. Along the top side of the square courtyard is Sutton’s House, most of which remains standing today. To the right of the large square courtyard are the remains (including the tower) of the original monastic church. The large white marquee must have been for a summer function being held in the grounds. It stands in grass that was once in the centre of the 24 original cells that were laid out in the form of a large square. Only a small part of one of the original cells remains to be seen and it is incorporated into some later buildings.


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