Charterhouse

sights / Architecture

Charterhouse information

Location
London , England
Address
Charterhouse Sq
EC1M
Telephone
+44 20 7253 9503
Getting there
Tube: Barbican
More information
www.thecharterhouse.org
Prices
tours £10
Opening hours
tours 2.15pm Tue-Thu & every 2nd Sat
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From a monastery, to a Tudor mansion, to the charitable foundation that's operated here since 1611, Charterhouse has played a discreet but important part in London's story. The history-steeped buildings can only be visited on fascinating 1½-hour guided tours (book online), or by attending the morning or evening services in the chapel. Tours commence at the 14th-century gatehouse on Charterhouse Sq and explore the complex's many grand halls, courts and gardens.

Charterhouse was founded in 1371 as a Carthusian monastery (the name derives from Chartreuse in France, where the order is based). The strictest of all Catholic monastic orders, the monks live mainly in isolation in their cells and take vows of silence, broken only for three hours on Sundays.

In 1537 the monastery was dissolved and the property transferred to King Henry VIII. The prior and 15 of the monks were executed – some were hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn (near Marble Arch) and the rest sent to Newgate Gaol, where they were chained upright and died of starvation. They were the first of England's Catholic martyrs of the Reformation and three of them were subsequently canonised.

The king sold the property in 1545 to Sir Edward North, who converted it into his London mansion, knocking down the original church and much of the cloister in the process. In 1611 it was purchased by Thomas Sutton, known at the time as the ‘richest commoner in England’. In his will, Sutton directed that it should become a school for boys and an almshouse for ‘destitute gentlemen’. Around 40 pensioners (known as ‘brothers’) still live here today and one of their number leads the tours. Charterhouse School moved to Surrey in 1872 and is still going strong.

Famous people associated with Charterhouse include Elizabeth I and James I, both of whom came here prior to their coronations. William Makepeace Thackeray (writer), John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist church) and Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of the scouts) all attended the school, while Purcell and Handel have played the chapel organ.