Last Friday, the Charterhouse, near Smithfield Market in London, opened to visitors for the first time in its 700+ year history. I’d walked past the medieval manor many times when I lived in London, always dying to have a peek inside, so when I was in London yesterday, my friends and I decided it was time to have a look around.
The Charterhouse dates back to the mid-14th century when the area was used as a burial ground for victims of the Black Death. In 1371, a Carthusian monastery was built on the site and it remained a monastery until the reformation when it was turned into a grand Tudor house.
In 1611, Sir Thomas Sutton bought the house and decreed in his will that it should become an almshouse for 80 destitute, old or disabled men, as well as a boys’ school. Today, it’s still an almshouse – its residents are called Brothers, and last year, it decided to admit women for the first time.
The Charterhouse offers £10 tours at set times of the day around the Great Hall, Great Chamber, Wash-house Court and Master’s Court. You can also book a two-hour behind-the-scenes tour with one of the Brothers, which costs £15, in advance online. Unfortunately we arrived late in the day so we weren’t able to go on a tour, but we still took the opportunity to have a look around the Charterhouse’s museum.
The museum is housed in two long narrow corridors and takes visitors back in time through the estate’s history from the present day to the Black Death. The museum was really interesting, if a little cramped due to its narrowness – it was a tight squeeze at times trying to get past the other people.
But I really enjoyed learning about the Charterhouse’s history, especially some of its colourful past brothers and its illustrious list of governors, such as Queen Victoria and Oliver Cromwell. There were also some intriguing artefacts on display, including lovely pieces of old wooden furniture (age unknown) and a skeleton of a plague victim. After touring the museum, we had a look around the chapel, too – a small, charming space.
The Charterhouse’s opening is still in its infancy and it will officially open to the public later this year. A café is also due to open in February. The Charterhouse museum was fascinating and it has whetted my appetite to further explore this intriguing piece of London’s history and I’d love to go back at a later date for a full tour with one of the Brothers.
The Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London EC1M 6AN
11am-4.45pm, Tuesday to Sunday