Coachlines - March 2023

29.03.23 Honorary Assistant Richard Robinson

Private tour and drinks reception at the Charterhouse

The Master along with a small group of Liverymen and guests were graciously hosted by Master of the Charterhouse, Peter Aiers, on what was an informative and thoroughly enjoyable evening tour of Charterhouse.

The evening was a flight through history following the development of the site, which sits just outside the historic City wall. This started with its origins as a 14th century plague pit that subsequently became a Carthusian monastery (the name Charterhouse being the Londoner’s pronunciation of “Chartreuse”, the monks name for the building). Elements of this first phase and its chapel can still be spotted in the masonry, although it took Peter’s expert eye to point these out.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries, and a rather bloody event that left 10 monks dead and the shoulder of the Prior nailed to the front door, the property became a private house and was aggrandised by various well healed owners.

It was in this phase the building became embroiled in an alleged attempt to overthrow Elizabeth I, as its then owner, The fourth Duke of Norfolk, dabbled in various seditious plots, linked to his wish to marry Mary Queen of Scots and potentially return England to the Catholic faith. He was rumbled by a letter found hidden under a doormat and placed under house arrest. With time on this hands, he commissioned a wide range of works and extensions to the buildings, including the Norfolk Cloister, which is still present today, although sadly somewhat shorter due to later redevelopment. The Duke eventually lost his head, and after passing to his son, the buildings were put up for sale, likely to fund construction of England’s then largest house, Audley End.

Its next incarnation is its current one, quite remarkably since it commenced in 1611. Thomas Sutton purchased the buildings to form an alms house for 80 “gentlemen by descent and in poverty, soldiers that have borne arms by sea or land, merchants decayed by piracy or shipwreck, or servants in household to the King or Queen’s Majesty” and the education of 40 boys. The school has long since been spun off, but the alms house remains active and thriving. The group were privileged to meet three brothers (one being a lady, confusingly, as they now admit both genders), who had just finished their evening meal.
The tour took us to the Governors’ Room, the Chapel, Great Hall, Norfolk Cloister and the newly restored Great Chamber and Tapestry Room. The evening concluded with a drinks reception, hosted by the Master of the Charterhouse and his wife in their personal quarters.

There are so many more fascinating stories that cannot be covered in full here. For instance, the building hosted the first Privy Councils of both Elizabeth I and James I, was heavily criticised by Francis Bacon and was very nearly lost to the blitz. It contains one of the grandest graves of someone who wanted no fuss over their burial, 17th Century carvings of Native American figures, and an amazing collection of paintings and tapestries. However, most striking are the marks and little personal connections that remain as connections back to its many residents throughout the centuries.
The Charterhouse is open to the public Tuesday to Saturday and is well worth visiting (even without the drinks reception). More information on visiting is available here.

Location: The Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6AN.