Boasting a history that spans centuries, The Charterhouse in north London is now stepping into the 21st century in a big way. The historic Charterhouse Square, located between Barbican and Smithfield Market, is undergoing a mass regeneration. Development Manager at The Charterhouse Dominic Tickell takes us through the building’s past, present and future
The Charterhouse started life as a Black Death burial ground, complete with a chapel on site for those who wished to mourn and pray for the dead. The grounds eventually gave way to Europe’s largest Carthusian monastery in 1371.
‘Once King Henry VIII’s break away from Rome was well underway, the Carthusians of The Charterhouse were among the protomartyrs of the English Reformation,’ says Development Manager at The Charterhouse, Dominic Tickell.
And while they held a strong resistance at first, the Disillusionment of the Monasteries, whereby the King abolished Catholic places of worship in the revolutionary English Reformation, eventually saw the end of the monastery.
Soon, The Charterhouse was redeveloped as one of the grandest Tudor mansions in all of London: ‘Both Elizabeth I and her successor James VI stayed at The Charterhouse before their coronations and were regular visitors throughout their reigns,’ says Tickell.
Eventually, the magnificent Charterhouse was sold to Thomas Sutton and he used it to house ‘a community of impoverished elderly men who had “served their country well” and a boarding school for poor scholars’. The school eventually moved to a location outside of London in 1872, but the community of elderly men still exists at the same spot along Charterhouse Square, and it’s recently brought its policy into the modern day by opening its doors to women.
Both Elizabeth I and her successor James VI stayed at The Charterhouse before their coronations and were regular visitors throughout their reigns
It was Crossrail’s Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver that discovered the huge part The Charterhouse site played in the burial of Black Death victims by accident when work began around Farringdon Station: ‘Analysis of the Crossrail find has revealed an extraordinary amount of information allowing us to solve a 660 year mystery,’ he says.
‘Historical sources told us that thousands of burials of Black Death victims were made in the 14th Century in the area that is now modern day Farringdon, but until Crossrail’s discovery, archaeologists had been unable to confirm the story.
‘Ancient DNA work is complex and still in development but the results do confirm the presence of the deadly plague bacterium preserved in the teeth.’
As part of the regeneration of Charterhouse Square, which will also see a 42,000 sq ft office block redesign by developers Helical, set for completion in the first quarter of 2017, The Charterhouse also underwent a modernisation.
‘There is now a new way to enter The Charterhouse and access to the new museum through the Chapel garden where the founder Thomas Sutton is buried,’ says Tickell. ‘In order to protect the privacy of Charterhouse residents, the museum is located on the eastern side of the site, by the Chapel. It will deliver a chronological history of London, the nation and The Charterhouse’s influence on both of these, in partnership with the Museum of London.
The regeneration of Charterhouse Square will also see a 42,000 sq ft office block redesign by developers Helical, set for completion in the first quarter of 2017
‘We have also created a new learning space for school visits and have expanded our garden square which will be open to the public. Our new café, Thackeray’s at The Charterhouse, will open during the second half of February.’
Charmingly, The Charterhouse’s charitable legacy is unwavering, still embodying an ethos of compassion that exists to ensure that founder Thomas Sutton’s wishes to educate young people and care for the elderly are always ‘sustained and cherished’.
‘We remain faithful to our founder’s vision and are committed to safeguarding its legacy for the next 400 years, adapting to the world’s changes but always preserving and enhancing the history and heritage of The Charterhouse estate,’ says Tickell.
Looking to the future, The Charterhouse Square gardens will open in July, when their annual summer fete will also take place as a way of engaging with the local community. The Charterhouse steering committee was also responsible for coordinating the local response to the Crossrail’s planning application.
It’s astonishing that The Charterhouse estate has managed to offer care to young and elderly people in need for so long, though Tickell feels the key to achieving this type of longevity is simple, as ‘Thomas Sutton’s moral compass and generous heart guide us at all times’.
Charterhouse Square EC1M 6AN; 020 7253 9503; thecharterhouse.org