Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Philip Temple: The Charterhouse

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Philip Temple: The Charterhouse

Article excerpt


The Charterhouse, Survey of London Monograph 18.

Gen. Ed., Andrew Saint.

New Haven and London: Yale University Press for English Heritage, 2010, 317 pp., 158 illustrations.

The Charterhouse is a rather luxurious London retirement home for well-connected bachelors and widowers; it merits the capital in the title of this volume (as if there were only one charterhouse) not just because of the survival of the original almshouse, but also because of the survival of the original school (although Charterhouse School moved to leafy Surrey in 1872). Most Londoners who know the Charterhouse (or Charterhouse School) will know little or nothing of its medieval context, although much has been written on it. The London charterhouse was founded by Walter Manny in 1370/1 around the nucleus of his plague cemetery and chapel, its Carthusian status determined by the bishop of London, Michael Northburgh. It was dissolved in 1538 and bought by Sir Edward North; at his death in 1564, it was bought by Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk and became the center of London Catholicism between the 1570s and 1580s. Thomas Sutton bought it in 1611 and founded Sutton's Hospital, an almshouse for eighty old men and a school for forty boys. Both continue to this day, although the "almshouse" caters for fewer old men (but no women) and the school for many more boys (and girls).

Previous scholarship on the London charterhouse (summarized on on pp. 6 to 11 of this volume) has focussed on the medieval and early modern periods, but the present book covers its whole life to the present day. (Its scholarship is even recent enough to refer to Michael Sargent's article in the Luxford volume reviewed in this issue, pp. 373-377, and it acknowledges the invaluable work of Andrew Wines, who also writes in the Luxford volume.) The Survey of London, under whose aegis the book was written, is part of English Heritage's Research Department and carries out detailed architectural and topographical studies of London parishes. It is as much interested in the twentieth as the fifteenth century, and the book is divided into three chapters on the history of the site (only the first chapter is relevant to our period), followed by six chapters on specific parts of the fabric of Sutton's Hospital then and now (chapters which include the medieval evidence). The remaining chapters deal with buildings in the environs: Rutland House (of which only the lodge survived bombing), Merchant Taylors' School (built on the site of Charterhouse School after its 1872 move), and the medical college of what was St Bartholomew's Hospital (which took over Merchant Taylors' in 1933). The Second World War demolished most of the surviving Merchant Taylors' and Barts' buildings, so that this final chapter deals only with post-World War II buildings.

The focus of the volume is the architecture and archaeology of the buildings of the Charterhouse in their historical context, and of these only the chapterhouse (now the Chapel) survives of the Great Cloister of Sutton's Hospital (i.e., the Carthusian Great Cloister, lined with the monks' individual cells, the chapter-house where they met for business, and the church where they met for divine office). Many timber buildings have inevitably disappeared, and what is left is brick and stone. Much has been discovered since the last World War, which justifies a separate Survey volume arising out of research into the parish of Clerkenwell. The burning-out of Howard House as a result of bombing led to the discovery of Manny's tomb at the foot of the altar steps (1947), and subsequent excavations (published by the Museum of London in 2002) provided the footprints of the church and Little Cloister. Post-war over-restoration by Seely and Paget obscured or removed some original features, and that, as well as the many earlier remodellings, makes the site haphazard and hard to interpret. However, this exemplary scholarly work details all that is and all that it can be known there was, backed up by no fewer than 158 plans and illustrations, many in color. …

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