A Visit to the Hull Charterhouse

The word Charterhouse, meaning a Carthusian monastery, is derived from La Grande Chartreuse, the first hermitage of the Carthusian Order founded by Saint Bruno. There were ten Charterhouses in the Britain before the Reformation. The pious monks who lived in them worked, meditated and said daily offices in the solitude of their cells, encountering each other in church only for daily Matins and Vespers, and less often at the convent mass.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries brought an end to the Carthusian Order in Britain. Between 1536 and 1541, Henry VIII disbanded Catholic monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and reassigned or dismissed their former members and functions. Carthusians at the London Charterhouse who resisted the Dissolution were treated severely: the Prior, John Houghton, was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, and of the ten monks that were arrested and taken to Newgate Prison, nine died of starvation.

In the centuries that followed, several Charterhouses were heavily adapted and used for a variety of purposes. The London Charterhouse, for instance, was purchased in 1545 by Sir Edward North and transformed into a luxurious mansion house. This was later acquired by a wealthy civil servant and businessman named Thomas Sutton, who bequeathed a large portion of his fortune to establishing on the site a hospital for 80 impoverished gentlemen and a school for 40 boys.

Each Charterhouse has its own unique history. I recently visited the one in Kingston Upon Hull, where I was treated to a fascinating tour of the buildings and grounds by Master Stephen Deas. He showed me, among other things, a plaque commemorating the two London Carthusians, Walworth and Rochester, whom Henry VIII caused to be lodged in the Hull Charterhouse on their way to execution at York; and the mulberry tree under which Andrew Marvell, the famous poet and MP, is said to have played when his father was the Master of the House.

The aforementioned plaque commemorating John Rochester and James Walworth.

The aforementioned plaque commemorating John Rochester and James Walworth.

The mosaic on the doorstep of the front entrance.

The mosaic on the doorstep of the front entrance.

The original Hull priory was founded in 1378 by Michael de la Pole, first Earl of Suffolk, about a quarter of a mile north of the town wall and some two hundred yards west of the river Hull. Of this, all that survives is part of the its east boundary wall, which is now the west boundary wall of the almshouse known formally as God’s House Hospital, but generally as Hull Charterhouse. Michael de la Pole required that the almshouse be served by a Master, a cleric in priest’s orders of thirty or more years of age, and cater to the requirements of thirteen brethren and thirteen sisters, “poor and old”.

From its foundation, the Hull Charterhouse enjoyed a separate endowment that enabled it to survive the Dissolution. Nevertheless, the structure of the hospital was significantly destroyed in the first siege of Hull during the English Civil War, when the Master and almspeople had to abandon the buildings and seek refuge in a tenement in Silver Street, on land that the Charterhouse has owned since the fifteenth century, and still owns to this day.

Master John Shawe began rebuilding the war-damaged buildings in the early 1650s. The chapel was rebuilt some twenty years later, and served the house for over a century when, in 1777, it was demolished by Master Bourne, along with the greater part of the seventeenth-century buildings.

Master Bourne enlarged the Master’s House, and rebuilt the rest of the House in the handsome classical style that you can see today.

The Master’s House, which was badly damaged in the Blitz.

The Master’s House, which was badly damaged in the Blitz.

Inside the chapel. Note the earl’s coronet hanging from the foot of the chandelier.

Inside the chapel. Note the earl’s coronet hanging from the foot of the chandelier.


Beautiful festoons in the ceiling.

Beautiful festoons on the ceiling.

 The only significant restoration to have been undertaken in the last two hundred years has been well documented. Francis Johnson, the Bridlington architect, oversaw it, and the trustees of the Charterhouse had as their chairman Colonel Rupert Alec-Smith, who was also the chairman Georgian Society for East Yorkshire. He made sure that the restoration was executed to a high standard.

Johnson removed certain incongruous fittings and replaced the lights he found hanging from eight points in the ceiling with three wooden chandeliers carved by Dick Reed of York. Each is embellished with an earl’s coronet to indicate the Founder’s rank in the peerage and from the foot of each hangs a small roundel containing a set of initials: HMD for Hugh Middlecott Davies, then Master; VM for Violet Mitchell, then lord Mayor of Kingston upon Hull and Admiral of the Humber; and RAS for Rupert Alec-Smith.

The chapel is at the hub and still centre of the Hull Charterhouse. Every Sunday the whole House gathers in it at ten in the morning for a celebration of Holy Communion, and there is also a celebration of the Holy Communion on Wednesdays at ten for those who wish to attend.

The Hull Charterhouse, like the London Charterhouse, is a flourishing institution that has adapted well to the modern world. There are now over 30 residents, both male and female (some are couples), all of whom are over the age of 60 and have a long relationship with the city of Hull. Unlike the Brothers of the London Charterhouse, they do not eat together for every meal; they live independently but have the support of a community as they desire, always keeping one foot in the Charterhouse and the other outside.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and learnt a great deal about the community that live there, and about the city of Hull as a whole. I’m extremely grateful to Stephen Deas, the Master, for showing me about the place, and to Ann Godden, a resident, who chatted to me at length about the history of the Hull Charterhouse and her experiences in the area.

The two Charterhouses, London and Hull, are different in many respects, but at their core they share many things in common, including a strong sense of community.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Hull Charterhouse, you can like their Facebook group, which Ann Godden regularly updates with artefacts and articles from their prodigious history.

(Written by Jack Sharp. All photos by Fiona Byrne).



Recent comments

  • I was interested in this as I have found that my great great grand parents resided in the charter house in 1881. They were Rachel and John Sleet.

  • What an interesting article. My Great Grandmother lived there & was cared for by two sisters Emma & ElizabethHuckstep who then became residents. I used to visit them as a child with my Mum.

  • I think my Gr Gr Gr Grandfather John Latham and his son Edmund Blanchard Latham, farmers may have been tenants of the Charterhouse estate at Blacktoft Nr Hull and were wondering if there are any records which may confirm this and give details. Thanks in anticipation.

  • My 3 x Great Aunt Sarah Ann Dack (nee Ryan) was listed as an inmate here on the 1911 census. Is it possible to find out when she entered and if she was there until her death in 1920?

  • We have plans to do small road trips, so the car is necessary.


  • I was a choir boy at Christ Church, Worship street, Hull. The church was badly bomb-damaged in World War 2 but services continued there in the part still remaining until it became too unsafe to carry on worshipping there, so in the mid-1950s the services were transferred to the Charterhouse Chapel. I continued as a choir boy, reaching to the lofty position of head boy, in this lovely place of worship until I was thirteen years old.

  • My Great, Great, Great Grandmother lived here, she died there on 21/12/1874 aged 80, her name was REBECCA JOHNSON
    Would love to have any information of her life whilst liver at the Charterhouse.

  • Hello Ann
    Do you mean your ancestor lived at the Hull Charterhouse? Or at the Charterhouse in London?
    If it was in London – we could try and find out if we have any details.
    Best wishes

  • I remember visiting in the 70s as my grand parents lived there, great to see it still being used as it was, would love to have a look round again one day.

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