Hello, my name is Courtney Courington and I have just completed my Year 10 work experience at The Charterhouse. Having never heard of it before, despite walking past several times, I was intrigued as to what made the site special enough to open their own museum, letting members of the public take in the wonders of their historic building. Being the first female to come here for work experience since the museum opened in 2017, I was warmly welcomed by staff and chatty Brothers. Whilst here I learnt a lot about the history of the Charterhouse and how the public activities are run and organised.
On Monday, I began by helping Cynthia in learning with a school visit from a Primary school studying the Black Death. I got to see parts of the building I didn’t know existed, like the Norfolk Cloister, and a real Black Death skeleton in the museum! As part of the session we made herb bags, as people in 1348 would have done to ward off miasma (bad smells in the air) believed to be the cause of the plague. After lunch we went over health and safety and had a short tour of the grounds. In the afternoon I got a chance to practice my photography skills and take pictures of the stunning architecture of the Charterhouse as part of my creative project for the week.
I started off Tuesday morning helping the Visitor Hosts at the museum’s front desk and was shown how the staff organise tour bookings, visitor feedback and visitor figures into various databases. To record how many visitors we had I was given a clicker to click every time someone walked in. I was also tasked with handing out colour coded lanyards to those who had booked a tour of the Charterhouse. I was impressed with the fact that overall visitor feedback for the year was a magnificent 4.9 out of 5 and that we expect to welcome an average of 100 people per day, which I think is high considering how tucked away the Charterhouse is. At lunchtime I enjoyed a meal of vegetarian aubergine schnitzel with the Brothers of Charterhouse (it was delightful, thanks chefs!) In the afternoon I took a Brother-led tour with Mansel which was really amusing and engaging as he included lots of historical facts and jokes.
Wednesday morning started with a visit to the treasury with Ellie, the Museum and Collections Manager, to look at items that are not currently on public display. I got to see documents, maps, artwork and old menus from as early as the 15th Century, right through to the 20th Century. I learned that the majority of museums only have 1% of their collections on display and I got to see some really special items that members of the public currently cannot experience. In the afternoon, I planned a session for the new Primary school after-school club which consisted of fun drawing exercises in different historical spaces.
On Thursday, I got to help Marjorie Leonard, one of the two Thackeray library cataloguing volunteers, with some cataloguing. Most of the Charterhouse’s collection was donated by J. A. Waley Cohen and the cataloguing process was definitely more sophisticated than I expected. We had to research all authors and editors included in each book, and some had letters, signatures and cut outs from other books pasted in, which made them very difficult to categorise! Some of the books are extremely old so any handwritten notes were difficult to decipher, and we had to be careful when handling them not to touch the ink. After my lunch at the Charterhouse café (Thackeray’s, named after the man himself and a former student of Charterhouse school) I attended a University of the Third Age project meeting. The group of adult learners have been researching the Great Plague in the Charterhouse, Smithfield and Bart’s Hospital. At this week’s meeting they were discussing how to present their findings for the upcoming end of project presentation. I learned that the numbers of dead rose more than I expected around the summer of 1665, potentially due to the added fact that it was an exceptionally hot summer, and that many people also died from things like drowning or falling from great heights as recorded in the burial records being investigated. My question is, what were they doing so high up?
To wrap the week up, today (which is Friday) I’ve been writing this blog, taking a few last pictures and preparing my twitter posts complete with images I’ve taken throughout the week. I was told the children from Wednesday’s after-school club really enjoyed the session I planned, so much so I’ve been asked to plan next week’s activity too! Before going home, I enjoyed afternoon tea and cakes with the Brothers and staff in the Great Hall.
I would like to thank the Charterhouse for giving me this experience, it has been extremely enjoyable, and living in the City of London myself I have learned many new things about my local area. The Brother’s tour gave me insight into what life at the Charterhouse is like and the great history behind it. I would definitely recommend a visit to people interested in finding more about London’s forever unwinding history.
Year 10 pupil
All photographs by Courtney Courington