This iron chest on display in our museum has been at the Charterhouse since the 17th century. It was made in Germany or the Netherlands by Jacobus Brebes and although its exact origins are not known it is highly likely that the founder of the almshouse, Thomas Sutton, owned one similar.
The chest is the equivalent to a modern day safe or bank vault and was designed to store important legal documents or more importantly, money. Prior to the foundation of the banking system, merchants would often keep cash on the premises. This was useful for Sutton as he was involved in money lending or ‘usury’ which had only been made legal in 1570 and it was still seen as slightly disreputable. Sutton would loan money to noblemen and merchants and charge them 10% interest.
Money lending helped Sutton to further grow his vast fortune. By the time of his death in 1611 he was known to be the richest commoner in the land and known to many as ‘Rich Sutton’. A chest like the one in the museum would have been an important asset in protecting his growing fortune. One visitor to Sutton’s office once remarked that he owned a great iron chest full of gold pieces, so heavy that he feared it might crash through the floor of his business rooms in Fleet Street!
Visit the museum to see the chest and learn more about Thomas Sutton’s fortune and how it helped in the foundation of the almshouse.
We are open from 11am Tuesday – Sunday with last admittance at 4.45pm.