Thackeray collection

Discover more about one of the Charterhouse’s most famous schoolboys…

This significant collection of works both by and about William Thackeray was bequeathed to the Charterhouse by J.A. Waley-Cohen in 1963. It consists of around 500 books and journals, sketches and letters by the author; some cartoons by John Leech who illustrated many of Thackeray’s novels; a collection of works by Anne Thackeray Ritchie, his eldest daughter; and various other items associated with the writer.

William Makepeace Thackeray was born in Calcutta in 1811 to Anglo-Indian parents and was sent to England in 1816, a year after his father died.  He lived in Southampton and Chiswick before becoming a pupil at Charterhouse School in 1822. He did not remember his schooldays fondly and in particular disliked the schoolmaster Dr John Russell. He later parodied the school as ‘Slaughterhouse’ and two of his novels Pendennis and The Newcomes are set in ‘Greyfriars’, a thinly disguised Charterhouse.

Jane Brookfield and her daughter Magdalene Pen and ink by W.M. Thackeray

Meeting of the Duke of Marlborough & Prince Eugene behind an oak tree Pen and ink by W.M. Thackeray

Fight scene with horses Pencil on paper by W.M. Thackeray

Scene from Pendennis Watercolour by W.M. Thackeray

In later life Thackeray wrote affectionately about the Charterhouse, perhaps spurred on as part of his ongoing rivalry with Charles Dickens. In the nineteenth century, the care provided by almshouses throughout the country came under the spotlight.  In Dickens’s very popular magazine Household Words, a weekly magazine that contained fictions and campaigning journalism, he took the Charterhouse, and more particularly the treatment of the Brothers to task.  Thackeray, who had remained in touch with the institution, disagreed and, in his novel The Newcomes, he painted a sympathetic portrait of a benevolent institution that cared for its inhabitants, be they old or young.  He had done his research, having visited the charity on several occasions, observing the school and visiting the elderly Brothers in their lodgings. One of those Brothers was Captain Thomas Hughes Light, a retired soldier who served at Gibraltar, Malta and Sicily. He lost his sight in 1838 and was widowed shortly afterwards. Light became a Brother of the Charterhouse in 1863 having been nominated by HRH Queen Victoria.

Waley-Cohen was a Thackeray enthusiast and, like the writer, a member of the Reform Club. In 2017 the collection was relocated to two dedicated study rooms where it is accessible to researchers. Access a copy of the catalogue here.

Please get in touch with Gabriella Swaffield, Museum and Collections Manager, on if you would like more information, or if you would like to make an appointment to view any of the collection.