Today the Charterhouse is home to a community of Brothers who benefit from the charity established by Thomas Sutton early in the seventeenth century. However, our story is much more than the story of the almshouse. For we have been living the nation’s history since 1348.
Peer closely through the half light of the Master’s Court at dusk and you might make out the ghosts of Victorian physicians or plague victims, catch a glimpse of Elizabeth I commanding one of her courtiers – or spy the fourteen-year-old John Wesley kneeling at prayer.
The story begins in 1348 during the Black Death, when the land was used as a burial ground for victims of plague. In 1371, the Charterhouse was built – a respected and austere Carthusian monastery, which flourished throughout the later medieval and early Tudor period.
With the dissolution of the monasteries, the Charterhouse became a mansion for wealthy noblemen and a refuge for royalty. Elizabeth I met the Privy Council here in the days before her coronation in 1558 and James I used the Great Chamber to create 130 new Barons before he was crowned. But it was in 1611 that Thomas Sutton bought the Charterhouse and established the foundation that now bears his name.
Thomas Sutton’s will provided for up to 80 Brothers: ‘either decrepit or old captaynes either at sea or at land, maimed or disabled soldiers, merchants fallen on hard times, those ruined by shipwreck of other calamity’ as well schooling for 40 ‘poor boys’. James I retained his connection with the Charterhouse, becoming the first Royal Governor of Thomas Sutton’s foundation. Other renowned Governors include Francis Bacon, Lord St Alban, George Villers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, and Oliver Cromwell and Prime Minsters including Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Robert Peel and William Gladstone.
The Charterhouse appears in the writings of Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray, Thackeray and John Wesley having attended the school. When the school moved to Godalming in 1872, the Brothers remained at the Charterhouse in Clerkenwell and continue living here today.