Charterhouse Square

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Charterhouse Square is a garden square, a pentagonal space, in Smithfield,[n 1] central London and is the largest courtyard or yard associated with the London Charterhouse, mostly formed of Tudor and Stuart architecture restored after the London Blitz. The square adjoins other buildings including a small school. It lies between Charterhouse Street, Carthusian Street and the main Charterhouse complex of buildings south of Clerkenwell Road. The complex includes a Chapel, Tudor Great Hall, Great Chamber, the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and a 40-resident almshouse.

The 2-acre (0.8 ha) square roughly covers a large 14th-century plague pit, discovered by deep excavations for Crossrail near which, within the main site, the history of the Charterhouse is exhibited in a branch of the Museum of London. The centre of one of its roads forms the boundary between the extreme south of the London Borough of Islington and the City of London.


Colour engraving circa 1770
Map for fire risk, 1887

In 1371 a Carthusian monastery was founded by Walter de Manny on what is now the north side of the square. It was established near a 1348 plague pit,[3] which formed the largest mass grave in London during the Black Death, and tens of thousands of bodies were buried there. The common name for Carthusian monasteries, Charterhouse, was an Anglicisation of La Grande Chartreuse, whose order founded the monastery.[4]

The Charterhouse was dissolved as a monastery in 1537, and in 1545 was purchased by Sir Edward (later Lord) North (c. 1496–1564) and transformed into a mansion house. Following North's death, the property was bought by Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, who was imprisoned there in 1570 after scheming to marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Later, Thomas Sutton bought the Charterhouse, and on his death in 1611, endowed a hospital (almshouse) and school there, which opened in 1614, supporting 80 pensioners (known as 'brothers'). The boys' school coexisted with the home for pensioners until 1872 when Charterhouse School moved to Godalming in Surrey. Following this, the Merchant Taylors' School occupied the buildings until 1933. One side is partially occupied by Charterhouse Square School, a small independent primary school.

In July 2011, English Heritage granted Grade II listed status to the "setted" road surface in the square, which was laid down in the 1860s.[5]

Plague burials[edit]

In 2014 evidence of the large burial pit for plague victims dating from 1348–50, the time of the Black death, was discovered under the square by workers building the Crossrail project.[6] Subsequent analysis of DNA and isotopes from the skeletons of those buried revealed data about Londoners who fell victim to the pandemic, such as their birthplace, diet, and the fact that there were actually three periods of plague burials, from 1348, 1361 and the early 15th century as outbreaks recurred.[7]

Current uses[edit]

Snow in Charterhouse Square
Tudor buildings of the Charterhouse

Almshouse, chapel, care home and let premises[edit]

Charterhouse gives accommodation as an Almshouse to over forty single pensioners aged over sixty many of whom retain the tradition of having been "military men, schoolmasters, clergy, artists, musicians, writers and businessmen",[8] who are in financial, housing and social need but not in significant debt and keen to contribute to the community.[9] Additionally it has the Queen Elizabeth II Infirmary Care Home and private tenants in 9 commercial units, 13 flats and 3 houses.[10] The complex is open for pre-booked guided tours.[11] The chapel can be viewed as part of the annual Open House London event. The site extends far back from the north side of the square in restored buildings and garden courtyards of the old monastery/school.

Campus of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry[edit]

The Charterhouse Square campus of Queen Mary University of London starts at the north-east corner of the square and then spreads out; close to a café and few narrow houses fronting that side, it occupies new buildings and some of the former school buildings. It comprises student accommodation and departments of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry: Barts Cancer Institute (BCI),[12] the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine[13] and the William Harvey Research Institute (WHRI).[14] The BCI and the Centre for Cancer Prevention (CCP) within the Wolfson Institute also make up the Cancer Research UK Barts Centre of Excellence, together with Barts and the London NHS Trust.[15] In 2018, the School received a £6.5 million grant from the Barts Charity to redevelop the campus.[16]

Smaller sites on the square[edit]

Florin Court

Florin Court, a residential building in the Art Deco style built in 1936 by Guy Morgan and Partners, is on the east side. The building has a concave façade, roof garden and basement swimming pool.[17]

Charterhouse Square School

Charterhouse Square School is on the south side of the square; it is a co-educational, independent[18] school for ages 3 to 11, with a small roll of pupils.[19] Smithfield Market is to the south-west along Charterhouse Street.

Transport links[edit]

The nearest station to the square is Barbican tube station 80 metres to the south-east facing Barbican bus stop on the urban A1. The next nearest is Farringdon on the same tube lines, plus the Metropolitan Line, Elizabeth Line when opened and the mainline railway crossing London north-south, Thameslink.

In fiction[edit]

Florin Court was used as the fictional residence of Hercule Poirot, Whitehaven Mansions, in the 1980s TV series Agatha Christie's Poirot based on Agatha Christie's crime novels.[20]

Charterhouse Square garden
Florin Court viewed from the Charterhouse Square garden

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^ File:St_Giles_%26_Holborn_Civil_Parish_Map_1870.png
  3. ^ Palmer, Jason (15 March 2013). "'Black Death pit' unearthed by Crossrail project". BBC News. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  4. ^ Charterhouse history Archived 22 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine accessed 19 June 2007
  5. ^ "English Heritage grant protection to three Islington landmarks". Islington Tribune. 22 July 2011. Archived from the original on 18 January 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  6. ^ Black Death skeletons unearthed by Crossrail project By James Morgan, BBC News. 30 March 2014
  7. ^ "London skeletons reveal secrets of the Black Death". Washington Post. 30 March 2014. Archived from the original on 30 March 2014. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  8. ^ Subsection: Sutton's Hospital Charterhouse main website focussed on the school division (In Section "About Us"), Retrieved 13 April 2018
  9. ^ Joining the Community - Almshouse, The Charterhouse (Sutton's Hospital division), Retrieved 13 April 2018
  10. ^ Joining the Community (options including commercial premises for rent) The Charterhouse (Sutton's Hospital division), Retrieved 13 April 2018
  11. ^ Home Page, The Charterhouse (Sutton's Hospital division), Retrieved 13 April 2018
  12. ^ "Barts Cancer Institute". Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  13. ^ "Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine". Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  14. ^ "William Harvey Research Institute".
  15. ^ "Barts Cancer Research UK Centre". Archived from the original on 11 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014.
  16. ^ "£6.5m to enhance Charterhouse Square research campus". Barts Charity. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  17. ^ Art Deco London accessed 19 June 2007
  18. ^ Charterhouse Square School Independent Schools Inspectorate Retrieved 13 April 2018
  19. ^ Admissions Process Charterhouse Square School. Retrieved 13 April 2018
  20. ^ Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989-) Screen online accessed 19 June 2007
  1. ^ Barbican tube station is 80 metres from one corner of this square however use of Barbican is often reserved to the Barbican Estate, modernist architecture and landscaping, south and east of the station. Most of the square is in the far north-east of the large "City" parish of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate mainly known as Smithfield after one of London's wholesale markets directly south-west of the square. Smithfield has the attribute of being equally well accessible from growing transport interchange Faringdon at its west end. A thin strip of the east of the square and most of what is the Charterhouse almshouse and the medical school once fell respectively into the Liberties of Glasshouse Yard and Charterhouse. The use of these two names as district names as with the others which dotted the edge of the City is rare, possibly as great in the case of Charterhouse as the Liberty of The Savoy. Glasshouse Yard was a civil parish within the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury; it is also a late 20th-century T-shaped no-through road to the north-east.[1][2]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°31′15.35″N 0°05′55.35″W / 51.5209306°N 0.0987083°W / 51.5209306; -0.0987083