The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 12 Historical Gardens

Charterhouse Gardens

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History is philosophy teaching by examples. - BOLINGBROKE. ALTHOUGH their number has sadly diminished of late years, London still has a few spaces remaining which may be classed as gardens. Often they are merely green patches of a formal type, which are better suited to the present climate than attempts at flowers; but a few regular gardens still exist, bringing dreams of a former period. In St. Bartholomew's Hospital, the oldest of all such institutions, the square, with a handsome fountain in the centre, is more what one expects to find in Italy than in Smithfield. It is this sort of surprise that makes the charm of London, and renders a wander through its mazes so attractive. What a contrast the walk of a few minutes can bring in the heart of London ! but of all these changes none is more impressive than the hush of the Charterhouse after the rush of Aldermanbury or the noise of Clerkenwell. There is still lingering there the touch of the old monastery; a breath of a bygone age seems to pervade the courtyards and gateways, and something in the silence speaks of another world. The first indication of its hidden green courts are the mulberry leaves peeping over the worn stone wall, near the gateway which leads to the weathered archway, the entrance of the old Carthusian monastery. This is the very spot where, with the brutal severity of Tudor times, the arm of the last Prior was exposed after his cruel execution at Tyburn. The monastery, founded in 1371, was dissolved with unusual barbarity, and passed into secular hands. The possession of it by the Duke of Norfolk has left its mark in many of the existing buildings, as he converted it from a cloister to a palace, but its palatial days did not last long. It was bought by the benevolent Thomas Sutton, a portion of whose large fortune, amassed from profitably working coal mines, was bestowed in founding "a hospital for poor brethren and scholars." The scholars have been taken away from the historical associations, to the purer air of Godalming, and the parts of the buildings devoted to their accommodation were in 1872 bought by the Merchants Taylors' Company for their school. The playing field of the boys is the ample space which was enclosed by the cloister of the monastery. Part of the land to the north has been built over, and a tall warehouse overlooks the burying-ground of the monks, which is still a large green sward of hallowed ground, with a row of mulberries. This lies so far below the level of Clerkenwell Road that a flight of steps leads to the postern gate in the high wall, overhung with climbing plants. This "God's acre" is covered with smooth turf, and some day the two walnut trees planted by the master in 1901 may afford grateful shade. It is in keeping with the spirit of the place to plant trees of such slow and stately growth. The Preachers' Court and the smaller Pensioners' Court are like college quadrangles, with that perfect turf that England alone produces. The smooth surface is broken only by the regular intersecting gravel paths, and one row of mulberry trees some seventy years old. The red-brick buildings have a venerable appearance, although they do not carry the weight of centuries with dignity, like the "Wash-house Court," the hall, the library, or the brick cloister, and the delightful old walls with their deliciously-scented fig-trees. The whole place has a mediï¾µval look and feeling, and teems with ghosts and recollections of the monks of the early peaceful days, and their courageous successors at the Dissolution. The pious founder, as the chorus of the old Carthusian melody says, must not be forgotten:- "Then blessed be the memory Of good old Thomas Sutton, Who gave us lodging, learning, As well as beef and mutton."