The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 9 Squares

Charterhouse Square

Previous - Next

Eastwards, into the heart of London there are the squares which are the remains of the open ground without the City walls. Charterhouse Square, which is now a retired, quiet spot with old houses telling of a former prosperity, has a history reaching back to the fourteenth century. In the days of the Black Death, when people were dying so fast that the Chronicler of London, Stowe, says that "scarce the tenth person of all sorts was left alive," the "churchyards were not sufficient to receive the dead, but men were forced to chuse out certaine fields for burials: whereupon Ralph Stratford, Bishop of London, in the yeere 1348 bought a piece of ground, called No man's land, which he inclosed with a wall of Bricke, and dedicated for buriall of the dead, builded thereupon a proper Chappell, which is now enlarged, and made a dwelling-house: and this burying plot is become a faire Garden, retaining the old name of Pardon Churchyard." It was very soon after this purchase, that the Carthusian monastery was founded hard by; but although the land was bought by the Order, Pardon Churchyard was maintained as a burial-ground for felons and suicides. After the dissolution of the monasteries, when Charterhouse School and Hospital had been established by Thomas Sutton, the houses round the other three sides of the Square began to be built. One of the finest was Rutland House, once the residence of the Venetian Ambassador. It is still a quiet, quaint place of old memories; and the garden, with two walks crossing each other diagonally, and some fair-sized trees, has a solemn look, as if, even after all the centuries that have passed, it had some trace of its origin. Finsbury Circus and Finsbury Square are very different. They are more modern, bustling places which have entirely effaced the past. That they were, for long years, the most resorted to of open spaces, where Londoners took their walks is well-nigh forgotten, except in the name Finsbury, or Fensbury, the fen or moorlike fields without the walls. Bethlehem Hospital, known as Bedlam, was, for many generations, the only large building on the Fields. Finsbury Square was begun more than a hundred years ago, and but for the few green trees, nothing suggests the former country origin. Trinity Square, by the Tower, is so unique in aspect and association that it must be mentioned. In the sixteenth century the "tenements and garden plots" encroached on Tower Hill right up to the "Tower Ditch," and from the earliest time some kind of garden existed at the Tower. When it was a royal residence, frequent entries appear in the accounts of payments for the upkeep of the garden. Although so much has changed, and the wild animals that afforded amusement for centuries are removed, it is pleasant to see the moat turned into walks, and well planted with iris and hardy plants, and making quite a bright show in summer, in contrast to the sombre grey walls.