What was a Charterhouse?

A Charterhouse was the English term for a Carthusian priory or abbey


It’s a corruption of Chartreuse, the location in France where the first house of the order was founded by St Bruno in 1084. The Carthusians put a great deal of emphasis on individual prayer, work and contemplation, and much of their time was spent living as virtual hermits in cells within their abbeys.


A good example of an English Carthusian priory is Mount Grace in North Yorkshire, where one of the cells – in reality a small two-storey house with its own garden – has been reconstructed. A specially-designed hatch enabled food to be delivered to the occupant without the need for him to speak to, or even see the person who brought it.


The Carthusians were one of the few orders to put up much of a fight against Henry VIIIs dissolution of the monasteries, and a number were executed as a result. In 1611, Thomas Sutton used the old site of a ‘Charterhouse’ near Smithfield for a new school he had founded. In 1872 the school moved to new buildings just outside Godalming but continued to be called Charterhouse and its students are still known as Carthusians.