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Our columnist looks forward to the nooks and crannies of the Charterhouse becoming more open to the public

It is possible to get into the Charterhouse if you book on a tour, but many locals seem unaware of the treasure that sits right on their doorstep.

Behind the high brick wall that runs along Clerkenwell Road between St John Street and Aldersgate is one of the capital’s great medieval legacies. A Carthusian monastery was established here in 1371. Thomas More (A Man for All Seasons) frequently visited the Charterhouse as a student.

In the Reformation, Henry VIII suppressed the monastery and executed the monks. The property then passed to the Crown. It was for many years a mansion house, then, in 1611, it became an almshouse and a school. Charterhouse School was located there for 300 years before moving to Surrey. Today, the Charterhouse is still an almshouse for some 80 elderly men, known as the "Brothers".

It is a magical space of courts, squares and ancient architecture. The buildings were damaged during World War II and were faithfully restored by the architects, Seely and Paget. In 2000, Hopkins Architects completed a sympathetic new addition to the site.

Now this hidden gem is going to become more accessible as the result of a joint venture with the Museum of London. Architects Eric Parry have designed a permanent exhibition space and a new Learning Centre, which will open in 2016. Meanwhile, Charterhouse Square will be redesigned by Todd Longstaffe Gowan, gardens adviser to Historic Royal Palaces.

The project is part of a strategy held by Museum of London director Sharon Ament, who is seeking out the "nooks and crannies" of the city to help tell a more complete story of its past. She is also keen to move the museum itself to the General Market in Smithfield – all good news for Clerkenwell, the capital of nooks and crannies.

Peter Murray is Chairman of NLA: London’s Centre for the Built Environment www.newlondonarchitecture.org

 

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