The Charterhouse, London: Black Death And Ghosts

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The Charterhouse in London has a dark history of plague pits, royal murder and unholy intrigue, says RICK HALE

The Great Hall at The Charterhouse in London
The Great Hall at The Charterhouse in London

In the mid of the 14th century, a great darkness fell across the European continent. A pestilence that showed no favour for station in life raged across the land killing almost every life it touched.

When the black death finally ran it’s course 75-200 million people perished from this horrific pandemic. Making it the deadliest plague to ever curse civilization.

In 1348, as London struggled to come back from the plague that nearly wiped it out, Walter Manny purchased a 13 acre plot of land in Spital Croft from the Brethren of St Bartholomew. (Read about the haunting of nearby St Barts church here.)

In the purchase was a plague pit where the unfortunate souls were dumped and eventually buried. There, over the bodies of thousands of plague victims, he built a chapel and hermitage.

The History of the London Charterhouse

Decades later in 1371, the London Charterhouse was established as a Carthusian monastery.

It was a place where this holy order could spend their days in prayer and service to their God.

For nearly two centuries, the order flourished until it was closed by Henry VIII‘s dissolution of the monasteries.

The brothers resisted the king’s soldiers insisting that only almighty God was their king.

According to one legend about the monastery, while the brothers were in prayer about what to do a miracle occurred.

A flash of heavenly flame descended on the room causing the candles to flare with extraordinary intensity.

The monks took this as a sign that they must not stop fighting. Of course, the king didn’t share in their enthusiastic devotion to God.

When the soldiers breached the monastery, Prior John Houghton was dragged out into the courtyard. He was hung and then drawn and quartered before the eyes of his brothers in Christ.

The remaining 10 monks were rounded up and sent to London’s Newgate Prison. Nine starved to death while the tenth was executed.  A horrific end to men of such great faith.

The Charterhouse Chapel

Following this unthinkable episode in history, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk bought The Charterhouse.

It wasn’t long until Howard’s tenure in The Charterhouse came to an end.

Apparently hatching a plan to marry, Mary Queen of Scots was enough to get him tossed in the dreaded Tower of London.

When he was released, he was placed on house arrest until he was arrested due to his involvement in the Ridolfi plot. A plot to assassinate Elizabeth I.

This time his station in life didn’t save him. Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk lost his head on the chopping block.

Since that time, The Charterhouse has been an almshouse, a hospital and a well regarded boys school. 

And through it all everyone who has ever lived or worked there knows all too well that this timeless building is very much haunted.

The Plague Pit

According to historical records, over 50,000 people were buried in the plague pit. And believe it or not, not all of them were dead. Making the scene from Monty Python and The Holy Grail slightly more tragic than funny.

Residents of The Charterhouse have reported that if you silently stand still over the plague pit you can hear the ghostly victims of the premature burial crying out for mercy.

Sadly, that mercy never came and those victims succumbed to death’s cold embrace.

The Phantom Monk

When the sun sets and  the Charterhouse is quiet residents have reported witnessuny a curious sight.

The shadowy form of a monk has been seen silently floating through the courtyard. He appears to be praying as he makes his way to the building.

Is this one of the monks who perished all those centuries ago at Newgate prison? Residents do believe so.

The Charterhouse

The Duke’s Ghost

Lastly, what English haunting would be complete without a headless apparition? Residents have claimed to see the apparition of Thomas Howard descending the staircase cradling his bloody, lifeless head under his arm.

It would seem that after many centuries of death, the Duke of Norfolk returns to the place where he spent his final moments of freedom. And his life.

With it’s blood soaked history behind it, The Charterhouse serves two purposes.

It is still an almshouse for elderly men who call themselves brothers.

And in partnership with the Museum of London, the building is opened to the public for daily tours.

Upon visiting you can learn about the history of The Charterhouse, the black death and if you’re lucky, it’s ghosts.

Have you seen a ghost at The Charterhouse? Tell us about it in the comments section!


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