Charterhouse School designed by Philip Charles Hardwick (1822-1892), and built by the firm of Lucas Brothers, with later additions by Sir Arthur Blomfield, W.D. Caroe, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and others. 1872. Godalming, Surrey. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Charterhouse School was founded in the seventeenth century by Thomas Sutton, a wealthy commoner who had made his money largely through the Durham coalfields. Having bought up the Earl of Suffolk's mansion in London, on the site of an old Carthusian priory, he had the building converted for use as an almshouse, school, and chapel. The school was originally intended for poor bright pupils, but was destined to become one of the great English public schools. In 1872 it moved down to Godalming in Surrey, under the direction of the then headmaster, William Haig Brown (1823-1907), who was in charge of the school from 1867 to 1897. The set of new buildings prepared for the school, built to the design of the distinguished architect Philip Charles Hardwick, "consist chiefly of one big open-ended quad facing SW.... the style a standard C19 commercial Gothic, but all the same a brilliant study in asymmetry, far above Hardwick's usual level." Particularly striking is "the way in which the end towers are quite different, but in perfect balance" (Nairn et al. 143-44). Local Bargate stone was used, and this has a warmth that adds greatly to the attraction of the complex. The result is "probably the most picturesque of the 19C public schools" (Nairn et al. 144).

The hall, known simply as Hall, was added in 1884/5 by the architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, "one of the last great Gothic Revivalists" (Elliot) who had once been articled to Hardwick. Hall is adorned with a pinnacle spire, gargoyles, and heraldic shields. The latter, kept brightly painted, bear the family arms of the headmaster and some of the assistant masters of that period.

There are many other points of interest, such as the imposing central tower, which is not in fact a bell-tower but a water tower; the library part of Hall, with its original ventilation gables; the cloisters which hark back to the school's Carthusian connection; the Science Block (1882, 1907 and 1920) with its Old Carthusian clock, bells, and green-domed observatory; the Venetian well-head in the middle of Scholars' Court; and the striking Memorial Chapel (1922-1927) with lancet windows, built to a design by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the largest war memorial in the country.

Among the school's most famous pupils at the old site were Richard Crashaw, Richard Lovelace, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, John Wesley and William Makepeace Thackeray — who gradually softened in his stance towards the place and left a sentimental account of it as Grey Friars in The Newcomes. Roger Williams (1604-1683), the founder of Rhode Island, was also educated there. Famous pupils at the Surrey site have included Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement (Baden-Powell was one of the pupils who moved to Godalming with the school); Sir Max Beerbohm, the cartoonist; Ralph Vaughan Williams, the composer; and the writer Robert Graves.

Links to related material


Elliot, John, rev. "Blomfield, Sir Arthur William (1829-1899)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Web. 11 May 2012.

Nairn, Ian, Nikolaus Pevsner, rev. Bridget Cherry. The Buildings of England: Surrey. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2nd ed. 1971.

Porter, Stephen, and Harriet Richardson. The Charterhouse: A Guide. English Heritage, 2000. Available from the school bookshop. Useful for the school's history, but note that this is really a guide to the London site.

"A Walk Round Charterhouse." An informative leaflet accompanied by a map, available from the school.

Note: For further details, see Anthony Quick's Charterhouse: A History of the School (Charterhouse School, 1990) and visit the history section of the school's own website, which has a tour of the school.

Created 11 May 2012

Last modifed 12 December 2021