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Charterhouse Lane

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Charterhouse Lane was a narrow road marking the passage between St. John’s Street and one of three gates to the London Charterhouse. The lane began as an alleyway intersecting with St. John’s Street north of Smithfield before broadening as it arched north towards the London Charterhouse. The street earned its name due to its proximity to the London Charterhouse, which housed Carthusian monks prior to the dissolution of London monasteries between 1536 and 1541 (Temple).1 In his Survey of London (1603), John Stow describes Charterhouse Lane only as a passageway to the London Charterhouse, writing [a] little without the Barres of West Smithfield is Charterhouse lane, so called, for that it leadeth to the said plot of the late dissolved Monastery2 (Stow). Indeed, much of Charterhouse Lane’s historical reputation derives from its proximity to the Charterhouse. Little is known about Charterhouse Lane prior to the sixteenth-century, when the Charterhouse became a site of religious controversy. Historical records of Charterhouse Lane proliferate after the 1536 Act of Supremacy, which saw the dissolution of the London Carthusians and the Charterhouse monastery in 1537.
1718 map by an unknown cartographer, showing the unique alleys, courts, and curved shape of Charterhouse Lane. Image courtesy of British History Online (BHO).
1718 map by an unknown cartographer, showing the unique alleys, courts, and curved shape of Charterhouse Lane. Image courtesy of British History Online (BHO).
In the wake of dissolution, Charterhouse Lane became increasingly associated with poverty and illicit behavior. Tenements and courts grew out of the narrow alleys intersecting with the street, packing in residences (see above), which met the demand for cheap housing. The most notorious of these tenements was Frogwell Court, known for its cramped and squalid living conditions (Temple). In 1620, magistrates dubbed the lane a prominent space for prostitution (Temple). Charterhouse Lane was also known for its array of taverns and alehouses.3 These taverns were smaller than some others in the area but were nevertheless riddled with drunken debauchery and crime (Stow). In 1650, John Reading alluded to this lane in The Ranters Ranting, a satirical description of a radical group known as the Ranters who denied church authority in favor of pantheistic views. The title page reveals the cunning tendencies of the Ranters to steal food while pretending to be good-spirited (see below). In the text, Reading describes their adventures, writing,
This Song being ended, they went to revelling till ten of the clock the next day, by which time, they having ſatiſfied themselves with chamber exerciſe, they fetcht a walk towards Smithfield, and went into Charter-houſe lane, where they had a leſſon played on the Organs, danced mixed dances [...] After this, ſome of the creatures went into rooms apart to milk and fodder; and others (whose chiefeſt pleasure was in drinking) ſung [a] catch.
(Reading sig. A3v)
Woodblock drawing from the title page of John Reading’s The Ranters Raving (1650). Image courtesy of LUNA at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Woodblock drawing from the title page of John Reading’s The Ranters Raving (1650). Image courtesy of LUNA at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Reading’s fictional account of the Ranters suggests that Charterhouse Lane would not be a surprising location for careless partying. Although not as renowned as other areas of public drinking, Charterhouse Lane was nonetheless associated with mixed dances and the chiefest pleasure of alcohol, perhaps as a result of its impoverished reputation.
Charterhouse Lane was relatively unaffected by the Great Fire of 1666. In 1764, the lane was broadened (Temple). In 1775, improvement commissioners purchased and subsequently demolished Frogwell Court and many of the area’s alcohol distilleries (Temple). Finally, in 1869, Charterhouse Lane was demolished for the expansion of Smithfield Market and replaced with a newly structured Charterhouse Street (Temple).

Notes

  1. All citations from Temple refer to pages 265-79. (TLG)
  2. I.e., The Charterhouse. (TLG)
  3. For a list of taverns and alehouses in early modern London, see Inns, Alehouses, Taverns, and Other Victualling Houses in the placeography. (TLG)

References

Last modification: 2017-03-15 17:14:07 -0400 (Wed, 15 Mar 2017) (mholmes)
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MLA citation:

Kernochan, Jack. “Charterhouse Lane.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Web. 28 June 2017. <http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/CHAR3.htm>.

Chicago citation:

Kernochan, Jack. n.d. “Charterhouse Lane.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed June 28, 2017. http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/CHAR3.htm.

APA citation:

Kernochan J. (n.d.). Charterhouse Lane. In J. Jenstad (Ed.), The Map of Early Modern London. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/CHAR3.htm

TEI citation:

<bibl> <author><persName><surname>Kernochan</surname>, <forename>Jack</forename></persName></author> (<date>n.d.</date>). <title level="a">Charterhouse Lane</title>. In <editor><persName><forename>J.</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></persName></editor> (Ed.), <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>. Retrieved <date when="2017-06-28">June 28, 2017</date>, from <ref target="http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/CHAR3.htm">http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/CHAR3.htm</ref> </bibl>