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.
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)
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 dancesand the
chiefest pleasureof 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).
- Reading, John. The Ranters Ranting. London: Printed by B. Alsop, 1650. Wing R450. Reprint. Early English Books Online. Web.
- Stow, John. A Survey of London. Reprinted from the Text of 1603. Ed. Charles Lethbridge Kingsford. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1908. Reprint. British History Online. Subscription. [Kingsford edition, courtesy of The Centre for Metropolitan History. Articles written 2011 or later cite from this searchable transcription. In the in-text parenthetical reference (Stow; BHO), click on BHO to go directly to the page containing the quotation or source.]
- Temple, Phillip, ed. South and East Clerkenwell. Survey of London. Vol. 46. London: London County Council, 2008. Reprint. British History Online. Open.
Last modification: 2016-06-06 15:39:18 -0700 (Mon, 06 Jun 2016) (mholmes)