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The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Ad­mis­sion to the Char­ter­house is free; open from 11am daily ex­cept Mon­days, with last ad­mis­sions at 4.45pm. Clos­est rail sta­tions are Bar­bican and Far­ring­don. More: thechar­ter­house.org.

He points to a walk­way above the screen. “That’s the Min­strels’ Gallery and the school choir sings Latin masses up there dur­ing Founders’ din­ners,” he ex­plains. Those singing school­boys, whom Sutton also pro­vided for, are part of Char­ter­house School, which out­grew its poor-scholar sta­tus to be­come one of Eng­land’s ma­jor public schools. It re­lo­cated to larger premises in 1872.

A list of old boys in­cludes Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Pow­ell and the au­thor of Van­ity Fair, Wil­liam Make­peace Thack­eray, who hated the school and im­mor­talised it in fic­tion as “Slaugh­ter­house”. The tour con­tin­ues to the mag­nif­i­cent Great Cham­ber, where Queen El­iz­a­beth I spent four days be­fore her corona­tion plotting and where her heir, King James I, held his first court.

Then it’s time for a walk along the musty vaulted clois­ters, where it feels clos­est to the doomed monks. A few of their cells still re­main and as the Carthu­sian Or­der was a silent and of­ten soli­tary one, food was passed through a hole next to the cell door. The monks could talk to each other if it was re­ally im­por­tant; in 1534 they started to dis­cuss the dan­ger­ous ques­tion of whether King Henry VIII could de­clare him­self head of the Church, rather than the Pope. Half de­cided he couldn’t, in­clud­ing the Prior, who was hanged, drawn and quar­tered.

This is very much the stuff of Hi­lary Man­tel’s Wolf Hall; Char­ter­house was one of hun­dreds of re­li­gious houses that fell vic­tim to the Dis­so­lu­tion of the monas­ter­ies and Cromwell, a quiet hero in Man­tel’s novel, was a to­tal vil­lain to those in holy or­ders.

It’s the end of the tour and we’re urged to visit the mu­seum, to dis­cover more about the daily lives of monks, school­boys, no­ble­men, gov­er­nors and brothers. I spy a large glass case con­tain­ing a skele­ton, one of thou­sands ex­ca­vated from the plague pit. It’s a som­bre re­minder of the un­cer­tainty of life and that you can’t take any­thing with you when your time comes. That time­less peace de­scribed by Pow­ell seems even more ap­peal­ing; maybe it’s time to join the brother­hood.

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