His­toric home for Lon­don gen­tle­men opens up to women

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

From the Black Death to Henry VIII’s break from Rome, a his­toric me­di­ae­val refuge in the heart of Lon­don’s throb­bing fi­nan­cial cen­tre is des­tined for a new lease of life-by al­low­ing women to move in. Nes­tled be­tween build­ing sites in the City of Lon­don, Char­ter­house’s grey stone is the abode of a few dozen men who have to be poor and aged over 60 to qual­ify. But hun­dreds of years since the first stone was laid, a revo­lu­tion is un­der­way: Char­ter­house is open­ing up to women and cre­at­ing a mu­seum open to the pub­lic. “Not ev­ery­one is over­joyed,” Stephen McGhee, a for­mer or­ches­tra man­ager and one of the cur­rent “broth­ers”, told AFP dur­ing a visit to the com­plex.

“Some were happy, some not so happy. What­ever hap­pens, it will have to be done very sen­si­tively... and the new­comer will have to adapt to 42 men!” Af­ter liv­ing abroad for more than two decades, first in Aus­tralia and then Thai­land, McGhee said he wanted to re­turn to Lon­don for his re­tire­ment. “I had just enough money to buy a cup­board in a kitchen,” the 64-year-old said. He searched on­line for a so­lu­tion. “I saw a pic­ture, there was a va­cancy for a brother. I thought: ‘it is a holy place and I am not holy!’ “I ap­plied on­line, I had a for­mal in­ter­view, and I was ac­cepted,” said McGhee, happy with his good for­tune, af­ter three-and-a-half years liv­ing within the com­mu­nity.

Plague and trea­son

Leav­ing the chaos of the City and cross­ing over the thresh­old into Char­ter­house feels like en­ter­ing a dif­fer­ent world-a few cen­turies in the past. Some of the dark­est mo­ments in Bri­tish his­tory were played out within its walls. Char­ter­house’s monastery was built in 1371 on land which was used to bury victims of the “Black Death”, the bubonic plague which dec­i­mated Lon­don in 1348. Those struck down by the plague were still be­ing ex­humed in 2013, said Do­minic Tick­ell, de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor at Char­ter­house. The fri­ars lived in si­lence but broke their rule for 10 days in the 16th cen­tury, to de­bate Henry VIII’s break with the Pope. The dra­matic split from Rome in 1535 led to the monastery be­ing dis­solved and its fri­ars put to death in an atro­cious man­ner.

The land on which the men once lived was passed to the Duke of Nor­folk, who built a clois­ter and a palace. The Duke, too, met a vi­o­lent end-he was de­cap­i­tated for high trea­son in 1571. The Char­ter­house com­plex was rein­vented in the 17th cen­tury when it was bought by the wealthy Thomas Sut­ton, who founded a school, a hospi­tal and a home for 80 im­pov­er­ished gen­tle­men. The lat­ter tra­di­tion con­tin­ues, while the school was moved to Sur­rey in the 19th cen­tury where it is now a pri­vate board­ing school.

Lon­don’s Char­ter­house to­day hosts 42 “broth­ers” who are cho­sen not for their re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion but un­der strict cri­te­ria. They must be over 60, sin­gle, poor, pre­pared to live in a com­mu­nity and to be in good enough health to live in­de­pen­dently.

Royal gov­er­nors

The ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents are artists, ac­tors or mu­si­cians, but there are also teach­ers, a cook, a butcher and a priest. Ac­tors liv­ing in Char­ter­house take ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to the stage, giv­ing up their earn­ings for the com­mu­nity, McGhee said. “Most of them are vul­ner­a­ble, lonely, iso­lated, poor, in so­cial need and in good health. One of the cri­te­ria is that peo­ple can still make a con­tri­bu­tion,” Tick­ell said dur­ing a me­dia visit to Char­ter­house. While Tu­dor tragedies are cen­turies past, the stone walls, low ceil­ings and stained-glass win­dows re­tain a sense of mys­tery.

Char­ter­house ben­e­fits fi­nan­cially from its school fees-nearly 37,000 pounds ($46,000, EUR42,000) an­nu­ally for each board­ing pupil-and from its donors. Gov­er­nors of the Lon­don in­sti­tu­tion in­clude Queen El­iz­a­beth II, her hus­band the Duke of Ed­in­burgh, and their son the Prince of Wales, in ad­di­tion to the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury. Char­ter­house also has a spe­cial­ist nurs­ing home for those ap­proach­ing the end of their lives. “It is very rare that a brother leaves; al­most all end their days here,” said Tick­ell. — AFP

A handout pic­ture re­leased by The Char­ter­house on Novem­ber 7, 2016 and taken on Fe­bru­ary 29, 2016 shows the fa­cade of The Char­ter­house in Lon­don. — AFP

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